How to be a teacher and a student at the same time…

A few weeks ago I traveled to Chicago to attend another Puppet School workshop. It was great to get to review what I’d learned in the summer and reinforce the good stuff I’d kept in my cranium and reprogram some of the errors I’d built in with flawed memory. I was also very pleased that my practicing had paid off. It was noticeable and I was proud of that.

It’s always good for teachers to be students again. In general, we like that. It is part of the reason we were drawn to teaching in the first place. We are people who like to continually grow and discover new things. But it’s also good for teachers to be students again because we can analyse our own learning and relate it to the students we have in front of us. This really only works though when the classes are based in things we have chosen to learn. If we’ve been sent, (volun-told I like to call it), to a particular session because someone else thought we’d benefit, it is often a sad disappointment – not always, but we definitely will get more out of a session we’ve chosen ourselves. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s the same for our kids. They will do better and put in more effort when the class or subject area is something that piques their interest and when it isn’t, that teacher has to work all that much harder to get them engaged.

Well, there was little effort needed to engage me. I’d already traveled several hours, (and got lost in Detroit at 5 a.m.), in order to attend this workshop. I was already engaged. I merrily made my 4th puppet in 2 months and reviewed some techniques and refined some skills in that process. And during the manipulation class, I was rehearsing and practicing to keep my skills progressing and perfect what I’d started to develop over the summer. It was great. And, I made some new friends in the bargain.

So then, I pack up and get ready to fly home – just a little bit sad that I won’t get to work with Michael again for awhile, but extremely happy that I’d gone to the effort of attending this second workshop. I make it to the airport – whew! And discover that my flight is delayed. Ah well, not by much. As I’m sitting there a trio of ladies comes to sit near me. Grandma, Aunt and little girl.

I’m sitting and listening to my Muppet selections,¬†surreptitiously¬†practicing lip sync as I do, when I notice the little girl next to me is listening to Disney tunes. She’s adorable with her American Girl backpack and doll and her Strawberry Shortcake suitcase. So I say to her, “Disney, eh? I’m listening to Muppets.” And she replies, “I’ve got Muppets!” and to prove it she goes through her MP3 player and sure enough pulls up John Denver and the Muppets. She tells me it’s her favourite. So, I can’t resist. I say, “I’ve got something to show you…” and I pull out my new puppet – Rosie, and put her on so they can meet.

Rosie Puppet
Rosie says HI!

For the next twenty minutes or so, Rosie and Samantha talk and become friends. There is no one else in the room for Samantha and she doesn’t even seem to remember that I’m right beside her, talking and that she watched me put her on. There’s even whispers around me, and I’m sure, people pointing in the airport as we have our conversation – but I’m only focused on Samantha. At some point in our discussion, Grandma decides to “sneak” a photo of her granddaughter talking to this puppet. I am amused. I’m thinking, “Is this what it’s like for a Muppeteer? If so, I’ll take that.” And I’m thinking, why is she trying to sneak a photo? Why don’t we just pose? So I have Rosie suggest that to Grandma and we do. Rosie puts her arm around Samantha and Grandma takes the pic. It was great. We talked about movies and Muppets and music and American Girl and her vacation with Grandma, etc. etc. And when it was time to get on the plane, Samantha gave me a wave and I felt like I’d made some new friends. I didn’t get anyone else’s name though. Who cares? They were smiling and so was I and we barely noticed having to wait longer for the plane.

All that time, I was being a student and a teacher. I’m planning ahead to how I’ll use this experience with my kids at school and I’m learning as I watch Samantha react to my puppet. I’m thinking about how Samantha is at a cognitive level to have a conversation with a puppet, but completely willing to personify that puppet and ignore the manipulation that makes it come alive. I’m practicing my skills that I’ve been developing as a student and I’m wondering what my teacher would say to this whole event. It’s amazing how all of that can happen in the same instant. But it does. And it’s thrilling. So, I hope that all my teacher learning this year is that fulfilling and worthwhile.

Author: Ceris Thomas

Ceris is a creative person. She teaches by day - and finds as much creativity in her job as she can and by night, (and during every spare minute she has), she creates through directing/choreographing and performing plays, drawing, writing, podcasting and now, sewing puppets. She likes to help others find and nurture their creativity and she loves finding out about other people's path to their own creative projects.

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