The Rewards of Teaching Junior Drama
For most of my teaching career I have been fortunate to just teach drama (my other teaching method remains a mystery to most who work with me). Normally I have been one of only two or three teachers in a drama department and as a result I often teach five levels of high school each year. The special benefits of teaching senior drama is a myth that must be destroyed. Granted, senior students are more mature and can create sophisticated dramatic performances for class assessment that is certainly gratifying for the teacher. However, the rewards of teaching junior drama are just as plentiful.
This year my teaching allotment is loaded up with junior drama classes. Right now I am teaching 1 x Year 7 and 4 x Year 8 drama classes. To say this is a bit exhausting would of course be an understatement, purely because of all the physical energy these classes demand. But teaching so many junior drama classes each week is also very satisfying. As I write this post, today seems a little odd to me. So I took stock and realised something was missing from my day – my Year 12 drama class. I will not deny I love teaching senior drama. But the highlight of my teaching day today will most certainly be my Year 7 class and two of my Year 8 drama classes.
My Year 7 drama class is beyond enthusiastic. Like many Year 7s, drama at high school is something new to most of them and completely different to many of their other subjects. The fact that they don’t sit in rows of desks in the drama classroom is enough of a contrast in itself. While this class is certainly keen, I am going out of my way to offer them positive feedback for the good work they are currently doing, but also as a lead-in to that next step that only comes with maturity: artistic discipline in drama. This can include:
- being able to run a group rehearsal with limited supervision
- learning lines for their drama by agreed deadlines
- focusing in rehearsal when not ‘on stage’
- using class time productively and efficiently
- being aware of their individual and group responsibilities in drama
- cooperating with others in the group/class
- thinking of classmates before themselves
Some of these are life skills, not just drama skills, yes?
I already have a Year 7 drama class that is:
- willing to learn new things
- have loads of energy
- enjoy their freedom to express in drama
- love the social aspect of working with their peers in group dramas
- describing drama class as ‘fun’
If you can create the right dynamic / environment / culture in your junior drama class, your students will be like putty in your hands waiting to be moulded by you. Teachers of junior drama (primary school as well) can have enormous influence on their pupils. Partly because of their age and partly because at this stage of their schooling drama is so novel to many of them, students of junior drama often lap up all their teachers have to offer. As so much of drama is fun and enjoyable activities, I do believe as drama educators we have an advantage over some of our colleagues teaching other subjects. To many of our junior students, drama is seen as an extension of everyday play (and so it should be). That’s not to say as teachers we cannot make junior drama academic, rigorous and challenging. The fact that drama is seen as an extension of play is more a statement on the nature of drama and the age group of these students than anything else.
As I leave a junior drama class, my positive memories don’t really look academic at all:
- the smiles on my students’ faces
- students thanking me simply for teaching them
- the sense of happiness in the room
- hearing the many laughs from students during the lesson
- watching students negotiate, cooperate and problem-solve
Can’t complain about that, hey? Make no doubt about it, teaching junior drama is very rewarding. As I was drafting this post a comment appeared on another post on The Drama Teacher from one of my ex-students who vividly remembered not just our Year 8 drama class 20 years ago, but a single lesson of process drama I taught her in the early 90s! Such is the power of junior drama.
So true Justin, teaching junior Drama is a privilege and delight. It can also be hard and exhausting. One of the best things is certainly the students finding that it is ok to have fun and this is fundamental in building a drama department. And those relationships with junior students enable us to build strong middle school electives and VCE classes. Junior Drama is a great way to start building the skills, talking the talk and “hooking”students in. Year 7 and 8 students love to check out photos of senior productions on the wall, posters of dramatic elements and so on.