I was trying to explain to my wife why I was cracking up during the serious parts of the musical that we were watching last weekend. We sat in the audience with the other families, friends, co-workers, strangers, and community members enjoying an excellent performance of the musical “Big Fish.” The cast was populated by almost all of my voice students, and I can’t tell you when I’ve had a better time. And that’s when it hit me: teaching high school is a lot like watching a sitcom, and this was just a very special musical episode.
Do you remember that episode of The Office when they did “Sweeney Todd?” Or when Head of the Class did “Little Shop of Horrors?” Or when It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia performed their own original rock opera? There are plenty more, but I loved these episodes, because I got to see my favorite crazy characters react in new and different ways, in the context of a show within the show. And that’s what I was watching last weekend. I had a live, front row seat to a show performed by a crazy cast of characters that I had grown to know and love over the past season.
I knew them individually of course, because that is how voice lessons work, but to see them all up there, interacting with each other, filled my heart with such joy that I could not help but laugh. And yes, the main characters might be doing something serious, but how could I take my eyes off of my student in the back row of the chorus, knowing how silly it was that she would be saying or doing something like what she was doing?! The funny faces, the dance moves, the worried looks, the satisfied looks, I got to see my students in a new light, and it changed everything for me.
Voice lessons are almost like episodes of The Office, actually. I get to hear the asides from the students individually, and then piece together their communal lives from one perspective at a time. I get to hear each of them tell me about the same musical festival, the same concert, the same sporting event, the same rehearsal, and it is filtered through them in their own unique ways. And they are so funny! I would totally watch their show. I guess that might make me the Michael Scott of the lesson, which is worrying, but perhaps we can end the analogy before we get to that point…
I think this is why so many sitcoms are focused on families, workplaces, or schools. You throw together a random bunch of people who just happened to be born or hired to a certain place, and then you get to know them as complex people. You laugh at their foibles, love past their flaws, and rejoice in their triumphs. And sometimes, you get the chance to see them with fresh eyes and you can’t stop laughing. Not because they are funny. Well, not only because they are funny, but also because of the unavoidable joy that comes bubbling up through you when you see your students succeed.
So actually, I’m going to amend my opening statement. Teaching high is not like watching a sitcom. It’s like being in one. In the best way. You should try it sometime.