Three Things I Learned from Teaching Young Filmmakers

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I never thought that I would be doing this teaching thing. I've always heard that saying "Those who can't do - teach." Whoever said that obviously hasn't ever taught anyone because you can't really teach without getting better at what you do.

But somehow those words always haunted me. I thought that teaching was something that you resorted to when everything else didn't work out.

But teaching is really the duty of every person who has experienced life,  received an education or reached a certain level of success. Teaching is humanity's way of growing the next generation. Teaching is an honorable thing...and it's really really hard and really really rewarding.

Kind of like being a parent.

This week marked my third week of teaching the Young Filmmaker's Camp with The Blue House that I've co-founded with my husband.

My Americorp site is at The Felege Hiywot Center which is a youth-led urban garden in the city of Indianapolis. The Executive Director, Aster Bekele, knew that I taught the filmmaking camp and wanted me to teach the kids at the center about visual storytelling as well. Aster is in her 13th year of teaching the youth and she has won numerous awards over the years for her work. She has a unique way of teaching but I think this way really resonates with me because it's about letting the youth take a part in their learning process. This week came with challenges but it also came with lessons. 

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Here are three things I learned from teaching these young filmmakers.

1. Plan to be taken off the plan

Kids are curious about a lot of things. Sometimes it's hard to tell what they are curious about because they've been trained to be quiet and listen to lectures in school. Really listen and wait for moments when the kids light up about a certain topic and don't be afraid to let the discussion go in that direction. You might be really surprised where the class discussion takes you. For example, when we were talking about what happens in the pre-production phase of a film the kids had a lot of questions about the business and budgets of film. I was totally not expecting that! Because I've learned to leave some space in the plan we had time to go off course and take some time to talk about what they wanted to talk about. That way they felt like they were getting something out of the discussions.

2. God is a much better planner than I am

This week we had some wonderful surprises come up in that we had a chance to take the kids to a live filming of a local TV station interview! It turned out that my teaching assistant was also part of a local community project that required him to be interviewed and he invited us along. The kids had such a great time holding the camera on their shoulders and asking the cameraman tons of questions about his job. It turns out he was the chief photographer and told us that we could bring the kids for a tour of the station! I could not have planned that on my own!

3. Never say no - at least not at first

I'm going to go back to the second camp I've ever taught. We had a young man who was very obsessed with dogs and really wanted to create this amazing character that was a fusion between a dog and a boy. Apparently becoming a part animal part human is not out of the ordinary. After all X-men anyone?

Anyway, I remember that he really wanted to create this character that was a boy that fused with a dog because some nuclear reactor blew up. Some of the kids in the class wanted to just say "no we can't do that" but instead I kept guiding him to discover a way to make it happen with the means that we had at the time. 

Maybe one day I'll have a team of CGI experts that can make crazy amazing things happen but for now - we've got to rely on our creativity.

In the end, we came up with a really clever and very funny way to make his storytelling dreams come true. I learned the power of not saying no.

(If you would like to see that film check out Cafe Apocolypse on our facebook page!)

4. Bonus Lesson! I never get tired of watching their eyes light up!

Okay, this is not really a lesson but it's what makes teaching worth it. It's that moment when they get it - when their brains catch on fire! 

On the last day of camp when I was at my most tired - it was time to teach the kids about editing. This really isn't my strong suit as a filmmaker but I know enough to be dangerous at it. As I showed the kids different ways they could edit together their footage I could tell that they were getting really excited. I remember after I showed the kids how they could add titles and music to their film one of the teens said something along the lines of "OH MAN I'm gonna make movies now!" He had a huge smile on his face! At that moment I realized that they GOT IT! They understood that they have the power to tell their own stories! They don't need some Hollywood person to come and tell their stories for them anymore.

It was that moment that I also felt convicted. I have the power to tell the stories that I want to tell. So I need to do that more often as well. I guess my eyes lit up as well...

Teaching does something to you personally as you allow knowledge and wisdom to flow through you. Teaching others helps you to strengthen what you know, secure your foundations and expand your knowledge as you show others what you know.

So I guess the saying should go "Those who can do, should teach."