On Being an Ugly Ducking

Directing Ducklings

“One of her chapters talks about the challenges of dealing with the vagaries of 21st century children meeting the 15th century English language: mispronouncing wench as wrench, wanton as won-ton, or changing characters’ names, such as Hermia to Hernia and Titania to Titanium.”
… “won-ton” happened on a weekly basis in my class…

In 2005, I sat by the edge of the pool, lounging on a towel, reading a middle school course catalog. I was getting ready to move across the country and start at Roosevelt Middle School, a year after everyone else had already started middle school. I didn’t really have any qualms about moving or starting a new school (I was just glad I didn’t have to go to Spencer Butte, which at the time I still believed was pronounced Spencer’s Butt), but I had absolutely no idea how to choose classes. All I had was a list of available classes, and a handwritten list of “good teachers,” written by my mom’s future coworker’s son (and my future classmate). I signed up for a bunch of classes I thought looked cool and got placed in none of them. Somehow, though, I ended up in Judy Wenger’s “The Taming of the Shrew” class – one of the three Shakespeare classes that performed a show at Roosevelt’s annual Bard Fest (what can I say, it was a very progressive middle school…). Anyway, I was kind of a train wreck as far as performing Shakespeare goes, but there was one overwhelming positive that came from that class: I got to have Judy Wenger as a teacher. I had the privilege of taking her classes two other times over the course of my time at Roosevelt, once in a sewing class called ‘Behind the Seams’ (we made the costumes for the musical, which that year was “Bye Bye Birdie” – it was a lot of poodle skirts and petticoats) and in eighth grade, the musical, “The Apple Tree.” All three of these were amazing experiences, mostly because of Judy. She was funny, intelligent, and made middle schoolers feel like they actually mattered, which is quite a feat. While I can’t say that I was really close to Judy or a stellar student in any of these performing arts classes, Judy still had an impact on me as someone who truly believed in her students and somehow saw the potential in middle schoolers to go from ugly duckings to beautiful swans.

After 37 years of teaching, Judy wrote this book, which I just ordered on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Directing-Ducklings-Lessons-learned-surviving/dp/1492805467/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384148642&sr=8-1&keywords=directing+ducklings

As another former student wrote (in the Amazon comments): “Judy – I had such a fun time reading your book! I got it in the mail yesterday and read the entire thing in the course of the evening. It was such a joy to be transported back to your classroom and all the wonderful memories that I have from middle school (which, by the way, I don’t think is entirely a common sentiment for most people, so I give you a great deal of credit there). Reading your stories and thinking back on my own experiences from the perspective that you described was fascinating and quite fun. I could go on longer, but let it suffice to say that I still think of and appreciate you so much, and I very much enjoyed feeling like I had the chance to reconnect with you by once again becoming totally immersed in your stories.”

Eugene’s local newspaper, The Register Guard, wrote an article on the book that can be found here: http://www.registerguard.com/rg/life/lifestyles/30694159-75/wenger-book-ducklings-students-teacher.html.csp

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One thought on “On Being an Ugly Ducking

  1. Judy Wenger says:

    Your words were touching and so very kind. I do not remember you as a “train wreck” in any way! I remember a sensitive, kind student with a big smile and a desire to work hard. Thanks for the support with my book!

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