Taking Responsibility For One’s Learning

At high school, I was that harmless “can’t sit still in the classroom but I’m good at Drama” kinda guy. Couldn’t do my Maths homework, but I sure knew my lines for the next musical rehearsal. Didn’t understand most of what I was taught in Science, but I was ready to lead the class in a warm-up game in Drama any time I was asked. I have no doubt in my mind I annoyed the hell out of most of my teachers … and then ironically, I became one myself!

Something my elder brother successfully achieved at high school was taking responsibility for his own learning as a student. I think this requires a certain level of maturity and to be honest, I probably didn’t have it at the time, so I mostly did work for the teacher and rarely understood the wider implications of my learning.

So why did I become a teacher if I was such a lousy student? Although I had two elder sisters who were teachers ready to inspire me, I don’t think I ever really wanted to be a teacher per se. At the end of Year 12 my mother suggested I put down a Drama teaching course for security, as acting was and still remains an unstable profession in terms of available work. Teaching would be my way of getting my regular “fix” for Drama and a couple of decades later, I have never looked back.

Today, I envy those mature students in my classes who have the discipline to study for hours on end and write amazing essays, quietly wishing I was one of them in my day. I also have no shame in openly admitting to students where I stuffed up at high school in the hope they may not do similar, themselves. And for those students who think senior high is all about the grades, they are amazed sometimes to hear me say it just isn’t. My grades were so bad in Year 12, I am thankful the curriculum authority moderated my English examination score up, or I may have failed my final year! But, I fell on my feet and found a career for myself that I would love with a passion for years to come.

So, the past few weeks, while many of my colleagues at school have been noticing students in their Year 12 classes casually, yet consistently, arrive late to their lessons, my Year 12 Drama class is arriving on time and where possible (after lunch break etc), five minutes early. I have arrived at class myself recently to see all my Year 12 Drama students happily rehearsing their developing solo performance exams in the classroom without me! A significant shift in mindset has taken place: they are now happily taking responsibility for their own learning in Drama. They “own” their solo performance and want to do well in their October exam. They’re not meeting time-lines and doing hours of homework preparing it for their teacher like I did at high school, but rather they are doing it for themselves.

So right now my Year 12 Drama class is the warmest place to be on campus, no matter how cold the Melbourne winter is outside. Short of hugging each other, these students care for themselves and what they do in Drama, they care for each other, and they are proud of their work. Like all Drama students, they become frustrated, lose confidence in their own ability, become perfectionists with their work and occasionally would just like to throw a mini-tantrum in class to get it all out!

I listen to loud applause for the less confident students who perform their work before the class for feedback. I see students at parent teacher night tell me doing well in this performance exam means so much to them, they have tears in their eyes as they speak. I watch students take others under their wing and go out of their way to look after them in Drama class. I see the same level of artistic discipline from the weakest student in the class, as I see from the very strongest. I see a culture in my Year 12 Drama classroom that “makes my day” as an educator, three times a week. I don’t think I could possibly ask for more …….

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