Push For Success

Is pushing Drama students to work hard a good thing? Most would probably say yes, but just how far should the Drama teacher push his or her students to excel?

The tricky thing here is that acting is such a competitive field. Considering how huge the worldwide movie industry is and how entrenched film acting is in our everyday lives, it is sort of surprising to see small and sometimes barely surviving class sizes for senior Drama and Theatre subjects at high school. Granted, the emphais here is usually on acting for the theatre, not television or film, and it is education, not industry at high school, but the best students in a senior Drama class often want to enter that industry either directly or after a university course.

Sheer economics (not talent) dictates about 90% of actors are usually out of work on any given day in many countries of the world. It is simply supply and demand and many great actors struggle to regularly get work. I’m sure I’m not telling anyone anything new here. But this is surely one good reason why our senior Drama students need to be pushed hard to excel in high school.

Usually only about 10-20% of students in any of my senior Drama classes want to enter the field of either acting or Drama teaching after leaving school. But last year and this year I have pushed my students harder than ever before. Last year I was rewarded with my best results ever. This would not have occurred if the students had not been pushed, at times, almost to the limit. This year, I have my strongest Year 12 class in years and more than 50% of the class is interested in performing arts university or Drama teaching courses.

I have been teaching Drama as long as my students have been on this earth and I have never seen this kind of figure emerge in my class before. And their grades so far are blowing me out of the water. Granted, my students have a lot of talent, but they also have a lot of artistic discipline. They work damn hard, before school, during school and after school on their Drama performances for most of the school year. It is this discpline, their hunger to excel and a teacher who pushes them that results in success. At university I had talent. I was also lazy. And a lazy actor, no matter how talented, usually gets nowhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blowing my own trumpet here. I make my fair share of mistakes every week of the year as a high school Drama teacher, believe me. There’s plenty of teachers out there better than me, that’s for sure. But what I will take credit for is a system where my expectations as their teacher are always set very high. Ocassionally, the odd student finds this a little discomforting, which is not ideal, but the advantages outweigh the minuses.

Speaking of minuses, the end of last year was sort of intersting for me. Just when my Year 12 class was ready to perform their solo performances at a public performance (effectively a dress rehearsal for their examination day), a couple of my students made formal complaints about me. Neither was ready to perform at the solo night. Both complained about the same thing. Both were good students. What was their complaint…?

…….that as their teacher, I was pushing them too hard……….

It was a bitter pill for me to swallow. I was so hurt, after all the time and effort I had put into their education, it was a slap in the face … a kick in the guts that winded me for a while. But to this day, I don’t regret what I did. I pushed my students to excel, set the highest of standards for the benefit of their drama education and wouldn’t accept compromises or slackness. Sure, I was tough, even stubborn, and wouldn’t back down on the standards I’d set. Thankfully, I was supported by the school administration. After a while, I just took the whole experience as a back-handed compliment.

There are limits, of course. I’ve had students complain to me at other schools in the past that their school musical director (another teacher) was pushing them so hard in rehearsals it had taken all of the fun out of being in the show and half the cast just wanted to get out!

Which leads me to my final point. No matter how hard you may push your students to excel, remember, Drama still has to be fun. I think one of the greatest gifts a teacher can impart on their students is the notion that at the best of times, school is hard work, but at the same time learning can be fun. If you can find the right blend of hard work and fun, your students will repsect you even more as their teacher. Yeah, sure, every student loves a slack teacher. But the slack teacher is a cheap teacher.

Many of my students have never worked harder than in Drama. Like so many of my colleagues teaching Drama at other schools have experienced, lots of my year 12 students say Drama is their hardest subject by far. They want to politely slap the girl in the corridor who refers to Drama as an ‘easy’ subject! But amongst all this hard work, I can safely say they absolutely love Drama. It’s running in their veins. And their passion for Drama is fueled even further by the fact that they work so hard in the subject every day and are willing to be pushed by their teacher to succeed.

2 Responses

  1. dramateacher says:

    Great blog Justin. I’m just a novice at this but I thought I’d have a go at creating a blog for my drama students explaining my aims and trying to stimulate some feedback from them. Do your students ever read your blog?

    By the way I’ve been reading your links page for theatre for a couple of years now. Thanks for all the hard work you put into that. Drama teachers round the world are grateful to you.

    I teach in the UK but am always impressed by the work I hear about from Aus.It sounds like Drama is a big thing in your education system.

  2. elias says:

    Good post, Justin. Where I teach, the Maths department has been setting higher standards than before. We are finding the students responding very well. Today a few of us remarked that our year 7s were solving complex equations. We used not to teach this skill until year 8. I think we don’t always have to ask for more work, we just have to insist on worthwhile, high quality work.

    Keep up the good work,

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