I know teachers who loathe parent teacher interviews. I know some who get nervous and sweat about meeting their pupil’s parents like they were bungee jumping for the first time. But how often do you drive home from parent teacher night feeling as though you made a difference?
In recent years I have taught quite a lot of junior Drama and have loved parent teacher nights, partly because the vast majority of Year 7 & 8 students only make appointments for mum and dad to meet their Drama teacher! So this is either sounding warm and fuzzy or a little absurd. Being a Drama teacher is kinda like being the clown at the circus, sometimes. You spend half your day cracking silly jokes and the children think your funny. You spend the other half teaching them a subject which is simply like no other on the curriculum and they get into it because it teaches them, among other things, that learning can be fun. And if you’re like myself, being one of only a handful of male teachers at an all-girls secondary school amongst 100 female teachers, you have the added bonus of being a novelty once you hit the classroom (no matter what you’re teaching!) … just because you’re male.
So the other night it was time to meet the Year 12 parents again and it made my day. You know things are going well when a week beforehand, all 15 of my senior Drama students placed their name on the interview booking sheet immediately, without a fuss and one might say, even a little enthusiastically.
At the interviews all I met were lovely students, kind supportive parents who threw me lines like ‘is there anything we can do to help?’ (a school teacher’s dream!) and smiling faces all round. Please … let me know if it gets any better than that at parent teacher night? What more can a teacher ask for?
To be honest, I was a little concerned because the ensemble task I had given my Year 12 Drama students for 25% of their year’s assessment was pretty daunting. We’re not talking kids stuff here. If you give it a read (click the link) you’ll see this task designed for small groups is very challenging. Whispers filtered in from my pupils who had shown the task to friends or teachers of Year 12 Drama at other schools, that it was way too hard. From the beginning, I wanted to give them a task that would be pushing the envelope. I’m a firm believer that Drama students will produce their best work when they are forced to jump out of their comfort zone and take risks.
Comfort in senior Drama produces nothing but mediocrity, time and time again. It might sound a little pretentious, but my Year 12 Drama students are too good for that. Why put in hundreds of hours of work over the year just to score a bunch of C+’s, when, with some real effort, the rewards could be much greater.
Thankfully, the general concensus at parent teacher interviews was that everyone was happy (a slight change from the day I distributed the task, where most of my students wanted to strangle me!) and everyone agreed it was a helluva lot of work, but definitely rewarding and something they could really sink their teeth into.
So my lesson as their educator was to stick to my guns and follow my instinct. The task given to my senior Drama students was no more challenging than what they will receive from the curriculum board later this month for their upcoming solo performance exam. If they truly wish to succeed well with the solo performance (and boy, oh boy, I know they do), then an internal ensemble task which raises the bar and forces them to produce work of a certain standard, will only serve as a worthwhile entree for the main meal later in the year.