The Need for Nervousness

I never thought I’d do improvisational comedy. It was one of those things in life that I felt I couldn’t do; I closed the door on that one. To tell you the truth, it scared the shit outta me.

When I returned to the States from Costa Rica, the first thing I did was sign up for an improv class.

With the encouragement of a friend, and determined to overcome this lifelong fear, I began taking three-hour classes at the Magnet Theater in Chelsea, New York. The first six weeks were all me getting up the nerve to stand up in front of the class. Only then did I start trying to be funny.

Before coming onto the stage for the class show, my heart was pounding so hard I thought I was having an anxiety attack. But when I performed, I excelled. A big part of improv comedy is teamwork, so I just tried to support the other performers who I “played” with.

I moved on to the Level II class, joining more experienced improvisers and full-time actors. I realized that improv is much more than acting. It’s writing, directing, set design – all the elements of theater – and all thought of in the moment.

My second show was last week and oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous. When I got onto the stage, I performed fine but not as well as I had in the first one. Since I was less nervous, I didn’t care as much about the result. I needed the nervousness in order to perform at my best.

Before improv, the classroom was my stage, the students my audience. I’m currently looking for a teaching job in New York. Although I am not a new teacher, I am new to the district, and in this economic climate, jobs are scarce; teachers, despite obtaining graduate degrees are not finding work. Out of 15,000 applicants in 2011, 3500 found teaching jobs in New York City public schools.

Whereas in many professions the more experience you have the better, this isn’t necessarily the case in education. According to a recent study at Harvard, while teachers in their first and second years do worse than more experienced teachers, beyond that, experience does not have an effect on student learning.

Besides, with technology becoming a greater part of children’s lives than ever before, younger teachers have a significant advantage in connecting with students than older ones.

Experienced teachers can reuse lesson plans. New teachers don’t have that luxury. They have no choice to experiment; they try out new things, fail, and learn.

These are the teachers who are being denied work. These are the teachers who feel like they’re having an anxiety attack before standing in front of a classroom of forty kids.

Since returning from Costa Rica, I achieved the goal I had set for myself: I overcame my fear of improv. At the same time, I learned something. There’s a reason for fear.

Future teachers of America: sign up for an improv class.
A nonfiction piece by Jonah Kruvant