I recently wrapped up my second season of teaching theatre to adults with special needs. Special needs can mean an assortment of things, so to put it to context, many of my students have autism, some have Down Syndrome, others are nonverbal - and the list doesn't stop there.
It is by far the hardest teaching job I have had in my career - and I have been teaching for ten years now, but it has also lifted my heart and spirit in ways I never thought possible.
It's so cliche to say, but I often feel like my students teach me more than I teach them.
One student this semester was quite quiet in the beginning days. He didn't like to talk much. And, well, it's a theatre class, so you can imagine how that might pose a potential problem.
In an attempt to foster conversation, I did a twist on the Mirror Game - and instead of playing the game in silent, I had Wait For It, from Hamilton playing in the background.
My student lit up.
He started singing - and he knew all of the words.
Do you like Hamilton, I asked?
I love Hamilton, he said.
And there was our entry point.
I asked him if there was a song he'd like to learn, and he said that he wanted to know MY SHOT. So I printed the lyrics out, and we went over it each week, for ten weeks.
The final class is an open class for parents - the theatre invites them to come to see what their children have been working on all semester. It's informal, but it's special. An intimate look into the learning process.
My student, who has Down Syndrome, performed MY SHOT perfectly. His mom cried. I got a bit weepy.
At the end of the song he asked his mom if she liked his emotion - naturally she said she loved it. How could you not?
Hamilton was the entry point for my student to be seen, to stand on his own, to shine, and it was beautiful.
Perhaps that's the greatest lesson in the show - to pay attention to those around you. To see someone else's story in yours. To recognize that we all have the ability to stand strong in our own story.