Thursday, May 3, 2007

Must Be Present To Win

Columbia College has a very strict attendance policy in the theater department. If you miss three classes, you fail the course. Period. That's a very clear policy. Not all classes at Columbia follow this. If it's a lecture-oriented course, you only need to make sure you do all the quizes, exams and assigned paper work and show up on test days. In most theater classes, roughly 80% of your grade comes from participation. If there's one major component of participation, it's that you have to be in the same room as the rest of the class to do it. You have to show up.

I've had a very challenging, and very rewarding, Improvisation I class this semester. There's sixteen students and all of them have demonstrated a degree of talent for the craft that's exciting for me as a teacher to encourage and to see grow. It pains me when students I like do dumb things, like miss more than three classes. Improvisation I is a little like gym class. It's hard to fail. The only way to fail, really, is to not show up.

If a student misses four classes, I'll give them a chance to erase an absence by writing a review of an improv show. I find that when a student sees what more experienced improvisers are doing in Chicago, it informs their skills and I usually see a tiny leap forward in their work. If someone misses five classes, they're pushing it and I begin to feel taken advantage of.
I resent being put in that position. I don't want to flunk a student. Especially if it's someone I like. It feels like my failure. But as another teacher reminded me today, it doesn't serve them to do them any favors. If they're messing up now on the simple task of showing up to class, then how are they going to be in the professional world? But even at five absences, I can be had, and I'll allow you to do two reviews.

Today, a student missed her sixth class. I was really looking forward to seeing her work. She's struggled a bit in class. She has trouble with committing to the reality of the scene and being in support of her scene partner. Last week, I saw her have a small breakthrough in her work. She heightened a scene and set it on track. She did this with the tiniest utterance of "I'm not getting back together with you." Up until then, the relationships in the scene were undefined. That sentence made a click sound in everyone's head - on stage and in the audience - everything previous to that moment suddenly made sense and the scene really began to soar. I was anxious to see if she'd be able to build on what happened last week. But she wasn't in class today. So, I have to fail her.

She didn't show up. Bummer.