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Mr. Dawkins, We Mustache You Some Questions

Something pretty wonderful happened today, but before I get into that I guess I need to introduce myself.  My name is Courtney Hooper, and I am a second year teacher at Liberty Middle School in Madison, Alabama.  I teach eighth and ninth grade here.  This year I’ve been doing a good deal of experimenting with technology in my classroom.  It’s quite addictive, actually, and the kids L-O-V-E it. Isn’t it wild that we can see and talk to someone anywhere in the world with the click of a mouse?  That brings me to today’s wonderfulness….

Today in my ninth grade Introduction to Drama class, students got to interview the author of the play that they are currently rehearsing.  We are preparing to perform Philip Dawkins’ play, The Skokie Detective Charter School in May.  We rehearse during our 48 minute class each day, carefully examining each line, discussing each delivery, and blocking each step.

We planned our video chat several weeks ago, so this morning I began to set up my classroom.  I flipped open my laptop, hooked it up to my projector so that the kids could see, and positioned it where I could fit all thirty of them in the frame.  We used Google+ Hangouts to chat with Mr. Dawkins.  He was kind enough to set up an account just for this occasion.  I have been using Google+ Hangouts in my classroom lately for a project where my students portray historical figures and are interviewed by elementary students.  It is my preferred video chat service because it is conducive with my school’s wireless network and has free group video chat.

Once we began “hanging out,” my students started asking their questions.  Some wanted to know about Mr. Dawkins’ background, some wanted to know about the writing and publishing processes, and several students asked about specifics from the play.  Sada wanted to know where he went to school and what he majored in, and Dawkins told her about the Theater program at Loyola University.  Patrick wanted to know about getting published.  Dawkins told us honestly that it is often very difficult, and it involves rejection.  He transitioned to the next question by assuring my kids that they were never too young to be successful writers.

Later in the conversation, he told us about his love of comic books and how it inspires some of his characters’ names.  Rachel wanted to know why the character named Hooper Harper never talks.  Hooper’s character spends the entire play grunting, and he also passes gas.  (My class finds it quite hilarious that the character that shares my name has such foul tendencies– ah, middle school humor!)  Mr. Dawkins explained that he designed Hooper’s character for an actor who would not be comfortable with a big speaking part.  Lindsey asked, who is your favorite character? Allie asked, what is your favorite part of the play? Each answer brought about laughter and stories of our own rehearsal process. Isn’t that the best part of teaching drama– those snafus during rehearsals where we can’t help but laugh at ourselves?

We ended the chat a few moments before the bell rang.  When I shut the computer, I listened as the kids exclaimed how “cool” he was– the ultimate compliment coming from a ninth grader.  Logan and Trevor stopped by my class this afternoon to let me know that they have officially decided to grow handlebar mustaches like Mr. Dawkins’.  I’m sure their mothers will be thrilled.  On a serious note, I think the greatest effect of our conversation will be a new appreciation for this work.  Now we know all that went into this little booklet that we read from each day.  Now we know the man behind The Skokie Detective Charter School. He took time out of his day to let us– a ninth grade Intro to Drama class in Alabama– pick his brain… AND he has an awesome ‘stache.

— Courtney Hooper

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