The day of the opera, a fifth grade colleague asked his students, my former opera students, to reflect on the opera experience. After writing their reflections, they came to our classroom to read aloud what they were thinking and feeling. Lightning Strike Kids Opera Company listened attentively as members of Water Droplets Kids Opera Company shared their memories, thoughts and feelings. And then Joseph began to speak. He, like the others, started to read what he had written. But then, he looked up from his paper, made eye contact with me across the circle and said, “Thank you for helping me. You helped me when I got upset, to control my temper. Now I am more mature and I control my anger.” His lip began to quiver as he read. He became emotional. Through his tears I could see clearly our purpose for this process of creating an original opera.
If we do not learn to manage our emotions as young people, we cannot be successful in work or in life. In my twenty-seven years of teaching in the elementary classroom, I have had at least two students every year who suffer with severe anger issues. These kids are not available for learning if we do not help them work through their issues and overcome the obstacles that obstruct their paths on a daily basis. Though kids often have little control over the situations surrounding them, they must learn how to manage themselves and how to act and react to the circumstances in their environment. Having a safe place to express difficult and confusing feelings is paramount. Teaching children strategies to utilize in times of crisis and emotional turmoil is also key.
Through the opera process, students encounter daily opportunities to learn and apply techniques in managing emotions in an authentic context. In this way, as children gain confidence in themselves and trust their classmates, they feel safe expressing anger, frustration and sadness and they learn how to process what is happening inside of them. Joseph is now ready for middle school. Our hope is that he will serve as an example to others who struggle in this way. Thank you, Joseph.