Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Extracurriculars Matter: What They Can Do for You as a Teacher

I began the job hunt immediately after graduating college. Of course there were schools that I really wanted to be part of, most of which were local, but according to the Stones, you can't always get what you want. Once it became apparent that I wasn't going to get a job at a local school, I had to broaden my horizons and I ultimately took a job at a high school that was almost fifty miles away. It was a pretty long commute, but that certainly wasn't the greatest challenge. I think the greatest challenge was that I was not part of that community. I knew one person there - my eighth grade English teacher (who I loved and adored!) now taught in that same building, and thank God for that. Like I said in last Sunday's post, making friends is not my area of specialty, for lots of reasons. So the greatest challenge for me was the fact that, aside from Kim, I didn't know a soul. I had no connections to this building, these people, this community. I was a total outsider.

I can say, though, that by the end of my year there, I was slowly but surely becoming part of the culture there, and it wasn't because of my wit, charm, or hilarious stories. It was because I was the theatre lady.

I took lots of theatre classes in college (I'm actually only two classes shy of my minor), but never did I believe I would have the opportunity to direct a school's theatre program. I just hoped I would be able to assist with some theatre stuff in whatever school I found myself at. Little did I know that my background in theatre and willingness to take on this mega task would be part of the reason that I got both my first and my current teaching appointments.

There are several perks to taking on an extracurricular activity. If you (for whatever delusional reason) only took on a teaching job for the "summers off" and the "short work days" and the "snow days" and stuff... well, I have nothing to say to you, except don't even bother sponsoring an activity. Those kids will see through you in a second. You big phony. However, if you are a teacher who wants to make the most of their teaching experience, who wants to make a difference and enjoy doing so, then allow me to elaborate on five reasons you should take on an extracurricular activity.

  1. It will save your sanity. I always encourage my graduating seniors to take a "sanity class" every semester. College can be miserable if it's all work, no play. I always tell students that they should take electives that make them happy, that further them as a person. I encourage you to do the same by choosing an extracurricular activity that you enjoy! If you enjoy volleyball, volunteer to coach or assist with the volleyball team! If you love research and learning, the academic team might be the place for you. Perhaps you, too, are a video game aficionado; why not get together with the younger gamers in your building and geek out together? (If I had the time, I would found this club in a hot second.) You should become part of something extra that will make even the worst school days bearable, because you have your activity to look forward to! My love of drama club gets me through the tough days and there is no way I would possibly survive test prep season if it wasn't for knowing I could go vent out some frustration on the stage at the end of the day by playing improv games.
  2. It will help you become a presence in your building. Being the new teacher in the building is just as bad as being the new kid in school (because, as you teachers know, teachers are just big students). It will be all-too-easy to slip through the cracks and go unnoticed in your building, especially if your corporation has had an unfortunate turn-over rate lately. Don't get me wrong... I'm an introvert. I love being a wallflower and sometimes being invisible is nice. But sometimes it's really frustrating to be invisible! Being in charge of an activity makes you more more noticeable in a positive way. It shows that you care about being there and that you care about the kids and that you are a responsible person. All of that stuff is really important when your administrators are filling out those pesky evaluations.
  3. It can also help you build relationships with your coworkers. This is one step up from being a "presence." Teaching is lonely business, people! If you're not careful, you can go the whole day without talking to someone who is eligible to vote or can legally buy alcohol. You need people to talk to. I don't mean small talk (yuck); I mean real talk. People to commiserate with, veterans who can offer you advice, fellow tech gurus to share resources with, and other people with common interests! If you coach a sport, there's probably a pretty good chance that you'll get along well enough with other coaches. If you sponsor an art program, you'll probably get along with most of the other artsy people. If you get to tag-team an activity, that has potential to be a built-in friendship. (Or a little hell, but let's not talk about that. Positivity reigns here!)
  4. You are one step closer to becoming integrated into the community. At my first school, the one that was fifty miles away, it didn't take long being the drama club lady before I got in touch with some drama club parents. I love drama club parents... they are there to help out and offer support whenever and however they can without being overbearing. I don't know if you've realized this yet (dependent, of course, on your years of classroom experience) but teachers are local celebrities. Students can sniff you out a mile away, and you're apparently extra pungent if your tattoo is showing or you have a cocktail in your hand. Being a club sponsor or a coach kind of ups the celebrity level... but that's okay when you're trying to become a face in a community. (Funny little anecdote: when I was hospitalized back in January - at a hospital in a different county - a phlebotomist came in, smiled at me, and said, "Are you the drama club teacher?" And I can't imagine the dumbfounded look that must have graced my drugged-up features, but she laughed and said, "I'm Cheyenne's mom!" Second funny little thing: when my husband and I are out and about, I'll just start counting aloud. "One. Two. Three, four, and five." And he knows that I'm counting students seen out in the wild. When I say, "Dear God, number six, hide, hide, hide!" he knows what's going on. Also, I kind of love it when students see me outside of the building, only because I think they forget that teachers actually exist outside of school. They always look at me like I'm a dog walking on its hind legs.)
  5. MOST IMPORTANTLY, if you sponsor an extracurricular activity for any reason at all, it should be this one: you will build relationships with students. Anyone who's been reading my unsolicited advice for the last three years knows that my number one piece of advice for having a well-managed classroom is to build relationships with students. I get emails all the time asking how to make that happen. This is one HUGE way to do it. You have to show your students that you are a person with interests outside of the pythagorean theorem, the civil war, or cellular reproduction. They need to be able to relate to you outside of the classroom. Lots of teachers are capable of building relationships without tackling an extracurricular, and that's awesome. But I think that sponsoring an extracurricular activity is a surefire way to open yourselves up to students in a professional capacity. My theatre kids seek me out on the regular, often for things that have absolutely nothing to do with theatre. They need help with their English paper for another teacher. They have a bad thing going on at home and need someone to talk to. They need advice on trivial stuff like clothes and books to read, or on serious stuff, like colleges to look at or how to deal with a problem. Most often, though, they find me just because they need someone to talk to. I especially love having those kids in class, because their open communication with me often makes other students realize that I am open and available to talk to them, to help them out, that they don't need to be afraid to ask me a question. (Fun fact: I was once described by a student as "pants-pissing scary" which is probably the highest compliment I have ever received.)

I hope that these five reasons have given you reason to consider my cause. I think every teacher should dabble in an extracurricular activity. I'm not saying everyone should dedicate 10+ hours a week to their activity in addition to teaching time, but would it be so bad to sponsor a club that meets for thirty minutes once a month?

The benefits are many, but honestly, there is no greater benefit for me than seeing the pride my students have in their work.

Dracula. Fall 2014.

Happy Tuesday!