• Thomas Ward

The Real World

I’ve been thinking about teaching a lot lately. I’ve been tweeting about it too. (Follow me @wardtho). I’ve been talking about it on my podcast with my partner and wife Sherry (#iloveyouhoneybunnypodcast). But I’ve also been thinking about it.

Yesterday my sister came to visit from Nashville. She’s an EMT. We talked all day about all sorts of things and it was great to catch up. But she talked about her job a lot. It was amazing. She went to Chicago earlier on in the pandemic. I hope she tells her stories.

But she told me stories of her training to be an EMT and they were shocking. Going to Fort Campbell and simulating combat experiences. Men shouting at her with a smoke machine going. Machine gun sounds. Heavy metal music playing. A dummy with fake blood spurting from a missing leg. As she told me what she described, it sounded like a cross between laser tag, an emotional recall exercise, Call of Duty, a Megadeath video, a college theater scene, and a nightmare. She said she remembered thinking, “Why am I here?” I asked her if she had experienced anything remotely like that in the field. She said no. I wish this was a vlog because I would recreate how she said it. I have a MFA in acting. (Link to my actor page)

I asked her what the justification for that simulation was. She said they said:

“If you can’t handle it in the classroom how are you going to handle it in the real world?”

My silent heart began to scream. I smiled slightly and nodded.

I'm sure I have used that exact line before. I know that I’ve worked in schools and departments that have used that argument to justify all kinds of bad behavior.

I taught acting at Baylor University in their theater department from 2006-2012 and that was the primary justification for casting pretty much everything, I believe. At the end of the day, from the student’s perspective, I believe that is what we would fall back on. “The real world” argument. You have to toughen up. You have to be ready for the real world. It’s going to be tough out there. It started from the top, the acting chair of the department at the time, and it filtered down.

Is it tough out here? Yeah. Duh. But in the real world I’m not choosing to go into mountains of debt just to be on stage. I might take a class or two. But I’m not paying this: (link to tuition for Baylor)

I know there’s more to college than being in plays. (Enter the BFA program) But I also was in plays in college. And that’s what I remember doing. And that’s how I learned an awful lot about an awful lot. And I wasn’t in a lot of plays just because I’m good. I was in a lot of plays because a lot of plays needed men because that’s what plays were being done. You can only do Steel Magnolias so many times with so many women. And on and on and on it’s been going.

Toughen up. It’s gonna be tough out there. Bullshit.

I taught elementary school theater and middle school theater in the public school system in Texas and it was obviously a much different experience. It was survival for me personally at that point. But that phrase is still being said. “If they can’t handle it in the classroom how are they going to handle it in the real world?”

I taught in an elementary school in Keller Texas that had a very diverse mix of students racially and economically. I taught middle school in a low economic area of Fort Worth that had a high percentage of Black and Hispanic students. Same idea. “If they can’t handle it in the classroom, how are they going to handle it in the real world.”

Has American education always been hazing? I don’t know the answer. I just know it has always felt like it to me. And I know that I’m tired of that argument in the classroom and board room and the staff meetings.

All I can say is that the students I’m friends with are still making art. Are still writing. Are still fighting. Are still working. Are still alive. Are still teaching. Are still in love. Are still parenting. Are still searching.

And I’m still riding around in my van listening to Nirvana and thinking about Shakespeare.


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