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Archive for Education

Looking Back and Looking Forward

As teachers, we’re accustomed to referring to two different calendars—-the traditional yearly calendar and our school calendar (which usually has every square filled using multiple colors of pens, some pencil marks, a few highlighted areas, some scratch-outs, various arrows pointing to additions that would no longer fit into the square for that particular date, and check marks by items that have been completed. It makes me tired just looking at it! The great thing about living with two calendars, however, is that while everyone else is celebrating the end of 2017, teachers are also able to look forward to the rest of the school year and the experiences it will bring (and to celebrate its end in May or June). This is also a great time to look back for a moment and reflect.

As I take a moment to look back, I find myself asking the following questions:

  1. What worked? To answer this question, take a moment to make a list of the things you’ve accomplished this year (or school year so far if you’re wearing your teacher “hat” at the moment). Don’t spend so much time looking forward that you don’t take the time to acknowledge the positive things that have already happened. Whether it’s in your personal or professional life, what new things have you learned that will now make life easier or happier? Which goals have you accomplished? How has your life been impacted in a positive way? How have you impacted others in a positive way? What is better now than it was in 2016 (or before the 2017-18 school year started)? What (or who) has brought you joy?My “to do” lists are always filled—up and down the page, in the margins, front and back of the paper—-with all the tasks I need to complete. When I look back at one of these lists as I transfer the few items left on the old, scratched-out list to a new page so I can continue to list more tasks, my first thought is, “No wonder I’m so tired!”. That is quickly followed by the satisfaction that somehow I have been able to get those things done that at one time I felt were insurmountable. Take a moment to reflect on the good. It will remind you of your purpose.
  2. What didn’t work? This one can be painful, but we need to reflect on what didn’t work if we want to learn and grow. Over two decades ago, I directed the Teahouse of the August Moon, John Patrick’s Pulitzer award winning play. I’ve always remembered Sakini’s words from his opening monologue, “Pain make man think, thought make man wise, wisdom make life endurable”. Recalling failures is not a time to merely complain or indulge in self-pity. This is a time of honest and sometime uncomfortable reflection. What things did you experience that made your life more difficult or impacted you in a negative way? Which goals did you not accomplish and how could you have done things differently? How did you impact others in a negative way and how were you impacted by others in a negative way? What is not as good as it was before this year started? What or who has stolen your joy? Think about what didn’t work. Resolve to learn from it and change it rather than repeat it.
  3. What/whom do you have to be thankful for/to? Gratitude is good for the soul. It takes the focus off yourself on places it on things and people who had a positive impact. It also makes us realize how truly blessed we are. I had a principal whose mantra was, “Many hands make the work light”. Most theatre departments have only one theatre teacher. It can be a bit lonely and stressful. But there are usually those who are willing to help along the way. Let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how good we have it until a change occurs. Our school experienced a lot of changes this year with a new principal and a new director of fine arts. Both ladies who previously held these positions were exemplary. I am so blessed that both gentlemen who currently hold these positions are also exemplary. Change brought about uncertainty and fear, but I am so thankful that I continue to be supported as a teacher and director of theatre at my school by an amazing administrative team. Realize what and who you have and let them know that you appreciate them.

So now, it’s time to look forward, and I’m asking myself the following questions:

  1. What do I want to accomplish? How can I have a positive impact? Where/how can I continue to learn so I can continue to grow as a person, teacher, mother, wife, grandmother, etc…? What is going to truly bring me joy and what do I need to do to achieve it? Winning at contest is great, but it should not be the only goal. It shouldn’t even be the primary goal. Is that sometimes hard to remember? Absolutely! The goal is to tell the story in the best way possible. That’s all your truly have control over. Only you know where your students started the year and the trials and tribulations you’ve overcome as a group. There’s much to be celebrated if we’re willing to look past the trophies and medals.
  2. How can I learn from the mistakes I’ve made in the past? Do I need to re-evaluate my goals? What can I change? Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we can’t change others. And sometimes, the change is to remove yourself or someone else from the situation. The only person you can control is you. Don’t allow others to steal your joy. Sometimes that means it is time to look for another teaching position because you no longer see yourself as being a good fit for your current position (or the school is no longer a good fit for you). Sometimes that means that casting changes need to occur. Sometimes it means we need to change the way we do things. Make changes when they’re needed. Learn from mistakes and move forward. As long as your pain makes you think and your thought makes you wise, it will lead to wisdom that will make life more endurable. (Thank you, Sakini and John Patrick!)
  3. Who do I need to surround myself with? Who are the people that I know I’ll be thanking at the end of the year for making my life easier, better, and happier? Who is going to bring joy to my life and the lives of the people I love and care about? How can I bring joy to the people I come in contact with each day? As Mark Twain once said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”. Who will you choose to divide your joy with?

As 2017 comes to a close and we welcome 2018 and all the wonderful experiences that will be coming our way, I’d like to take this moment to say thank you to each of you who have purchased our curriculum, liked our Facebook page, attended a workshop, recommended our publications to other theatre educators, or in any way supported Maestro Theatre Publications, LLC.  May your 2018 be filled with happiness and success. May you and your students create many moments that will turn into precious memories. Most importantly, may be surrounded by love and by many wonderful people with whom you can divide your joy. Happy New year!

MUSICAL MUSINGS

Three weeks ago, we closed our musical, Godspell. I know some of you reading this are jealous because you are either in the middle of musical rehearsals or beginning them and I am done! We put up our musical in six weeks from auditions to opening night. No, we did not cast in May and allow the students to work on the music in the summer; we literally began the first week of school. When my choir teacher, Chris Yurasek, and I decided to tackle this “beast” in the first six weeks of school, we knew it could be done; but we did worry about the quality of the work in such a short time period. It was an intense six weeks, but one I would do over again. We discovered several benefits of directing a musical in such a short amount of time.

First, the benefit of having a commanding image, or directing concept, from the onset of rehearsals was valuable to the success our production. I knew before we started that we would direct Godspell “a la Breakfast Club.” That drove every decision we made from set, choreography, musical choices, and costumes. I am usually hesitant to make decisions, but my commanding image drove all of my choices and helped me articulate the design process to my choir teacher and students. I do not have an assistant director, technical director, etc. I have a choir director, my students, and a choreographer that I hired for a day. Being able to share my commanding image from day one was crucial to getting everything done in a short amount of time.

Another “first” for me was having choreographers come in and teach all of the choreography in one day at the beginning of the production process. I was blessed that Larry and Sue Wisdom agreed to come out and teach all of the dance numbers that day. Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first. When I posted the first Saturday rehearsal to begin at 8:00 a.m, and end at 10:00 p.m., I thought most of my company would find something else to do that day. I was wrong, not only did the actors and chorus show up, so did the crew. All of them arrived that morning bringing food and great attitudes. It was a great bonding experience to start out the production process. In fourteenhours, they learned all of the choreography for the entire show. One of my students set up cameras to record it all. I hope to continue to find choreographers who are willing to commit to one intense day of teaching all of the dance numbers. This allowed us to focus on the rest of the show. We had a few rehearsals specifically to clean up the dances, but many chorus members would meet on their own and rehearse the numbers together in small groups. One of my students was the dance captain and she watched the videos and coached the others throughout the rehearsal process. It was nice to not have to stop and learn the next dance number or have the kids forget the earlier one. Learning them all from the beginning allowed us to focus on the numbers that were more difficult and just brush up on the easier numbers. Usually, I am frustrated by the time we learn the fifth number for the show because they forgot the first number. This did not happen when we learned them all the first day.

Another tip I have that made things easier was the website signupgenius.com for meals the week of dress rehearsals and performances. My drama club officers set it up, which was one less thing I had to do. Parents and students signed up to bring various sandwich items. We had more than enough food and clean up was a breeze. This is the first time meals were hassle free.

The biggest take away I have is that a shorter time-span kept more students involved and excited. I normally spend 8-10 weeks minimum on the musical. When I do, I lose kids along the way because they get bored, find other things to interest them, fail, etc. During the six weeks, only two students dropped out. A shorter period kept them more focused, energetic and motivated. Would I have liked to have more time to polish, yes; but the trade off was we closed with kids still excited and involved. They are already asking what we are doing next year. And, next year, we plan to do the same process – putting the musical up in six weeks. Although, we have decided to cast in May so students can learn the music over the summer.

Not everything was a success. I learned some lessons the hard way, through failure. My biggest headache for the musical is always the program. It was again this year. I still have not mastered the most efficient way to put a program together. We sell ads to help with the cost of the program. I bought Playbillder this year thinking it would provide more guidance for my student. I thought it was done and ready to print and it was not. We finished it in time, but we had to be a little more creative than we had planned. We copied it at school instead of having it copied. It did not look as polished, but it saved us a ton of money. We cut the bios from the program and created a bio wall. I will do this in the future. The student’s picture and bio mounted on cardstock was a nice momento to give each student on closing night.

So, with the musical in the rearview mirror, I am moving on to the next two fall productions. It has taken a few weeks, but I think I have recovered from the first six weeks of school and am ready to tackle the rest of the school year.

It’s Audition Time Again

I have a love/hate relationship with auditions.  As a director, I’m excited to see the growth of my students’ auditioning skills from their previous auditions.  I’m optimistic that new jewels are about to be discovered, and that those diamonds-in-the-rough from the previous year are now sparkling and ready to “wow” me. Watching students enter the audition process with excitement, hope, and determination is something that I absolutely love.  I hate, however, the eventual task of making those difficult (and many times hair-splitting) decisions, breaking hearts, and disappointing kids. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process if your students are truly invested in your program.

With the beginning of another school year, many directors are currently going through the audition process.  Below are a few tips that have worked for me.

  1. The CALENDAR. Have a calendar with dates of rehearsals, performances, contests, and any other dates that your company members will be required to attend.  It’s important to be very specific concerning the expectations you have of your students’ time. This will, hopefully, eliminate conflicts in the future. It will also give you leverage later should a student ask to miss a required event due to a conflict that was not previously approved.

 

  1. The CONTRACT. A contract listing your rehearsal, performance, and contest expectations, along with information concerning the dates you require students to attend these events (attach calendar mentioned in #1) should be distributed at auditions.  Have students read the contract and allow them to communicate any questions they may have. Contracts should be signed by both the student and a parent. There should be a statement indicating that the parent and the student both understand and agree to your expectations and the student will be available on all dates indicated as a required event.

 

  1. The AUDITION FORM. I include a section for students to list their other activities (job, school activities, church activities, private lessons, etc…) on the audition form. Have students list all possible activities they will be involved with during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show (including advancement dates for contest and any rehearsals to accompany advancement). They should include dates/times for these activities.  It’s important that you get an idea how busy the student is and with which activities they are involved.  It’s best to know that a student has conflicts prior to casting them.  Sometimes, you can work through the issues and the student can still participate, but if the student is going to have to make choices, it’s best for them and for you to know that now.

 

  1. The PROCESS. It’s important to consider many things when perusing scripts: your talent pool, your audience, your community, your budget, and the literary merit of the material you’re considering just to name a few. Finding “the one” is often a time-consuming process.  If more than one script could be “the one”, consider auditioning multiple scripts to get an idea of which is the best.  During the audition process, include a brief interview with each of the students who receive a call-back (and, if time allows, during regular auditions). If you haven’t already discussed possible conflicts from the audition form with each student, the interview process is a great time to have that discussion. Interviews can be done during lunch and before or after school on non-audition days if desired. Also, consider using various audition techniques in your assessment of auditions.  A cold reading of the chosen script can be useful, but not all students cold-read well.  Warm-ups and improv activities can be valuable in discovering who is quick-witted, creative, or willing to get out of their comfort zone.  Having students memorize a brief monologue or scene for call-backs is yet another way to access a student’s abilities. Pantomime activities are a great way to observe a student’s use of physicality when acting.  When multiple assessments are used, a director can consider how each student uses the body, voice, imagination, and script.  This will give you a much better picture of the actor you are casting.  Crew members should also have an audition and interview process.

 

  1. The “TALK”. I give “the talk” prior to the start of auditions and at the conclusion of each audition session.  The “talk” at the beginning of the audition session will include information concerning what I’m looking for in auditions.  I also give each student a list of characters with character descriptions, a synopsis of the play, and the calendar/contract/audition form. I want the students to have all the information they need to be successful and to understand the expectations of them. At the end of each audition session, and especially on the final day of regular auditions and call-back auditions, I conclude with another “talk”.  I explain to the students that I have to make very difficult decisions, and not everyone will get what they want.  I ask that they look at me and really hear the following words, “I’m talking to you”.   So many of them truly believe they’ve aced their audition, and there’s no way you can’t choose them. They need to understand that rejection is a part of the process.  If you get the part you want, that probably means someone else (or several people) have not gotten what they wanted.  It happens.  It’s disappointing, and it is alright to be disappointed.  It’s NOT alright to be angry, bitter, or disruptive to the production process if you’re disappointed.  During the production process, we teach theatre, but we also teach “life”.  Teaching them how to handle disappointment and triumph is part of what we do.  I tell my students, “You’re always auditioning” in hopes that this will encourage them to reflect before reacting negatively. Help them learn that you love them enough to hold them accountable for their behavior.

Don’t forget that you, too, will be auditioning during the student audition process.  Students come into auditions evaluating you, your program, & your choice of script. They’re considering, “Do I want to spend my time being a part of this process?”, “Does this director seem like someone I want to work with?”, and “Do I really want to be in this particular play?”.  Be organized. Be engaging.  Be excited.  Students want to make sure that the commitment of their time, talent, and efforts is well placed. The audition process will help them make that decision.  Best wishes with your auditions this year, and remember—-you, and they, are always auditioning!

Perseverance

In the past few weeks, I have had the fortunate opportunity to clinic sixteen shows in different parts of Texas.  I always leave feeling challenged, inspired, and blessed.  This past weekend, I returned with a huge appreciation for the life lessons we teach students while working on a production.  We teach students about perseverance, commitment, and the strength we gain when working with others.

As I have worked with each director, I recognize the toll the long hours and stress put on each of us.  Preparing for the competition season, working within a budget, lesson planning, teaching, grading etc. (not to mention having a family) is draining on all of us.  With the earlier contest dates, we are all scrambling to re-adjust our schedules to be prepared for that first contest.  Even with the best-laid plans, unexpected delays seem to pop up.  I know many of you have had additional, unforeseen complications with obtaining production rights, commitments (or should I say non-commitments) from students, and the flu season.

About the time I am at the end of my stress level and ready to throw in the towel, I am reminded of the invaluable lessons we are teaching our students as we press through all of the obstacles to prepare our production.   When students see us continuing to work hard, staying positive, working around all hurdles, they are learning life lessons.  These are the lessons a student cannot learn from a book, they learn from example and their own experience.  This is why we continue to pick up our bootstraps and keep moving forward.

In the past couple of weeks, I know of three productions that have had to start all over.  All three companies had created their super-objective and commanding image, prepared their scripts, begun costuming, designed a set, gathered props, etc.   Their students had already memorized their lines, were blocking and developing a character.  Then, because of some unexpected obstacle, the current production had to be halted.  I am afraid in today’s society, too many people would give up and quit – but not theatre teachers.  We know how to look at the worst of situations and turn them into the best possible scenario.  What a gift we give our students.

We all could tell stories about companies who pulled together to overcome complications – stories about changing productions with few rehearsals left before a contest or opening night, students who failed to commit, administration that stopped a show or concept, unfortunate accidents or sicknesses.  This list could go on and on.   Very few times can we name the times a company quit because of these unfortunate incidents.  Instead, we have watched as directors and students pulled together to produce quality theatre.  More importantly, we have watched as directors taught young adults how to persevere in life.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  We cannot quit in the face of adversity,

As I watched a group of young actors enthusiastically welcome a production change due to the lack of commitment from some of their classmates and peers, I stood in awe.  I never heard one complain.  I never heard one say they could not do it or that it could not be done.  I watched these students embrace the challenge with a contagious eagerness.  Those students are the ones who will survive in life.  They are the ones who will succeed in their endeavors because they did not quit when it was difficult.  They backed up, re-evaluated the situation and embraced a solution.

As theatre teachers, we begin modeling how to persist through adversity early in the production process. When we begin designing a set and have to adapt our vision with the reality of the space, contest or our budget, we are modeling perseverance.   When we find the need to recast the lead actor, we are demonstrating how to work through adversity.   Students watch us face an obstacle, re-evaluate and develop a solution through all aspects of the production process.  I realize now, that every time we adjust our plan of action to meet the needs or restrictions at the moment, we are modeling life lessons to our students.  What a gift we give our students every day without even realizing it.

As you continue preparing for your competition season, don’t disregard the little lessons you are teaching everyday.  Every time you stay positive in the face of adversity, your students are watching you.  Every time you refuse to give up or quit and, instead, continue to work hard, re-evaluate and keep going, you are modeling the lessons in life that make people succeed.   Those lessons are more important than any administrative evaluation or trophy you can win.

 

 

 

So, Your Child Wants to Major in Theatre?  

It’s that time of year again. Many seniors are going through the process of making very two important decisions. The selection of a university and the commitment to a major can be both exciting and stressful for students, but I’ve found that it’s every bit as agonizing for the parents of these young people. After all, most parents will be making a huge monetary investment in their children’s college educations and future careers. They want to feel confident that their money is well spent, and to be honest, many of them are not so sure that will be the case when they hear the words, “Mom, Dad, I am going to major in theatre!”.

In their defense, most people are not aware of the impact of a good arts education and the range of skills a strong program will develop in a student of theatre. Just take a look at Wells Fargo’s current “Teen Day” campaign which features today’s “actor” and “ballerina” abandoning their individual art forms to become tomorrow’s “botanist” and “engineer”. The ad paints the arts as a passing fancy, nothing more than a hobby to be pursued before a student learns about important fields of study. It sends a message to young people and their parents:  the arts are to be practiced when you’re a child, but once you grow up, you need to find a “real” career. I recently spoke with mothers of two of my seniors, both of whom are planning to major in theatre. One mother was completely comfortable with the idea of her son’s intended major. She also has a daughter entering her sophomore year of college as a theatre major. The other mother was concerned. After researching the average salary of a working actor, she was distressed to learn that her son would potentially be making a salary below the poverty level. She had also, however, dug deeper and found a plethora of information supporting an arts education. Our conversation inspired me to do a little research of my own, and what I found made me laugh, made me cry, and took me for a walk down memory lane. But more about that later…

Our discussion about this topic continued when I received an email from my student’s mother last week. She had found a blog titled “10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success by Tom Vander Well. The following is a link to his blog: https://tomvanderwell.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/10-ways-being-a-theatre-major-prepared-me-for-success/ . I encourage you to read it. It presents an outstanding case for the pursuit of a degree in Theatre and how it impacted his career (which doesn’t happen to be in the world of theatre). When I saw the title of the blog, I decided I wanted to make my own list before reading his. I actually wrote a total of twelve ways I believed majoring in theatre would prepare a student for success, and then began comparing my list to his. I was astonished at how similar they are. The wording may have been different, but we came to basically the same conclusions. You might want to try it for yourself by making a list of your own prior to reading my list or his blog.

12 Ways Being a Theatre Major Will Prepare You for Success

  1. Collaboration
  2. Professionalism
  3. Passion/Enthusiasm
  4. Work Ethic
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Communication Skills
  7. Empathy
  8. Creativity
  9. Problem Solving
  10. Flexibility/Adaptability
  11. Resourcefulness
  12. Ability to multi-task in a fast paced environment

After making my list and reading Mr. Vander Well’s blog, I thought back to a book I read last summer, Creative Schools by Dr. Ken Robinson. He discussed how in 2008, IBM had published a survey of characteristics their leaders needed most in their teams. Two priorities emerged: adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas. Leaders who were surveyed had commented that these qualities were lacking in otherwise highly qualified graduates. Both of those skills made my list of twelve qualities. Mr. Vander Well also had several qualities listed that involved both creativity and adaptability. Yet these qualities aren’t measured on all those standardized tests that are given each year, leaving the impression that they’re not particularly valued. They are, in fact, qualities that are stigmatized or marginalized in some classroom settings, and yet these very important skills are learned and practiced daily by theatre students in classrooms across the nation.

I wanted to put the list I compiled to the test, asking my former theatre students for feedback. I posted the following on Facebook: “I’m interested to hear your take on how (if at all) having a theatre education and/or participation in theatre productions has helped you in your career/job.” Many of these students did not pursue the arts after high school, but there are a few artists in the group. Among the participants are an attorney, a nurse, businessmen and businesswomen, a sales representative, a real estate agent and former Chairwoman of the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil, a customer service representative, an artist, an actor, an opera singer, an IT Specialist, an elementary teacher, a high school teacher, an adjunct faculty member and field supervisor for a Texas university, an airline transport pilot and owner of a Gyrocopter business, a jewelry store owner and designer, a long-term care provider relations advocate, a computer technician, and a stay-at-home mom. Reconnecting with them while reading their reactions filled my heart with many beautiful memories and filled my eyes with a few happy tears. Although some of the responders are just a few years younger than I am, they’ll always be my “kids”. And they reiterated what I already knew. Some of their reactions utilized words lifted straight from my list or straight from Tom Vander Well’s list; lists they’d never seen before. Here is a condensed version of their individual responses:

“From being involved in theatre, I learned the comfort of being in front of a crowd, the ease of mingling with and talking to people, and honestly, it helped make interviews a breeze. It gave me so much confidence.”

“Working with set design and makeup gave me the experience I needed to become a successful artist.”

“Being involved in theatre helped to enhance my verbal and written communication. It gave me a confidence I don’t think I’d have otherwise.”

“I was very unsure of myself, and I was incredibly afraid of failure. I was able to overcome those things. Along with my parents and family, I credit theatre with shaping me into the person I am.”

“Thanks to my involvement with theatre, I had no fear when I chaired the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil and stood weekly in front of 400 managers, all men, all old enough to be my dad!  I was prepared and confident every single time. It has carried over into all aspects of my adult life.”

“Theatre gave me the confidence to speak in front of large audiences. It showed me the value of being prepared as well as how to continue rolling with things when things don’t go as planned.”

“It taught me to speak loudly, confidently, and clearly. Theatre teaches body awareness and nonverbal communication skills and how to work as a team member. It teaches how leadership and partnership aren’t too far from each other. One of my favorite things theatre teaches is when you help others in your ensemble, you are really helping yourself. You also learn to be flexible. Things won’t always go as planned.”

“It made me feel comfortable to talk to people. And now I’m a nurse and have to talk to people every day.”

“Theatre helped me in my professional life more than most subjects. I majored in business, and I excelled at presentations. In fact, I was offered a great job my last semester of college because of one of my presentations. I was also offered a promotion after a great presentation. Theatre and UIL competitions were key in my professional and personal success.”

“It helped me be more comfortable in my skin.”

“I had no idea how fun it would be! Theatre helped me become more confident and expressive. Now that I’m a teacher, I get in front of my students and act every day! I found the niche I’d been looking for since middle school. I definitely think ALL students could benefit from speech/theatre.”

“I was also involved in band and choir throughout middle and high school, but that can’t compare to the lessons I learned from theatre. Theatre gave me a backbone and a platform to be a more confident me. It was my safe place, my home, where I fit best.”

“Theatre was the first place I felt safe being vulnerable. It was the first place I had to truly trust in the group. We supported each other. It helped me to learn to interact with people who were very different from me. I gained an amazing base of life skills I use every single day as an adult.”

“I loved improvisation. It helped me to think on my feet, create an idea quickly and completely, and learn how to read an audience, all skills I use when working with my clients as a computer technician. I was also in band, and I still love music, but I don’t play my clarinet anymore. I still use the theatre lessons I learned daily! As an added bonus, theatre opens a world of literature up and gave even this avid reader more material to explore!”

“I would definitely say that my flair for performance, fostered on stage in high school, proves useful for litigation in law.”

“Out of all my childhood experiences, I remember having a great family apart from my real family.”

“I became an elementary teacher and having that theatrical background helped me unleash my creative side.”

Well, there you go. My “kids” confirmed what I knew all along. A theatre education is invaluable. I truly don’t believe you can put a price on what our students learn when studying theatre and participating in productions. So, your child wants to major in theatre?  I say, congratulations! I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. If your child loves theatre, he or she will find a way to make a living doing it. Lots of people have. I did, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Many thanks to my wonderful former students, my forever kiddos, for participating in my survey. I love and miss you all.