BWW Teacher's Perspective: Drama Mama
BroadwayWorld is partnering with the Educational Theatre Association to help shed light on the importance and every day workings of theatre education. Our first piece comes from Miami Country Day School teacher Cristina Pla-Guzman who discusses the bond between theatre teachers and the students, going above and beyond for her job, and what makes it all worthwhile.
"Mom, can you help me?" This is a question I hear regularly. Moms are always our go-
to problem solvers, but I am not her mom. I am her teacher, her theatre teacher to be exact.
My students begin to call me Mom, I think at first by accident and then, I believe, out of respect. When I am asked why I do this job (mostly when I am wearing my hair in a power bun, a stressed expression and a coffee in hand), I think back on the times when I felt that I was making a real impact on my students, not only as artists but at shaping them into good people.
While to the untrained eye this profession may seem like it is all fun and games, it has its good and bad times. You have to love your craft and have an unwavering passion to motivate when you're in the middle of tech week ("hell week") and it feels like you're in the middle of a hurricane. The theatre teacher is more than a director. A good theatre teacher is a confidante, a fellow theatre geek, a parent, a cheerleader, and so much more. I know that I can be the gateway to a long love affair with the theatre. I may be lucky to have a few students on Broadway, but really I hope to create people who love the art and have as many who are belting show tunes on stage as in the shower. May my students be the ones in the audiences asking for encores because they know the dedication and hard work behind every person on and off the stage.
As the show comes together, all the theatre teachers I know give up so much of themselves (what is work-life balance?) and really do treat our students like our own children. It's more than just a job. While most teachers are punching out at 4pm, our job is just beginning. Twelve hour days and weekends are normal. When it's show time and/or competition season, it is inevitable. So why do it? Because there is nothing like witnessing what my students gain from theatre and arts classes. It goes above and beyond what they get from their other classes. In an academic class, they may try to hide behind a classmate during a presentation, but in a theatre class they are front and center battling the demons of stage fright.
In the theatre class, students are discovering not only their talents but their niche whether it be on stage or backstage. I am building a little drama family, one that I hope my students can recall fondly to their grandchildren (I'm assuming they'll be belting out show tunes well into their 90's). What keeps us theatre teachers going? The butterflies in our stomach when the audition sign-up sheet goes up? Handing out audition packets to anxious students? What keeps me going is the excitement I see in my students. One of my favorite things to do after a show is to read the reflections in their journals. I'm often surprised at how much they are experiencing through auditions, rehearsals, and performances. And though their reflections are very telling, what strikes me even more are the emails. My students taking the time to email me thanking me for their joy and happiness after an amazing class or a great performance is something that shocks and touches me every single time.
Every time a school year ends, I look back and I say WE did that. Even more gratifying is making connections with your students years after they have left your classroom and are making a life of their own and they speak about their time in your theatre program with a smile on their face and fond memories. And who knows, maybe someone will thank me in their Tony award speech one day (Fingers Crossed!).
There is a famous quote by Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." This is what I strive for- to be a teacher who empowers her students to be creative, and to be uniquely themselves as artists and be unafraid. Although it may not be my official title, I am proud to be a drama mama for many years to come.
Cristina Pla-Guzman is a 2016 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher awardee. She has been working in the theatre for the last fourteen years. She has her Masters' in Education and Bachelor in Fine Arts and graduated Magna cum Laude in Acting from Florida International University. Cristina was also awarded the 2016 Top-Notch teacher by the National Varsity Brands' School Spirit Awards, Dedication and Achievement award by the Miami Lakes Town Council, Teacher of the Year 2012- 2013, Nova Southeastern University's Cervantes Educator Award, and an Award for Outstanding Service in Theatre from Florida International University.