Surprised by Surprises

Posted 13 August 2013 12:00 AM by Alex Johnson, City Spotlights Teaching Artist

One of the pleasures and challenges is the constancy of the new. No matter what the lesson, who the students, where the class, something new is bound to surprise you as a teacher.

So when I took on the job at City Spotlights, with a class called “Teaching as Leadership”, I knew I was in for plenty of surprises. I was teaching a new class, with new colleagues, new students, in a new building. I came in trying to anticipate all the surprises.

The funny thing about surprises is that they are, by their nature, impossible to anticipate.

The class itself evolved as I taught it. The purpose of Teaching as Leadership was to train our Teen Leaders to go out into community centers all around Boston, leading children there in workshops that used the performing arts to promote peace and justice. I had expected, initially, to spend a lot of time discussing the concepts of peace and justice. I planned lessons to motivate the Leaders to tackle these difficult concepts.

My first surprise was that the students needed no extra motivation. The Teen Leaders impressed me right away with their enthusiasm and ambition. They wanted to deal with tough issues, and they wanted to create real change in their communities.

Over the past few weeks, we have worked together towards that goal. In small groups, the leaders have created skits, activities and questions that will be of enormous benefit to the students in these workshops. I have watched their projects grow from ideas to realities. I have watched our rehearsal room evolve, too, as we added colorful posters of our goals and objectives. Most encouragingly, I have watched the Leaders themselves grow.

Few groups are more primed to develop strong, fast friendships than a group of teenagers in a performing arts summer program. Novels, musicals and movies have been written about the support and collaboration found in settings like these. But to see it live is another thing entirely. At the beginning of the summer, our Leaders came in separated by their differences: they stuck with people they knew from school or from their neighborhoods, and largely stayed away from people with different backgrounds or specialties. Now, though, as they move closer to their performances and workshops, I can see their differences uniting them. They celebrate and support each other, and rely on each other’s strengths.

I am excited by what I know they’ll bring to their community workshops next week, but more than anything, I can’t wait to be surprised by the energy and leadership they’ll bring to Boston’s arts community in the years to come.

Teen Leader working with children at a Dorchester Community Center

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