Better Days Ahead

A personal reflection on facing your fear, seizing every opportunity and pushing out of that comfort zone. 

Pushing out of our comfort zones was something all teachers and students were forced to do over the last year, but this blog isn’t about embracing online learning. We’ve all heard enough about that for now.

My name is Lisa, I’ve been teaching drama for almost twenty years, I’ve been a head of department, headed up new initiatives, raised standards, written endless schemes of work, built up the confidence of others, worked in an SEN department, produced many, many productions and taught across both state and private schools. 

I was thrilled and flattered to be asked to write a guest blog for We Teach Drama, but when I opened up the blank page to begin, the thunder rumbled outside my window in a rather foreboding manner. Face your fear I said to myself, stretch outside of your comfort zone, it’s what you constantly expect of your students. As a dyslexic, (I found this out during my final teacher training placement), putting ‘pen to paper’ for ‘fun’ isn’t something that sits easily with me. So that’s what this blog is about… stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the opportunities that arise.

Like many others, 2020 brought A LOT of changes for me, and not in ways I would have expected. I was a full time drama teacher at this point, at a beautiful private school in the Cotswolds. I felt very close to the students that I taught across both the prep and senior school.  

When we were sent home from school that fateful Friday in March, my words to the students were full of promise, that we’d be back soon, to keep rehearsing their production, that I would be with them every step of the way throughout home learning. We were all set up for Teams calls and I felt ready for the virtual hand-holding and to be there for my students more than ever before. I felt a motherly concern for these poor teens that were being sent away from their friends, or in some cases their ‘home’ if they were boarders.

So, the week of craziness began… home schooling two young children (that were well supported by live lessons online I might add). Whilst running live lessons for my own senior classes, recording the requested video messages for my younger students, marking work online etc etc  – needless to say this was an absolute nightmare, and on the first day we all forgot to eat! I feel for those who did this for the long haul, I was ‘lucky’, although it didn’t feel like that at the time.

During the Easter holidays I received my furlough notification. Furlough, what is this strange new word? Realising I CAN’T work and exclaiming ‘what about MY STUDENTS?!’ I thought drama was going to keep them going, keep them connected, I was going to keep them inspired and entertained. I cried, I felt like an utter failure and a charlatan. All those promises I had made to be there for them, and now they were just cut off from me, I couldn’t even contact them to explain.

As it turns out the headteacher was as supportive as ever and got in touch with the parents immediately so at least my lovely students knew it wasn’t my choice to abandon them in their hour (well, months) of need.

They say ‘everything happens for a reason’ well that was certainly true for me, my months of furlough were blissful; beautiful weather, two very happy little girls with an excellent online provision, my husband with his newly purchased noise cancelling headphones and me: the cook, cleaner and support assistant, perfect! 

But I couldn’t help thinking about those ‘abandoned’ drama students, so I thought I’d start up a YouTube channel where parents and students of all ages could access mini lessons, tips, definitions, warm ups and activities.

Welcome to The Drama Coach

Yes, this was completely out of my comfort zone at the time, but seeing as I’d already had to record media messages for that manic week before, I thought why not give it a go. As it turns out I now love updating my channel – it’s like teaching without the interruptions! The channel hasn’t just been used by parents and drama students, but now by many teachers. Teachers are using the videos as starters in their lessons (both virtual and in their studios or classrooms), for homework tasks and for revision/catch up. I no longer get the hot fear as I make another video, so I guess that’s one fear faced at least. 

My most popular video is ‘Tap Clap Click Click’ made in early lockdown on March 29th where I simply explain this warm up concentration activity. I had always wanted the opportunity to spend more time with my children and luckily they were more than happy to get involved. 

So now, this week I have joined TikTok (@thedramacoach) – yes this does still fill me with that hot rising fear. I’ve read a lot about the app and the idea of students potentially being surrounded by negative images and online peer pressure really upsets me… so along with a few other positive (or crazy) teachers I am giving it a go. It’s actually an interesting challenge trying to condense a ‘lesson’ in to just sixty or even fifteen seconds, something I’m sure will get easier over time.

Drama Games – Tap, Clap, Click, Click

So next time I am ‘pushing’ a student, as we often do, I’ll just take a moment to remember that rumble of foreboding thunder, and the churn in the pit of my stomach and guide them gently (but firmly) through whatever it is that they are nervous about.

I no longer teach whole class Drama, lockdown showed me how much I was missing out with my own young children. I now work part time, and for the first time in my life I can honestly say I have ‘work life balance’.  I still teach speech and drama at my current school and have been able to focus more on the individual needs of those students. 

Whilst focussing on the needs of my speech and drama students, I have found that performing a monologue has been the biggest challenge for most of them, mainly because they are on their own with no partner who ‘has their back’. Also because a weekly thirty five minute lesson isn’t always enough to help the students with strategies for line learning, studying a character and fully appreciating the context of the piece, let alone delve deep into the world of Stanislavski. 

I’ve been recording again, this time with the ‘How to Deliver a Monologue’ course. It’s available to buy online and suitable for any senior school aged student but in particular those studying GCSE and A Level Drama or a BTEC in Performing Arts.

I know many have faced a truly awful year, and some are still suffering the consequences. Lately I’ve been inspired seeing theatres re-open and many of my actor friends finally get back to the work they love. I know teachers have struggled with the extra measures, cleaning, marking and assessments to name just the tip of the iceberg, but as I quite literally watch the clouds clear, and the birds sing outside the same window that showed me that storm earlier I feel positive there are better times ahead.

Following the sometimes bumpy path this past year, and seizing new opportunities has led me to be the happiest I have been to date. Granted, my fears were far smaller than some, but I hope that myself and my fellow teacher friends continue to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, or at least remember be sympathetic when we ask our students to do so. They too have been through so much, and we can all move forward together.