Friday, April 2, 2010

Captains Courageous

If we should fail?

We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail.
Macbeth Act I, Scene VII

March, 2010

I've never forced a child to go onstage or stand up and share journal writing. As the kids write thoughts inspired by a "theme of the week," I ask if anyone would like to read their work. In the beginning one or two shot their arms up, but now I have to make a list on the board and we never have enough time for everyone. It excites me to hear them groan when they're not picked. Excellent enthusiasm.

I've told them that finding the courage to speak in front of the group is an exercise much the same as hitting the playground for physical fitness. Stretching their bodies and stretching boldness are similar activies with like results.

One week, Bettina told me she had to miss a meeting for a family obligation.

Another week, Bettina told me she couldn't attend because she'd had a TB shot that day and was having a reaction.

The next week Bettina handed me a cell phone and said her mom wanted to talk to me.

"Hello, this is Ms. Ryane."

"Hello, Ms. Ryane, I know Bettina has missed two meetings already but she says she has a stomach ache and I know she shouldn't miss."

I looked at the willow of a girl making a big display of clutching her stomach in front of me, and found the courage myself to take a risk.

"You know, she really can't miss any more meetings. We have very few rehearsals left and we need her. I'm going to suggest that she stay today and I'll keep an eye on her. Is that okay with you?"

"Yes, Ms. Ryane, let me talk to her again."

I handed Bettina the phone and restarted our warm-up, which she participated in. I did keep an eye on her and could see her energy perk up throughout the meeting.


Once inside I addressed the situation with the group.

"Bettina isn't feeling in perfect shape today but I know we all appreciate her sticking it out. It reminds of one time when I was in a production of 'Dracula' and I was very sick without an understudy. So, I had to do the show and there was a bucket offstage waiting for me."

"Like where you had to throw up?" asked Mark.

"Yup, like that. Actors know they need to go to rehearsal and do shows even if they feel sick."

"Ms. Ryane?" Ellie had her hand up and I nodded. "What if when we do the play in May someone is sick?"

"You know what, Ellie? In four years that has never happened. I do not believe it will happen this year either."

Two days later I took Bettina out of class for a chat.

"Your journal writing is going very well, Bettina. And Ms. Rachel loves your work in the witch chorus....I think you might be her favorite witch."

Bettina blinked her dark eyes and bit her lip. Her long hair hung shiny and chestnut down her back and I thought, "Look up lovely in the dictionary and this girl's picture should be there." But Bettina doesn't see herself as lovely.

"I'm worried about you, Bettina, and I'd like to help. Tell me what you're afraid of in Shakespeare Club."

"I'm afraid...I'm afraid of...of making a mistake. I feel too shy."

"Mmmm. You know where courage comes from, Bettina?"

She shook her head. I decided to speak in language Bettina knows because she has expressed a religious point of view to me in the past.

"Well, I'll tell you where it doesn't come from. God isn't going to look down and zap you like a superhero and give you courage. I wish it happened like that, but it doesn't. The place courage comes from is in making mistakes. It comes when we fall down or trip or do something dumb and then get back up anyway and try again. What happened after you got up and read from your journal? What did you feel after that?"

"That it was easier than I thought it would be."

"Right. You didn't fall apart. No one laughed at your writing."

Bettina smiled a little bit.

"Bettina, I want you to make mistakes. I want you to goof up. Because when you start again you will feel stronger and less afraid. I know this, Bettina, because I used to be like you. Trust me, I will help you. But no more stomach aches, okay?"

"Okay, Ms. Ryane."

Okie-doke, and I munched a Pepto to celebrate. That went well.

If I were Banquo and Macbeth was my friend and I saw him trying to kill King Duncan I won't let it be. I would stop this action and try to convince him to do not such a thing. As all best friends would do I would see why, why would Macbeth try to commit such a crime. That's what I would do if I were Banquo.
—Bettina, 5th grade

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