Saturday, December 7, 2013

Waiting for the Bell to Ring

Post by Katie Howard: Katie has been an English teacher & theatre director for 12 years, serving in both capacities the last 6 years at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Katie on twitter @Katie_Howard1

What would my boss say if he knew that every day when I walk into work, I’m already thinking about the moment at the end of the day when that final bell rings and the students are out the door? (I’ll probably find out since he’s sure to be reading this). That’s right, I admit it. I am as excited for the end of the school day as are the kids. Now, it’s not that I don’t love the work I do in my classroom, I do, and I take great pride in my work and the success of my students, but when that bell rings at 3:10, I get to do something that I first fell in love with in high school. I get to go to the theater. And the most beautiful part is that within those walls are a group of people who have been staring at the clock all day waiting for 3:10, too. This place is my home, and it’s where my passion lies.

As teachers, we are most effective when we’re passionate about something, and my passion lies in the theatre – in creating relationships and telling people’s stories. So lately, I've asked myself what it is about the theatre that inspires me. Here’s what I've discovered so far.

Theatre is magic. Within the walls of the theater you can be anything you want to be.  The self-conscious girl who spends the majority of her days worrying about what others think, can instantly transform herself into a confident woman who can captivate an entire audience for hours. That kid who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere else suddenly becomes the one person that everyone relies on when it comes to making things work backstage. It's a place where, for a few hours, you can set your own reality aside and see the world as you wish it were (in my perfect world, people would randomly break into song.) The possibilities within these walls are endless; there is no limit to what can be achieved. These are the things that ignite my passion.

 Theatre is knowledge.  Each day as I enter the theater, I shed the skin of an English teacher and suddenly I teach history, music, science, art, math, and even PE (push-ups and sit-ups are required if you don’t know your lines!) Lessons of teamwork, selflessness, and cooperation are not just ideas, but a reality. For us to succeed, these must be our guiding principles, and commitment to these ideals is not a request but a requirement. I challenge my students to think about things they've never considered before, to look at the world through the eyes of another, to imagine things they never thought possible. And then work to make them a reality. In the process, not only are they learning, I’m learning, too. This is what excites me about my job.

Theatre is acceptance When you walk into the theatre you will find no two students that are the same.  Here are students that represent different races, religions, socioeconomic groups, sexual orientations, political affiliations; the list goes on and on. Here you will find athletes, artists, musicians, and scholars. You will find those that will go on to pursue doctoral degrees and those whose will complete their education with a high school diploma. None of it matters. Here it doesn't matter who you are or what you've done before, students aren't less because they’re different, they’re appreciated for their individuality. The safety within these walls allows students to look honestly at themselves, to acknowledge not just their strengths but weaknesses as well. In this way they not only accept one another, but learn to accept and appreciate themselves.  This is what gives me hope for the future.

Most importantly, theatre is family. I have my children, two beautiful girls, and “my kids,” more than one hundred creative, inspired, caring young people who will, I have no doubt, change the world. This family we create isn't perfect, no family is, but we love and support one another. What is unique to these relationships as opposed to most other student-teacher relationships is that they last far beyond graduation. Fifteen years after graduating from high school, I myself maintain a strong relationship with my teacher and director, who I am honored to now call my colleague and friend. I have had the privilege of watching my former students walk down the aisle, I have held their babies, and have stood in the audience and tearfully cheered with pride as they achieve their dreams.  This is without a doubt the greatest reward of my job. This brings me joy.

 As I look at these truths, these things that ignite my passion, I realize that these are not and should not be specific to the theatre or any other place that connects you with your passion (the football field or basketball court, the science lab, or photography studio). These are the things that exist within our classrooms each day. We as educators want our classrooms to be a magical place, not Disney World, but a place where anything is possible. A space where students learn not only the rudimentary facts of our subject areas, but push themselves to look at how things fit into the bigger picture.  We want students to ask questions and challenge their thinking, to feel accepted for who they are and pushed to be more today than they were yesterday. We want them to work cooperatively and think outside of the box, to feel empathy for others and learn to put others before themselves. We want to help them find their own passion.

For us to do this, we, as teachers must all rediscover our own passions and allow them to be a guiding force in our classrooms, creating for our students a place where they can discover their own. As this year comes to an end, I look to the possibilities that lie ahead, and I challenge myself to create a classroom environment where all of this is possible.  And while I’ll always look forward to 3:10, this process of self-reflection and introspection has shown me that, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “if I should ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further,” than my classroom walls.


  1. Perfect. As the speech coach in our high school, these words resonated with me. It's as if I wrote them myself. Thanks

  2. Katie, I hope you feel good about what you shared above because the theatre truly does bring out the best in our students. I have seen you work your "magic" with kids who may not have found their place or felt connected without your guidance, support, and love. You have not only created a better community, you have created a second family for hundreds of students during your tenure at BHS. Your passion for the fine arts carries over to your classroom & fosters an environment where every student has an opportunity to live our his/her dreams. Well done! - jimmy

  3. Katie

    Thank you for writing this. Anyone who observes your interactions with the students know that the theater is where your heart is happiest. Thank you for all you do for our students - in and out of the classroom. Joy

  4. Katie, I appreciate the passion, dedication and joy you get from theatre and the way you pass that on to your students. You have nailed it--theatre "kids" come from all walks of life and backgrounds and I love the acceptance they feel in your program. Thanks! ~Amy