In a past post, I spoke on my advice concerning teaching a drama class. But I haven’t reflected on the lessons I learned about myself personally through working as a drama teacher.
After thirty-eight years of teaching drama to students of all ages, including adults, here are the lessons I have learned:
1. It is better to take the time to become well acquainted with my students than to hurry into a lesson. People love to talk about themselves, so I give them a chance to do so.
2. I am punctual. I like to be a bit early to engagements rather than late. In the theatre, I was taught, “If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. And if you are late, you are in trouble.” Works for me.
3. I’m organized. I like to have all the materials I may or may not need at quick access.
4. I over plan my lessons, so that there is more than enough material to cover in case my students zip through an activity or exercise. This helps me keep my anxiety at bay.
5. I still wear a watch to keep track of the time.
6. I carry a water bottle and a beloved large cup of coffee. I replenish the water bottle many times during a day. Water and coffee help me to center myself if I find I’m unfocused. Also, I carry snacks.
7. I dress nicely, but casually. My mother always wondered my reasons for not wearing a dress to teach. It’s simple–I like to sit on the floor with my students, no matter the age. I find it gives the classroom a kind of closeness that chairs can’t provide.
8. I invest in a good pair of expensive Danskos clogs from time to time. They are sturdy, last a long time and have enough heel to make me appear taller. 🙂
9. I use my intuition and observation skills during class. I’m aware of a class’ energy, dynamics and body language. If a group of lethargic kids enter the classroom, I take the time to re-energize them through a game or merely telling a funny story. Or, if they arrive too wound up, I will take the time to calm them down.
10. At the same time I am organized, I do enjoy moments of improvisation–those times where the class takes off in a different direction than where I thought it would go. It is quite easy to become perfunctory in one’s teaching, especially if one teaches the same subject many times in a day. Off balance moments keep me alive in the classroom, so to speak.
11. Over my many years of teaching, I found students and parents to be much the same. It is the time in which we live and societal norms that make for the changes in their attitude towards their education and its importance in their lives and future. When I first began my career, parents were very uninvolved in their children’s education. That was in 1979. Then I became a parent in 1983. I stayed home full time with our daughters for twelve years.
12. When I returned to the classroom a parent’s behavior toward a teacher was quite different. The parents only believed their children and NOT the teacher, an adult peer to the parents. Times change, however. Recently, I heard someone complaining about the damages of over gifting of trophies to the losing team. He mentioned that over praising children makes for lack of self esteem instead of the opposite. Aha!
13. Theatre is created through an emotional person displaying other emotions. This is not an easy task, especially for kids. Early on, I learned to model the emotion for them which gave them a starting point. Sometimes, the student just needs you to go first.
14. I have believed in and lived my life by the quote, “People of integrity expect to be believed. If they are not, time will prove them right.” There are moments in my career when I know I did or said the right thing even if no one else agreed with me. I hold myself to a high standard and expect students to do so, too. Sometimes parents or my administrators seem threatened by this. I hold my ground and it pays off in the end. I may never receive an apology from the accuser, but at least I can live with myself for doing what was right at the time.
15. I rarely raise my voice with a class anymore. I find that our students do not respond well to this. I use a call and echo response technique instead.
16. I like to be on top of my game when I teach. Teaching a group of different personalities each day is stressful enough. need to be rested. I don’t grade papers on a weekend or spend my vacation thinking about the next semester. There is plenty of time for that later. If I am given professional time off, I use it for myself.
17. There are some school related details I just don’t remember–deadlines for grades to be in, fire drill dates, turning in a class materials list, etc. Usually, I find another teacher who can keep all of this straight for me. They don’t know I turn to them for this information, but I do.
18. When I am feeling bored, I usually entertain myself with a store bought lunch or new piece of music or new acting exercise to teach.
19. I use humor A LOT. I lifts my mood.😊
20. I enjoy team teaching. Recently, I retired from formal public school teaching (I’ll probably teach in the private sector in the years to come.) I team taught with three different vocal music teachers in musical theatre classes for six years. Although it takes a while for me to adjust to another person’s style of teaching, I find having another teacher in the classroom completely changes the dynamics and refreshes me more than it frustrates me.
21. I try not to knee jerk at a student’s behavior. Sometimes I achieve success at this and other times not so much. I still have to remind myself that kids make random behavior choices. Most of the time they are unaware of the consequences of their behavior. I am very protective of my students, their learning time as well as mine to teach. Even after all these years, I remind myself that not all behavior is a direct attack at me.
22. I like to teach! I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy directing as well. It is a kind of teaching. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing the “aha” moment in a student’s eyes when they understand and appreciate what I am instructing.
23. I am a better person having been a teacher. It has brought out the best in me and shown me my weaknesses as well. I impress myself by how much I know about theatre and can quickly become overwhelmed by how much I don’t. I think that’s a good sign, though.
After all these years, I can still say I have room for improvement. Not everyone can say that about their chosen occupation. Can you?