Juggling & Other Impossible Tasks
Michael and I just finished teaching an 8-week after school circus arts program at an elementary school near our home. I taught circus arts classes in the past, although I had never done an after school program with this format. While I love teaching, the prospect of teaching Kindergarten through 5th graders was a little daunting, especially since the 20 person class skewed young. I made up a rough class schedule, recruited Michael to help and crossed my fingers that we could teach 5-11 year olds to juggle or something that resembled a circus skill.
We started the session in a hallway. Although we were offered a classroom, the desks, tables, chairs and other obstacles made the space unusable without a moving crew at the beginning and end of each day. Far from ideal, we made the best of it. At least they couldn’t wander far.
If you have ever taught children, you know there are always a few names you figure out right away. They are the ones you talk to 5 times in the first 5 minutes. They are the ones that will keep you up at night trying to figure out how to turn octopus arms into jugglers. Who doesn’t love a challenge?
And there were challenges. Some kids were painfully shy. Others scooted down the hall or hid under the lone table refusing to do anything because they didn’t master something the first time they tried. We heard from a parent that their child wanted to quit mid-session (but didn’t). And then there were the talkers, the runners, and the “please take your hands off of him,” kids. Ask any teacher, they deal with this every single day. Thank you, teachers. You are saints.
While our framework was circus arts and our product was a show for parents on the last day, we focused on the process. Juggling is hard. Ask any person who has ever tried. You won’t be successful the first or second or third time you try. Failure is not easy to accept and especially for elementary school kids.
We focused on teamwork, each encouraging the other to do their best. We cheered their successes and raised them up when things didn’t go well. We focused on stage presence and presenting oneself as a confident person on stage and off. But, we mostly focused on a simple formula:
Courage + Perseverance = Success
Trying something hard takes courage. Performing on stage takes courage. And they all did it. Some of them worked through fear, some even intense fear and found something in themselves to overcome it.
It is hard to keep going when you don’t get it right away. But, they didn’t learn to read the first time they picked up a book and they didn’t learn to tie their shoes the first time they laced them up. We practiced juggling every day in our once a week class. Knowing that juggling wasn’t going to be possible for everyone, we all tried balancing, swinging poi, hat manipulation and clowning. They all found their thing and kept at it. While the older kids learned to juggle balls, others learned scarves. But, everyone learned something.
I learned something, too. Kids are amazing beings. The show isn’t something we’ll take on the road. It wasn’t that kind of show. What I will take with me are the smiles on their faces when the performance was done. That sense of pride, and maybe relief, that filled them. I’ll take the hugs from the kids and the thanks from the parents. And I’ll carry the hope that they will all have the courage to try something new or something hard and keep at it until they succeed.