The Ugly Side of Drama Teaching


Whilst I still profess teaching drama is the best job in the world, a career in drama teaching is not always a bed of roses. Every profession has its less fulfilling, even unfair aspects, and teaching drama is no exception. If you’re an experienced drama educator, then much of this post may already be familiar to you. If you’re new to the game, then you need to be aware of the unglamorous …. what I call the ugly side of drama teaching:

  • lunch time rehearsals
  • after school rehearsals
  • weekend rehearsals
  • holiday rehearsals
  • no time allowance for rehearsals
  • no remuneration for rehearsals
  • painting play and musical sets and props outside school hours
  • making costumes outside school hours
  • colleagues not taking your subject seriously
  • students not taking your subject seriously
  • drama teachers suffering from exhaustion
  • drama teachers suffering burnout
  • school administrations using drama productions purely to market their school
  • school administrations not knowing what the subject of drama entails
  • school administrations not knowing about the drama teacher’s hours outside class time
  • drama teachers genuinely feeling under valued and under appreciated in the workplace
  • the skill of experienced drama teachers not being properly recognised
  • the drive and enthusiasm of younger drama teachers being over utilised (resulting in burnout)

I started writing this post as a series of paragraphs, soon realising it may be thesis-length by the time I’d finished. Not a suitable length for a blog! So by no means is this a definitive or exhaustive list of bullet points, but it’s a good start in outlining the unglamorous side of drama teaching.

One could argue a drama teacher knows what they signed up for at the beginning of their career or job at a new school, so most of the points I raise in this post should come as no surprise. But that argument doesn’t fly for me. Many of these are not clear at the outset, evolve as part of the job some time on, or are requested at a later date by school administrations.

I urge all drama and theatre teachers reading this post, young and old, new and experienced, to never lose your passion for teaching drama. But at the same time, don’t put up with getting used by others. Establish a culture of respect, educate others about the role of the drama teacher, log your outside class hours in the job for those who need to see it, and ensure your working conditions are fair. A drama teacher will rarely get back in return what they put in to the job beyond the scheduled class hours. No teacher of any subject does. But when you see the sports teachers getting a time allowance in their load for swim training before school, but you don’t get the same in return for musical and play rehearsals after school, don’t put up with it. Speak up and be heard.

Comment below if you have a story you’d like to share with others about the unglamorous side of drama teaching.

11 Responses

  1. Colleen Henry says:

    I want to know if aim a minority in the drama community for having suffered s complete nervous breakdown and now in the deep waters of depression.
    It’s not all just being a drama teacher but it has certainly played a part.

    • Teá says:

      Colleen, I think there is a lot to be said with the creative output necessary to run rehearsals outside of school time. We are not just coaches to students like swimming or running clubs – we have to get kids to give themselves creatively as well as direct them! No offence against Sport teachers, but they don’t have to design a running track that also appeals to a paying audience!
      In this we can start to feel utterly depleted emotionally so I don’t think you are alone in feeling this way.

  2. James Roby says:

    I know this is an older post but I was looking around because of my situation. My other half has said they have had enough of me giving up my family time for rehearsals and doing too many shows coming home after 10pm. Does anyone else get this? I tried to explain it is part of the job but she said that beyond the curriculum I can choose not to do stuff.

  3. Yes it can be a frustrating job, but it is also the best job in the world. Not every school is the same and if a school doesn’t treat it’s drama teachers well then my advice is to go elsewhere. In my teaching career I have worked with some really dreadful headteachers and some marvellous and appreciative headteachers. Where i am now I have a beautiful theatre, great students, enthusiastic parents and all the artistic freedom one could ask for. Yes there is always paperwork but there is no job in the world without paperwork, and there is nothing more rewarding than teaching those students who have problems elsewhere in their education. Perhaps that’s because I was a difficult student myself and found theatre was my lifeline.

  4. krishna says:

    thnk you

  5. Beth Martin says:

    All true, all true! I might add to this list of dark side issues, this tidbit. My last period Theatre Arts 1 classes have become a “dumping ground” for students who have no other place to go. If our guidance office can’t find a place in another class, they send the very uninterested students to my class where they insist on disrupting the learning process every single day. Perform? Not on your life! Complain? All the time! Criticize the teacher and the other students? Every chance they get! Is there an answer to this dilemma?

    • David Ellis says:

      No! Unfortunately. The kids have to go somewhere and we are often the unlucky recipients. Take solace that every now and then some of these ‘lost’ students ‘find’ themselves in Drama. Drama is sometimes the very first time that they can find their voice. I have had students who came to my class, arms crossed, minds closed, but left with a love of performance. Creating assessment matrices that enable students to self-direct their learning can really help to engage these students. It is not perfect, but sometimes you will change a young life in a way that I think few other subjects can.

    • Roz Manly says:

      Hi Beth. I was just re-reading this post when I decided to read through the comments and saw yours. May I suggest your try and re-direct the non performers towards stage-crew, tech-crew, hair and make-up crew, media crew or even front of house crew? We have developed these spaces at my school and there is quite a lot of students who want to be a part, but not perform. There is actually some credibility in being part of Tech Crew! And a growing list of interested participants. I know this means even more energy going out, but it has a pay back when you don’t have to operate everything and can actually pay attention to the performances!

  6. David Ellis says:

    I agree. I don’t think the idea, promulgated by too many school administrators, that all the pressures and expectations placed upon Drama teachers is simply part of the job. Drama teachers have no fewer expectations placed upon them, as far as improving student outcomes and growing as teachers, than any other teacher on staff and nor should they. Yet this expected to happen at the same time as these teachers are also expected to direct and produce one, two, three co-curricular performances and do the sound for a school function and organise lighting for a guest speaker and so on and so on. It is about equity. It is about fairness. It is about allowing professional educators to do their jobs. We are professional educators. We are passionate about the education of young people. We are passionate about The Arts. But our passion does not mean we should have to matyr ourselves and our families. If you are passionate about teaching Drama, then stand up for your rights as an educator. This will enrich the profession and, most importantly, continue to give our students amazing opportunities to find their voice.

  7. Roz Manly says:

    One of the ‘joys’ not on your list is recording everything you’ve spent to stage a show. Whilst it is necessary there sometimes feels like you need to justify why this one or this much. Im lucky my school does appreciate the final product but recording every single shekel and the administrative code that accompanies it as well as organising the receipts is not what I’m good at – drama is.

    • David Ellis says:

      This is probably the bane of many Drama teachers’ lives. I think that very often the creative thinkers, learners, doers are, almost by their very nature, not predisposed to the ‘administivia’ side of the job. We’re more Vsevolod Meyerhold and less John Maynard Keynes.

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