Lessons Learned as a Drama Teacher

The Lessons I Learned from Working as a Drama Teacher

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.

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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.

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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?

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I’d love to hear from you about what you have learned from your teaching experiences. Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or my website DeborahBaldwin.net I’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to read about more of my teaching experiences, check out these posts:

https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2016/12/08/how-to-make-your-elementary-drama-class-more-successful-lessons-learned-from-38-years-of-teaching-drama-part-one/

https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2016/12/09/how-to-make-your-drama-class-more-successful-part-two/

https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2016/12/12/how-to-make-your-drama-class-more-successful-lessons-learned-from-38-years-of-teaching-part-three/

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Dramamommaspeaks.com Youth Theatre

The Impact of Youth Theatre on the World

You know I am all about this. Youth theatre has saved many a child, including me. I have never known it not to impact someone’s life.

I am hoping this post will be helpful to parents.

Read this post if you’d like to know about my journey. https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2017/01/17/how-theatre-saved-m%EF%BB%BFy-life/

Those of us who work in youth theatre can give you countless reasons why your child should be involved in theatre.

Read this post from a Litpick.com article I penned for them.

https://wordpress.com/post/dramamommaspeaks.com/1943https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2016/09/20/top-seven-reasons-drama-education-is-important-to-your-childs-life/comment

How Theater for Young People Could Save the World

By Loren Gunderson of the Huffington Post

Theatre for Children

March 20th is World Theater for Children and Young People Day.

Some of you might be thinking, “Oh lord, why do we need a day to

celebrate actors being silly, wearing bright colors and singing obnoxiously

at squirming kiddos and bored parents?”

But if you think that’s what Theatre for Young People is,

you’re missing out on truly powerful, hilarious, bold, engaging,

surprising theater that might just save the world.

Around the world artists are creating a new stripe of

Theatre for Young People that combines the elegance of dance,

the innovation of devised theater, the freshness of new plays,

the magnetism of puppetry and the inciting energy of new

musicals.

Theatre for Youth

Kids have access to more and more mature theatrical

visions premiering from Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center

to Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre to San Francisco’s

Handful Players to Ireland to Adelaide to Kosovo to Cape

These plays range from re-imagined fairy tales and adaptations

of favorite books to brand-new plays and electric new musicals

about everything from physics to bullying to the American Civil War.

But how could theater, especially theater for young people,

really matter in a world as fraught and disparity-scattered as ours?

Not to sound overly grand (too late), but so much of the toxicity

in this world comes from a collective draining of empathy.

We don’t understand each other, and we don’t want to.

But theater invites us — no, forces us — to empathize.

As my friend Bill English of San Francisco’s SF Playhouse says,

theater is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up

the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding

and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves.

We practice sitting down, paying attention and learning from

other people’s actions. We practice caring.

Kids need this kind of practice even more than adults do.

This is going to be their planet and they’ve got more time to apply

that empathy and make a difference. Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax

challenges us to actively and specifically teach

children (and vote for presidents with) empathy.

Why not take your child to the theater to do just that.

In fact “Take A Child to the Theatre Today” is the campaign theme

of The International Association of Theaters for Young Audiences

for the next three years.

If you take a child to the theater, not only will they practice empathy,

they might also laugh uproariously, or come home singing about science,

or want to know more about history, or tell you what happened at

school today, or spend all dinner discussing music, or learn how to

handle conflict, or start becoming future patrons of the arts.

On March 20th, take a child to the theater. Take them all the time.

And don’t “sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.” Lean forward, engage

and start changing the world for the better.

Theatre for Children– a great place to live.

What youth theatre company have you attended?  There are many good programs in the country.  I’ve love to hear your thoughts about youth theatre.

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or DeborahBaldwin.net

‘Tween Parenting 101

Beatrice is a ‘tween. Do you remember those years? Are you ‘tween parenting?

In my book, Meanie Bea’ (there’s that title again), Beatrice’s parents are positive forces in her life.  That was on purpose.  In my thirty-five years of teaching, I can honestly say that most parents I have been acquainted with have tried to be good parents.

There are always some that don’t quite make the mark, but that’s true of any occupation.  I say “occupation” because being a parent is a full time job that never ends even when your child becomes an adult. Ask any grandma.

PhotoBumbling Bea fans

One of my most favorite photos of my students who are sisters. One was a teen ager at the time and other a ‘tween.  Their mom was very busy. 🙂

As a parent of two grown girls (who are wonderful human beings), I can honestly say that I am a good parent. I was as traditional as I  could be. That was on purpose! I volunteered at school, served as Girl Scout leader for two troops, several times I directed the Christmas pageant for church,  chaperoned on band busses, etc.  I sat through countless piano, choir and band recitals, quizzed spelling words over the breakfast table, helped with History Day projects, Civil War Days and tried to teach them to drive (my husband was better at that). We went camping, fishing, kite flying, made mud pies, jumped rope and read many books together.  I can even brag that I found the first Harry Potter book at the library before it was popular. You name it, I did it (and so did my husband—let’s not forget him).

I lived through tears, anxiety and sleepless nights…………and I would do it all over again.

People have complimented and congratulated us on the raising of our daughters. They have wondered what the secret is to raising successful children.  I don’t know about other people, but I have a few suggestions for anyone who might want to hear (and maybe some you don’t):

Be present in your child’s life even if they push you away.  IGNORE THEM WHEN THEY SAY TO GO AWAY. They don’t really mean it. Stay in the background and around them–other kids begin to see how great it is to have you available and pretty soon every kids wants to know you.

Teach your child responsibility, resilience, respect, compassion and love.  If they experience you hugging on them, guess what? Someday they will do the same for their children.

Model patience even if you are about to blow up on the inside.  This is one I really had to work at–patience doesn’t come easy for me.

Teach self respect and self discipline to your children.  It is so important that they learn to be comfortable with their authentic self.  In addition, I beg you to teach them self discipline.  A child of seven years of age does not have the life experiences to decide for themselves about quitting piano lessons or when they should go to bed at night.  If you model these two attributes, I promise your life will be less stressful.  Notice I didn’t say easy.  It is never easy raising any child.  Beware of the parent that says, “Oh, he’s such an easy child.”  Really?  Maybe the parent isn’t really paying attention to her child’s true behavior.

When my girls were disciplined at school by their teachers, I rarely stepped in or meddled in the siuation.  It was especially difficult when they had a teacher who was a friend of mine or my husband’s. We are both educators.  We know how parents can be with teachers sometimes–not very nice and not very supportive.  Please give your child’s teacher the benefit of the doubt and trust that you might not be getting the entire story from your child about what occurred. Give the child and teacher time to sort things out.  Chances are that, in time, the student and teacher’s relationship will work out for the best.

Remember, it is completely okay to say “no” to your child.  They don’t need every toy, game, and latest cell phone.  You aren’t to be their best friend.  You are to be their parent.  Later, when they are adults (or probably much sooner), their respect for you will lead to a lasting friendship.  Our daughters are two of my best friends.

Lastly, allow them to see you cry, be disappointed and make mistakes.  We all make mistakes every day. For instance, I just baked a lemon meringue pie and the silly meringue shrunk and fell flat. Oh well.  When I direct a youth theater production, one of the first things I tell my kids is that they will make mistakes.  I remind them, “Barring Armagaeddon tomorrow, the sun will rise, we’ll have oxygen to breathe and we’ll all try again. ” I’m a big fan of laughing at myself and I do my best not to take myself too seriously.

Beatrice’s father is a great example of a successful person.  He is funny, smart, loving and tuned in to his kids without lauding things upon them.  Her mother is the same way.   She allows Beatrice to make mistakes and learn from them, but she keeps a watchful eye on her and her brother, Edmund.

Now, before you stop reading this blog let me tell you something.  Our daughters had challenges (physical and emotional) that they had to deal with just like most young people.  They weren’t perfect by any means, typical tweens and teenagers, too.   They just kept trying and so did we.  And that’s about all any of us can do, you know?

Next time, let’s talk about the social pressures of being a ‘tween. This is a biggie for everyone.