How to Make Your Drama Class More Successful –Lessons Learned from 38 Years of Teaching – High School

How to Make Your Drama Class More Successful–Lessons Learned from 38 Years of Teaching-High School

This is a three part series.  This is the third.  Read the first and second here:



So, here we are at the final grade level of students.  When I was a beginning teacher, I was certain I wanted to teach and direct high school kids.  I envisioned having a thriving drama department with a stage at my disposal. I figured I would take kids to state level theatre competitions.  Maybe I’d direct an all school musical once a year.  Boy, was I wrong!

Instead, my personal journey includes becoming a youth theater administrator (3 times), drama teacher in the private and public sector and a director for youth theater and community theaters (for over 38 years). Interestingly, I have coached someone else’s kids for the state level and judged many competitions but never actually took them myself to state.

I’ve directed over 250 plays and musicals in and out of schools.  I’ve worked out of state, created summer drama camps, developed curriculum and written class plays, created an ELL drama club (the first of its kind in the nation), co-developed a national playwriting contest and a host of other things.  Overachiever?  I’d say so. I didn’t know myself very well when I was twenty-one years old.  Did you?

Disney’s Lil Mermaid, Jr. mermaids–9th through twelfth grade

Personally, I think high school students are the easiest grade level to teach IF they are interested in your instruction. But if they aren’t interested? They can be as obnoxious as an overly tired grade schooler who had too much sugar before bed.

 If they are bored, they can be whiney, pout and rival all the elementary and middle school kids combined!

Luckily, drama is an elective course……

Last year, I taught a technical theater class with senior high students.  It took me quite a while to understand they didn’t want me to do much more than get them started on an assignment.  No hands-on help for them!  They problem solved on their own, reported back to me for clarification and got to it!  It was most impressive.

Tips for Teaching Drama to High School Students

Provide clear instructions and expected outcome.

Serve as an assistant to them in their learning.

Guide them don’t boss them.

A freshman as Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank

Inspire them.  If you think they can achieve more than they are demonstrating to you or even if you don’t think they, for heavens sake, never settle!

I’m not a member of the “good enough” club. Push them.  Challenge them to do their best and they will rise to the challenge.

Set out a timeline for completion of a project, scene study or deadlines on a rehearsal calendar, but expect to be flexible with the deadlines.  High school students are busy kids–many on sports teams as well as in the school play, working an evening job or baby sit their siblings after school.  They need you to be somewhat adaptable.  Generally, they will come through for you.

It is acceptable to them for you to give them public criticism.

Occasionally, you can gently tease them but expect them to tease back! And accept it.

They are willing to be role models, even for a student only a year younger than they.

Permit them to explore an assignment as far as they are willing.

Put them in positions of leadership, allowing them to learn through the responsibility. For instance, if you ask one to assistant director for you, give them a scene in the play to block and direct.  Use the blocking and direction they gave in your show.  So what if the scene isn’t perfect? It is more important for the  entire group to see you trust them and didn’t meddle.

They need a mentor/friend at this age.  Keep a line of professionalism, but do include them in your life.  They love being close to you.

Treat them with respect for the young adult they are becoming.

I hope you enjoy teaching students of all ages as much as I have.  I bet you find your niche quickly.

My high school cast of “Into the Woods”

I have several high school level products teachers use in their drama classrooms.  Check out the costume design unit here:


Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com