It was a day like any day (in a central New York January). Instead of engaging in a productive morning filled with bougie breakfast consisting of French press-made coffee, bacon, a three-egg omelet with kale and spinach and mozzarella cheese all sizzled together in the bacon grease, I took the indolent approach of stopping by Skaneateles Bakery for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. A coconut donut was thrown into the mix.
In the mid-winter chill, I drove over to Skaneateles High School with a defective hood — all you need is some WD-40, the mechanic says, an easy fix — and my mind in the red zone.
This past Wednesday’s senior classes focused on writing, research, and interviewing. Sunlight blasted through the windows and graced all surfaces, including the bookshelves which held a variety of literature. Wuthering Heights never had such a positive outlook and Joseph Campbell continues to be radiant.
For three 40-minute periods, students and I talked about their research projects, putting together a particular angle, identifying credible sources, and interviewing tactics. Aside from my speaking for the majority of each class, the dialogue was open. The students were very receptive — especially those who I approached and interacted with whether they liked it or not. The burgeoning young adults were even put through an improv exercise that day — three-line scenes — to give them face-to-face, interpersonal interaction. They have to interact, after all, to get this research paper finished.
At 12:50 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22, I put my hands on my hips, smiled, and thought today was a great day. I love my teaching profession.
That last line isn’t really true — I’m not a teacher. If sticking to my secondary education studies at SUNY Oneonta stayed strong, a framed master’s degree certificate would be hanging on my wall and a job in a middle or high school setting is where my home away from home would be.
If we could rewind this post to the very beginning and then quickly fast forward to the present point where reality and my dream world diverge, it wouldn’t be so off. By the end of the five-hour day, my hands were placed upon my hips and I was smiling from pure elation.
I enjoyed breakfast (and lunch, too) by Skaneateles Bakery. I did speak to high school seniors about writing, interviewing tactics and maintaining integrity, developing trust and relationships for any type of interview. They did -— some begrudgingly — enjoy the improv exercise and seeing the human connection, finding similarities, and seeing that spark to the beginning of interpersonal rapport.
Being in a classroom was a rush.
My time and talk were received well, albeit the exuding goofiness and quirks stemming from seeds of (good) nerves and (constructive) anxiety. There is a lot of joy being in front of a group of people of any age. Improv can definitely be thanked for this developed ability. I also wasn’t shy about spontaneously making conversation with students, including one whose head was propped up by his L-shaped arm on his desk, and others who I later found out were the equivalent to my former shy high school self. I (thankfully) gently eased them out of their comfort zones unbeknownst to me in those moments.
They did so well speaking to me, to each other, and asking questions. If I didn’t almost run over the time — I initially did not think I’d utilize the full 40 minutes, but having that timeframe was the bigger issue — I tried to field more questions.
One young man asked: What about you? We’d like to know more about you.
It wasn’t about me. Yes, I introduced myself. I work at CNY Arts for my full-time focus, helping fund arts and culture organizations in a six-county region, and hoping/helping bolster economic growth in the grant scheme of things. Yes, I write for three publications in the region. But this isn’t about me.
Part of me wanted to bluntly tell him that. Aside improv as an extracurricular activity and creative skill builder, they would’ve needed to pick up those verbal clues that I was from the area (born and raised), but they didn’t know I went to West Genesee.
It’s not about me.
At one point I joked I was the substitute teacher when the students’ teacher was out of the room. I made jokes that went above heads, referenced music from the ’90s, and laughed about logging onto AOL and those phone line dial tones. The biggest hurdle today: Growing up and being at such an age in a world heavily focused, and dare I say dependent, on technology — this was part of the reason for my presence.
Unless the world does face the whole Wall·E demise — environmental eradication (which can be foreseen) and humans are voluntarily (?) confined to chairs, continually focused on hovering digital touchscreens, and having food directly served to them (this is all in the happening right now) — human interaction is inevitable and incredibly important.
To digress about Wall·E: How are there babies in the movie? There is such minimal interaction until the screens short out for the two citizen characters, so how are people procreating?!?
Conversational counters included things we can all relate to. Yes, the cliches “we’re all human beings” and “there are no dumb questions” came out of my mouth. They were simply to reinforce my stories and suggestions on interviewing. Stories of childhood, things these students could possibly relate to revolving around watching sports or watching family members cook in the kitchen, were used to emphasize the importance of learning through others and that relevant questions encourage learning and growth.
If you don’t know something and you’re talking to a credible source, whether it’s in person or via phone or through email correspondence, asking simple and probing questions to learn more is allowed. If something piques your interest and is relevant, it’s okay to stray from those questions written down in order to learn more.
Embrace the inner child within you and unchain your curiosity. Ask questions, read, research, and learn. Ask more questions.
Don’t stop asking questions.
A huge thank you goes out to Aisha McConochy and her students at Skaneateles High School for the opportunity.