Tuesday, August 17, 2021

What Does Back to School Have to do with 10 Things I Hate About You?

Today I am going to take a pause on the summer series because something major is on the horizon: the first day of school!  Not only that, but it's the start of my tenth year of teaching as well.  As much as I love blogging about the summer, I did not want to miss my opportunity to capture those first day jitters.  But how to celebrate and pay homage to all of that?

Immediately my mind went to one of the teen movie classics of my youth: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), a Shakespeare re-telling of Taming of the Shrew set in (you guessed it) high school.  This seemed an appropriate jumping off point given my own role as a high school English teacher (we do love our Shakespeare re-tellings).  

Should I write 10 Things I Hate About Back to School?  No.  Too negative and not the way I want to start the year -- especially this year.

Should I write 10 Things I Love About Back to School? No. Cliche, it's been done before.

And then it hit me.  10 Things I Hate About You, Shakespeare, Theater...I could write about the 10 Ways Back to School is Like Staging a Play!  Let's see...

One way back to school is like staging a play is that you spend weeks in dress rehearsals aka teacher professional development and department meetings that lay out your curriculum, plan out your first day activities, and just general prep work for the main show.  The main show can't even happen without it! 

The second way back to school is like staging a play is that you take a lot of time on costume design aka picking out an outfit.  I can already hear the clack of hangars and rustling of blouses as I go back and forth on what to wear.

Just as costuming is important, so too are props.  The third way back to school is like staging a play comes from the careful way we set out our supplies both at home (meal prep, mask tucked in the bag, notebooks set out, etc.) and at school (paper and pen stations, printed syllabus, etc.).  Like a good prop master, we carefully and meticulously set the props where they are supposed to be and pray that forgetful actors/students don't misplace them in the meantime.

The fourth way back to school is like staging a play is that you have a better appreciation for the silence in the empty theater/classroom just before showtime.  After all, in just a few hours it will be filled with excited chatter as people await the rising curtain.

Which brings me to the fifth way back to school is like staging a play: the flutter of anxiety.  I haven't been on stage in a number of years, but I definitely remember that fluttering sensation in my stomach just before the curtains went up.  I still recognize that sensation in my stomach now every year before school starts.  It's adrenaline and it can lead to stage fright, but it can also give you the push you need to stride out and give your best performance.

The sixth way back to school is like staging a play is that just before it starts people will wish you luck.  For actors the phrase is "break a leg," due to centuries of superstition.  For teachers it can be anything from the phrase "Good luck" to a few notes of encouragement passed to you from friends and colleagues.  Either way, you are receiving well wishes long before curtain call and there is a look of both pity and admiration from your supporters in the wings.  It's like they can't believe you are crazy enough to go on stage/go in the classroom.

The seventh way back to school is like staging a play is that steadying breath you take before going on stage.  This relates back to the fifth item I listed and I have found that taking a breath helps to calm those nerves and, at least in theater, can help you better project your voice.  Both on stage and in the classroom it's best if you can give off confidence and that comes from the breath.

Of course, breathing is a little different this year.  We're still in the thick of COVID and that means putting on masks prior to our performances.  I would argue that's the eighth way back to school is like staging a play: wearing a mask as part of the costume.  Or I suppose you could make some connection between all the plagues and theater shut-downs of Shakespeare's time and our own school shut-downs...but I'd prefer to keep things light and not dwell too much on that.

Which brings me to the ninth way back to school is like staging a play: the show must go on.  If you mess up, you keep going.  On the bright side, as my high school drama teacher used to tell us, the only one who is going to know you messed up is likely you.  Your audience will be none the wiser...at least not if you can just keep going.

And the final way back to school is like staging a play?  Well, just like some shows can run for months or even years at a time, so too does school.  As the day ends you leave the stage with the rush or dread of knowing you get to do it all again the next day.

The only downside is that unlike the stage, we don't typically end with applause or by taking a bow...but maybe we should.


  1. Yes, yes to all of this (well, except for the costuming- I do not do that, although I used to spend a lot of time trying to).

  2. Brava! Brava! This is genius--such a joy to read. I do love all the characters we get to meet, too!

  3. You capture all the back to school feelings and actions so well through this comparison to putting on a play. Have a great school year!!

  4. I love the comparisons you made in this post. I love how comparisons make us think about things in a different way. I always feel as though I am on stage in a class.

  5. I love "the show must go on!" I think Covid taught us that- we can do hard things. It won't always be perfect but every day we get to experience the process of teaching and learning. Such a great comparison.