On Saturday night, I went to see my former students perform their musical. I knew it was going to be bittersweet and be a weirdly emotional evening for me.
I was right.
But not for all of the reasons I thought.
Let me start by admitting something that will probably not be a surprise: While I did not appreciate the way my administration handled things at my previous school, I never blamed the students. Meanwhile, my current school is not the ideal fit, either; due both to administration and students. Therefore, I have missed my old students so much. Every day, in fact. While teaching my difficult classes, I would wish for my former students.
I experienced plenty of regret over leaving. While I wouldn’t have had my same position, I deeply regretted leaving and wished that I had stayed and taken the other position. This is despite the fact that I would not have been great at it. I missed the hours. I missed the students.
I had spent three years with these kids. I wanted them to do well. Of course I was going to come see their musical when they invited me. I wanted it to be great because the kids deserve that.
That being said, there was a part of me that was petty and awful. A part of me that was still actively hurting; who would compare it to what I had done with them.
I hate admitting that, but it is the truth.
I needed validation or proof or something. Was I really a bad director? Did the school have good reason to force me to leave? Were my students honestly much better off without me?
Please note: I did not want it to be a dumpster fire! I wanted it to be on level with what I had done. For my own sake, I needed it to not be Broadway. For their sake, I needed it to be good.
So I was very nervous as I was driving to the school that night. I hated myself for conflicting emotions and it consumed me while I drove there.
I get to the school. I am hit with pangs of “Why on earth did I agree to come?” I walk in the building and am hoping against all odds that I do not see any of the other teachers I used to work with. I notice that the audience size is on par with what we used to have, but smaller than our usual Saturday crowds. Of course it is football season and in the south, so that might be the reason. I purchase a “Star Gram” to send to the cast. It was weird to send it, seeing as I am the one who started them. Some of my former students are ushers and say hi as they let me into the auditorium.
Here is where karma gets weird.
My former technical director also came to see the show that night. We had not planned this at all. In fact, I have not spoken to her since the last day of school!
(I mean, I had e-mailed her in September asking for a letter of recommendation to grad school, but have not heard back from her, so… let’s not count that?)
Laughing, I walked up to her and we began talking. We sat together and caught up. We both admitted that we wanted the kids to be great but were hoping that we weren’t rotten directors. It was nice to know that it wasn’t just me who was uneasy. We looked at the set and were surprised by the fact that there didn’t really seem to be much that was BUILT. There was a set, but it was pieces that we already had. Granted, they had smartly picked a show that did not need an overly complicated set. This was a good choice. The costumes were pieces the kids already owned or from stuff we had gotten previously. Technically, our sets and costumes had definitely been more elaborate. Reading the program, we knew about 90% of the cast and crew, so it wasn’t a lot of new blood.
The show began.
There were parts of the show that were really cute and parts that were a bit rough. But this is how all educational theatre is. There were sound issues, so we knew that all the problems we had experienced with mics were not due to us! It wasn’t user error! There were pitch issues. There were minor snags. But again, these are things that always come with seeing a show. If I hadn’t been so familiar with the show, I wouldn’t have known.
It was a good show.
There is a local competition for high school musical theatre. We had competed in it while we were teaching there and the school was competing again this year. The judges were there that night. A few of my former students were really excited because their new director came from a school that received nominations, so they thought that meant they would definitely be getting plenty of noms this year. Honestly, I don’t know if that is happening. It tends to be the same schools who get nominated over and over, they dominate musical theatre. Looking over the last 5 (even 10) years, it is essentially the exact same group of schools over and over. Their reputation as musical powerhouses is well known and documented. Unless many of these schools have really bad nights when the judges watch their shows, I do not think my former students will suddenly find themselves swimming in nominations. Do my former students deserve nominations? Of course. But established school systems will probably get them instead.
All in all, I thought our musical last year was better. Did I enjoy the show? Yes. Were the students amazing? Yes. Was I there because I love these kids? Also yes. In the end, my previous concerns were met – my students were putting on a good show.
After the show, we went out into the lobby to talk to the students.
And here is where things changed in a way that I was not expecting.
The technical theatre students (and some of the acting students) were so excited to see her and she had a huge crowd around her. This was great to see.
Several of my students came over and gave me hugs and talked to me. There were a handful who really wanted to catch up, which was sweet.
But many of them would wave hi and that was it. Get a quick hug, and off they went. Some of them I saw and said hi to and they were like “Oh hey, sorry. I am busy.”
Here I had been missing these kids every single day and they could care less. I am not saying that I wanted them to miss me so much that they were miserable. But they didn’t even care at all. Last year, I had seen them more excited to see their intermediate school theatre teachers.
Of course this started an avalanche of worry in my head. Why did they all hate me? Had someone said something that made them think I didn’t care about them? Had I done something? Was I actually an awful teacher and they were thrilled to have me gone?
Those who had been excited to see me were saying I needed to come see the next show, etc. They were so glad I came, it meant so much to them, come see them again!
But as I got into my car, having just experienced a straight up brush off from one of my students who I had been incredibly close to the past few years, I knew it was over.
The chapter of my life that includes those students is officially closed. If I see any of them in the future, it will not be as a student/teacher. It will not be anything dealing with that school. They will flourish there without me.
It is a definitive goodbye.