Sunday night instead of grading, unpacking, doing laundry, planning for the week, or working out, I sat down to watch The English Teacher. Surely it is just like planning or grading. While Juliane Moore plays exactly what I envision myself to be as an English teacher, the story to me was about rewriting endings. In the film, a former student of Julianne Moore’s comes back into town after attending NYU’s dramatic writing program–a program, I too, dreamed of going to. The former student is back in town having given up on his dream to be a playwright after several rejections. She convinces him to allow the high school to produce his play and after a series of unfortunate events, rewrites the ending of his play.
As I watched the film, I got further and further sucked into the characters and how easily relatable the dialogue was, especially, when the teachers are convincing the administration that the play is valuable and needs to be produced by the high school. It dawned on me that this is what teaching is about: giving your students the fire they need to pursue their passions. I think that no matter what I do with my life–Julianne Moore’s character lived a mundanely regular life. When I’m in the classroom, I am dreaming by adding kindling, or blowing on a baby fire that I see lit in my students’ eyes. Some want to be writers. Some want to be dancers. Some want to be professional athletes. Some want to be rappers. Some want to be singers and musicians. I allow it all to grow without judgment, with unconditional support. Fighting for their right to live the life they dreamed for them is so easy for me, yet so hard for myself. I barely ever fight for my right to live the life I dreamed. Instead, I come up with excuses for why I’m not good enough or never will be. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” I say to rationalize all the desires that burn inside of me.
What does it really mean to be an artist? Growing up it was easy to see my brother as the artist in the family; he displayed all the traditional traits: cool clothes, crazy talented in any area of music, art just came easily to him. I wanted so badly to be an artist and searched for so long to find my niche. I took voice lessons and performed in recitals. I took piano lessons and performed in recitals. I took drama classes and performed in high school and one college play. I took dance classes and performed for a year in a company. Yet, quit each of those art forms because I didn’t like the ending. I didn’t like that others didn’t see me as good enough. I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror. I didn’t like that I wasn’t flexible enough. I didn’t like that I got rejected from auditions so frequently.
The truth about being an artist is, however, you are one if you are one. Humans are artists. Teachers are artists. We/I get so wrapped up in what an artist should look like, live like, work like, that I can never see who I truly am. There are some days whilst teaching that I am so in the moment that I couldn’t completely tell you what happened because I’m in the zone, as Ms. Spears so aptly put it years ago. Similarly, some days whilst writing I am so in the zone that hours pass without clear awareness. Artists aren’t, it turns out, a special group of people who the universe has hand-picked to live their lives in a tortured, filtered through indie film way. Artists can look like me: a normal 7th grade English Teacher working hard most days and practicing her art form every day.