Although, I speak specifically about teaching drama, this post will relate to any teacher.
People don’t ask me for the guide to becoming a fantastic drama teacher.
They never directly ask me. They ask around the question. I think they are afraid of what I might say. Teehee….I’m known for being honest.
So they say, “I was thinking I would like to do something in life that uses my love for theatre.” Or “I don’t think I would make it on Broadway, but I’d still like to be involved in theatre and make a living from it.”
They look at me with a smile hopeful for the answer they desire.
No pressure there….
I’m not a fortune teller, although one time for a radio commercial, I portrayed the fortune teller, Madame Zula, a wacky woman who extolled important facts about crop fertilizer. (My producer won a regional award for it, BTW.)
You’re laughing, I know.
Although I might think you have the talent to succeed on Broadway, that isn’t something I can promise or even prophesy. Nor can I project whether you’ll be successful as a teacher.
There are many factors which create your success in the field of professional theatre, many of which you and I have no control. Any worthwhile pursuit has the same challenges.
If you listen to many successful performers, they will tell you that some of it is a.being at the right place at the right time b. fortitude in the face of many rejections c. a willingness to do anything and everything to make it happen and maybe d. talent.
Technical theatre artists will share the same experiences with you. They worked at it. They created a resume. They worked for little pay and so on.
Here’s a secret: If someone tells you it was easy to become wildly successful in a certain profession, (doctor, lawyer, counselor, nurse, banker, actor or teacher) they are lying.
As your unofficial fortune teller, here is a guide with twelve steps which will help you become a successful drama teacher over time:
Attend a college or university with a strong theatre AND education program and enroll for classes in both. If you desire to teach in a traditional school setting, you’ll need your state teachers license. Just like many other professions, teachers must study certain pedagogy from basic theory of education classes to student teaching.
The same will be expected of you if you want to receive a theatre degree. Study as many facets of theatre as you can then you are an easy hire for someone. If you only focus on technical theatre or performing, you are less likely to be hired in a school or maybe a theatre company. You want to be versatile.
2.Participate in professional organizations in theatre, drama education and general education. You need to be versed in the latest trends in all areas.
3.Participate in your school’s productions. This is such a duh. Some schools require backstage hours for their performing majors. My college did, Stephens college, and I am forever grateful to them for this. I learned heaps. Some thirty-eight years later, I still use the lessons I learned in my college classes when I teach or direct.
An employer wants to hire someone who is very knowledgeable, not someone who spent all his or her time socializing rather than broadening their horizons.
4. Get involved in a community theatre. They will welcome you with open arms, because they need volunteers to support their productions– running lights, designing costumes, acting or serving on staff as a stage manager or even a director. Accept the job even if you are not offered a stipend. Think of the work like interning.
Build your resume with various experiences.
5. Volunteer your time to a school mentoring students through an after school program or an organization such as Scouts or 4H. This gives you insight about how best to work with students. It also helps you become accustomed to their latest social behaviors and slang. This is invaluable experience. I can’t stress this enough.
If you can, volunteer for different organizations with a diverse community. Our classrooms are multicultural. There is an art to teaching students simultaneously from all walks of life. If you have never helped a disadvantaged student or an immigrant, you’ll have a bigger learning curve to overcome. Their lives are very different from yours and it’s your job to figure out how to support them.
6. The best teachers are passionate about their subject matter and sincerely interested in bettering the world through teaching young people. So be that! Please do not become a teacher because you didn’t know what else to do with your degree (or you thought you’d have your summers off-hahahaha!). There is nothing worse than a bitter teacher. You know the kind who mumble how she wishes she had been a professional actor and are stupidly arrogant? Yeah, we won’t need that kind of person in our classrooms.
Trust me, teaching is difficult enough on its own. Compounding your classroom challenges with apathy is a crime in my book.
7. Teaching is rigorous work. It is very tiring and all consuming. Unless you’ve had previous experience teaching twenty bursts of energy and emotion all at once, you’ll never understand it. You gotta get in there and try it–at least for three years. Like those professional actors that you can’t tell are acting, good teachers make it seem easy to do. It. is. not.
8. Once employed, although you may think your career has finally begun your education has not ended. Now, you’ll learn about the inner workings of your school, bureaucracy, policies, regulations, etc. You’ll practice becoming more organized, keep yourself healthy, juggle your professional and personal time, become a shoulder for others to cry on, learn to listen to your superiors and to a student who has lamented continuously for several months to you about their life. That’s okay. It’s part of the deal.
9. You want to be good at teaching? Buy clothes in your school colors. Wear them. Buy the school spirit wear. If your cast buys cast tee shirts, you do so, too.
10. Attend other school sponsored activities–football games, fundraisers, band concerts and TGIF’s for staff.
11. Help other teachers and staff members. Take their lunch shift if you observe a teacher who needs a break. Take out your own trash for your janitor once in a while and THANK THEM for their work to keep your room tidy. Get to know your school head secretary. They can make or break you. Trust me, if there is anyone who knows the school’s scuttle butt, it’s the head secretary.
12. Finally, be the teacher you wanted when you were a student. I liked my teachers who were organized, funny, clever, innovative, challenging, held high expectations and sincere. Guess what? I’ve become that teacher, too.
If you look at your life as a journey, you’ll appreciate and accept that any journey takes a long time to prepare, depart, travel and arrive at your destination. Teaching is much the same way.
I promise you, it can be a wonderful journey.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my website DeborahBaldwin.net
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