The implication being, naturally, that if one could really succeed at something, one would have neither the time nor interest to teach it. And, by inference, we can allow that to mean that to teach is a default activity. Teachers end up teachers because they could do nothing else, and teaching is an unsupervised, disinteresting field.
Now, I admit up front that I am about as biased as can be about this pithy little saying, so full of pith as it may be. My mom was an elementary school teacher for years before becoming a minister (which is in many ways just a different sort of teacher). My dad teaches college-level courses now. I have been teaching workshops in a variety of subjects to a variety of students over the past few years, and even spent a year teaching in an NYC school. I believe in teaching. In fact, if I have dogma of any kind, it probably lies in the practice of teaching more than it does the practice of religion. So be it. Can't disabuse me of it. Teaching, and teachers, are important. And further more, it's something that can be quite difficult to do well. I know the above quote is half-joking, but I still eschew it. It is totally and entirely eschewed by my person.
Some time ago, Friend Heather began a process to get Zuppa del Giorno signed up through the NEIU (no; the other NEIU) as an official "rostered teaching artist," and we passed our initial interview back in February. Last weekend, I took the road more-traveled, and landed in Scranton, PA, to complete the application. We received some brief orientation and demonstrated our ability to not-immediately-destroy malleable minds. We're in like Flynn, in other words, which bodes well for Heather's continuing struggle to avoid the confines of a day job. (Less so for me, as I stubbornly remain in NYC, where the cost of living is inversely proportional to the average pay for actors.) In fact, the good people at the NEIU seem quite enthusiastic about our participation in their program, which helps to organize residencies for teaching artists in public schools. We could be spending up to a month at a go teaching our unique brand of creation, development and performance to students we really get to know. It's an exciting move forward in our educational work.
In addition, we'll periodically receive free training in educational and personal interaction theories and techniques. They briefly described what to expect in terms of that, and it sounds both useful and interesting, focusing on reaching out to all different kinds of dominances in an individual's learning process, and without losing sight of the fact that at all times one is dealing with a person, a unique individual who exists outside of a classroom as well. When I worked for Wingspan Arts during the 2006-2007 school year, many were the times I wished I had more training in my interaction with challenging students. It seems as though I'll get some of that, finally, and at no cost to me. Additionally, I'm fascinated with the processes of learning and intelligence, especially so since tackling Italian. When it comes to a foreign language class, despite my best intentions, I'm the challenging student.
I used to regard "resorting to" teaching as giving up on my acting career, way back when I was a college student. College affords us a lot of space to draw conclusions unrelated to real-life experience. The fact is, I've probably learned more in recent years from being a trainer or teacher than I would have had I been enrolled in school the whole time. Plus, a teaching-learning environment is one of those unique opportunities in life to practice the craft of an actor without artifice, and I don't mean simply because one is often in a "stage" relationship to an "audience." In fact, in my opinion a good teacher uses that particular paradigm sparingly. A good teacher, much like a good actor, is more concerned with connecting to and communicating with his or her students than with enforcing any separation or dominating aura of authority. Sure, discipline enters into it, but discipline won't invite absorption of knowledge. Eye contact. Listening. Humor. These are the keys to transforming people into little dry sponges, thirsty for learnin'. And doesn't that sound appealing?
As I tentatively turn my interests toward directing plays, I'm reminded of something David Zarko once said to me about division in rehearsal (and, if memory serves, he was paraphrasing Brecht): It's important to keep rehearsal and training in separate spaces--not just in time, but if possible literally in separate rooms. The thinking behind this is that actors need to associate the space in which they work with how they're expected to behave. In a classroom, in training, mistakes can (should, in my world) be made, but the emphasis is on a narrow goal that can generally be defined in terms of right and wrong. Whereas, in an ideal rehearsal room, actors must allow for willfully getting things "wrong" all the time, in order to explore, to make discoveries, and above all make their work true. It may seem a subtle difference but, believe me, it's not.
When I teach, I have a concrete goal to be achieved, and that satisfies me. When I act, the goal is in the process, never-ending, which offers a rather unique series of satisfying moments. These bleed into one another in various ways. The success to be found in both, I think, is in doing them equally well.