If you look at this picture, you'll see that there are 13 middle school boys. At specified times, right on cue, they had to lunge out on either side of Dolly in a staggered formation: boy 1 goes right, boy 2 goes left, etc.
This is much more difficult than it looks--especially for adolescents who have not had a lot of dance experience and who's bodies are growing so fast that their coordination hasn't caught up yet.
The truth is that this was incredibly hard and we spent hours and hours and never got it completely right during rehearsals.
Even during dress rehearsals, I was running this before and after the rehearsal. I'd have them come early and we'd try it. I had them stay late and we tried it. Never 100% successfully. There was always at least one poor guy that darted the wrong direction--which sort of knocked everyone behind him off as well.
I even had them do it during intermission on opening night, minutes before they had to perform it. They still didn't do it completely right in the performance.
At that point, I didn't know what else to do. I suppose I could have had them stay after the performance and run it over and over and over. But that seemed like overkill. I suppose I could have figured out who was making the mistake and removed him from the line (assuming it was only one person). I could have yelled and threatened, but that's not my style nor is it helpful. So, there were options--but they didn't seem like tenable ones. This is, after all, middle school theatre. We strive for our best but I think it's important to keep a balanced view of what is possible for the kids.
I finally decided to just let it go, leave it alone and stop worrying about it. No more rehearsals--let the chips fall where they may. This was harder for me than it might sound. It wasn't an ego thing. This song is the highlight of the show and we worked so hard on it! All the other elements were wonderful. And more than anything, they had worked so hard! I wanted them to nail it so they could have that satisfaction. I didn't want anyone to get teased by peers. And so on. But, I took a deep breath and made myself let go.
The next night, they got it (as is documented in this photo) and the same thing happened the next night.
What happened? I have no idea.
Maybe all the practice kicked in. Maybe it was that they no longer felt stressed. Maybe it was just a random, flukey thing. Goodness knows that happens with adolescents.
I'm not sure I could have walked away several years ago. Happily, I've learned since then that sometimes you have to just let go because you don't have any good options left. A perfect line is not worth berating a middle school child or stressing everyone out.
I believe parents and teachers ought to expect the best of children and that we should push them. I'm not fond of theories that elevate the kids to the status of skilled or thoughtful decision makers, or that view them as knowing best because I think often they really aren't and truly don't.
But I also believe there are times where the benefits are not worth the costs--whether those costs are to the relationship, the child's confidence, or whatever. In these times, I think it's wisest to walk away.
I don't recommend doing this a lot. I don't have the magic ratio, but perhaps more often than not, I think it's important to push and help the kids grow. Future employers and colleagues will not be so lenient, after all. But there are times when you just have to let it go. It took me a long time to learn this--and I still apply it imperfectly, but I'm generally gratified with the results. When I don't apply this principle, I believe I have always regretted it.
I don't promise that letting go will always have the desired result. In this case it did. It may be that your teaching will sink in and they will do what you had hoped they would. Or, it may not. It may never be quite what you want it to be--or even close. But at a minimum, you will have preserved the relationship and you will have the future to continue to work with them. Preserving the relationship, and preserving their dignity will be more important than accomplishing the immediate objective.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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