Into the Woods of this World

Into the woods…I have always liked the phrase, even as a small child. Is it any surprise, then, that when I discovered Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Into the Woods, it instantly became not just one of my favorite musicals, but one of my favorite stories. There is nothing so grand in this world as finding someone, or in this case, something, that sees the world the way you do, like Into the Woods does. “There are always wolves, there are always spells, there are always beans, or a giant dwells there…” the characters sing. The woods are very real; they are the world.

Perhaps I continually find myself coming back to this musical because I, myself, am about to enter the woods, embarking on a teaching career. I’m in the second semester of my junior year at college. In a little under a year, I’ll be student teaching. In a little over a year, God willing, I’ll have my own classroom. This semester, I’ll be assisting a teacher in their classroom. Soon, very soon, I will have children looking to me “for which way to turn.” I will have children listening to me. I’ve played that song, the finale of Into the Woods, “Children Will Listen,” many times since entering into the advanced stages of my degree. “Careful the things you say, children will listen,” sings the Witch, “Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.”

To be someone children will look up to is quite a responsibility, to put it mildly, and I doubt it’s always going to be a pleasant one, if Sondheim is anyone to go by. One version of the song remind you: “Children may not obey, but children will listen. Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be. Careful before you say, ‘Listen to me.’ Children will listen.” In fact, recently, I was hearing a principal talk about the influence a teacher has. “I can’t tell you how may emails I’ve gotten from former students, telling me how important I was in their lives,” he told us. Then he grinned, a bit wryly. “Now, a lot of the students aren’t the ones I have fond memories of.” Then, he became serious again. “But that’s how important you, as a teacher are, though you may not know it.”

Be careful what you say: “Careful the spell you cast…Careful the tale you tell. That is the spell.” I am a spell-caster, and a very powerful one.

However, as I’m constantly reminding myself, there’s a bit more than simple hearing involved in this spell. This tale I tell is my life, from the words I speak to the gestures I make. Quite frankly, this thought sometimes makes me want to run screaming from the woods and curl up in my safe, warm bed.

But I am not that sort of explorer. I did not decide to become a teacher so I could never speak a word. I wanted to go into the woods, and I want the tale of that journey to be told. Who better to tell it to than the children, who will listen?