603. Group Goals

If a teacher is lucky and skillful, sometimes a class can be a community of learners, all working together. Everyone in the class is motivated to learn what the teacher has planned to teach. They may have different reasons for being motivated: some may be sincerely interested in what is to be learned; some may want to please the teacher; some may just feel caught up in the spirit of the group, and not want to be the reason the group doesn’t succeed. When a group works, it can be one of the reasons teaching is so exciting.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon sometimes with my school year classes and always with my summer musical theatre “classes.” When my school year classes worked that way, I just felt lucky, but when my summer musicals worked that way, I felt as if I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, and doing it skillfully. During the school year, children who, for some reason, don’t contribute to the group effort, or who impede it, may or may not be in a certain class; it’s the luck of the draw. Skilled teachers have ways of bringing such children into the fold, but those ways may not always work.
As for the summer musicals, it wasn’t the luck of the draw; the deck was stacked. Almost invariably, the children who participated in the summer musicals did so because they wanted to; otherwise, why go to school during the summer? It wasn’t a course in remedial musical theatre. Whether or not children started the summers able to sing on key, memorize lines, act, or contribute to our productions in other ways, they all wanted the productions to be good. The community spirit that abounded among those young thesbians inspired me; it made me more and more eager to find ways to build that kind of spirit in my school year classes. Sometimes I was able to do so by producing plays with my classes, but sometimes not; not every child wants to be part of such an experience, and not every parent wants him or her to.
Some of my favorite memories of my teaching career have to do with the feeling of togetherness born of a group project (most often, but not always, a musical play). Children gave each other ideas, encouraged each other, helped each other through problems, and celebrated each other’s successes. One teacher – even one great teacher – can only do so much with twenty children. But when those twenty children become twenty teachers, amazing things can happen.
I don’t think it takes play production to build the kind of community I mean, and I don’t think it takes music. If there is a goal shared by everyone in the group, community can happen. It can be a group science experiment. It can be a group art project. Somehow, if the teacher can find something that involves every child, the whole can become much more than the sum of its parts. It’s something to strive for.

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