What Makes a Good Drama Teacher? 30 Essential Qualities and Skills
Qualities of a Good Drama Teacher
A good Drama teacher needs to be empathetic. This is easier to achieve if you know your students well, such as their strengths, challenges and interests.
If you cannot possess a genuine sense of understanding of the thoughts, feelings and emotional state of your students as they create their work in your classes, then I would suggest you are in the wrong profession.
While it is true all teachers should have a sense of empathy with their students, this is particularly true for the Drama teacher as we are constantly dealing with our students’ emotions and vulnerabilities in their search for creativity.
A good Drama teacher trusts their students inherently. Trust is a vital component of effective Drama teaching. We must trust the judgements of our students in their creative decision-making, because if we don’t, then belief is out the window.
Trust is a two-way street. Our students need to be able to trust us as well. They need to trust our knowledge, our advice, and our decisions.
This is not a Mathematics or Science class. In Drama, the student is the centre of enquiry, not a number or a concept. This is a human being with feelings, imperfections and insecurities.
The best teacher-student relationships in Drama are built on trust.
A good Drama teacher understands the notion of patience. This, of course, can also be said for teachers of other subjects, but Drama sometimes involves unique situations that require the teacher to have the patience of a saint!
Like when you are four hours into a technical rehearsal and nothing … I mean nothing … seems to be going right. Or when a group of students in your class are so starved of creative ideas, that you patiently guide them in the right direction time and time again. Or when you have been rehearsing the school musical for four months and finally, two days before opening night, your lead actor “finds” his character.
There’s a reason why we say patience is a virtue.
A good Drama teacher begins and ends every lesson with respect. This involves each student respecting themselves, respecting their classmates, and respecting their teacher. In return, the good Drama teacher respects all students in each lesson by default as they walk through that classroom door.
Even better Drama teachers advertise this at the start of each course and hold themselves accountable to their students. A good Drama teacher also ensures every decision made in class, no matter how big or small, is student-centred and based on respect for human dignity.
When I have these principles in place, Drama classes (mostly) run like clockwork, bullying (both aggressive and passive) is eliminated, and quieter students can perform in Drama with confidence knowing everyone will respect them for simply doing their best and taking risks.
A good Drama teacher needs to be approachable to their students. This may sound like an obvious quality necessary for effective teaching, but the reality is not all teachers are approachable. The Drama teacher is under extra pressure to be approachable to our students because of the nature of our craft. Drama teachers who create a sense of fear in their students achieve very little. This only results in our students feeling a disconnect, which is not something we want in the teaching of Drama. Whether it be in the classroom or the school corridor, students have a reasonable expectation that their Drama teacher is approachable in their time of need.
A good Drama teacher understands that at the core of this subject lies the need for inspiration. Creativity rarely arrives by accident. You must inspire your students to participate in drama activities, be imaginative, take risks in the play-making process, be prepared to fall and get up again, and embrace what we do in Drama with open arms … for if you do so, the rewards will be many. If Drama teachers cannot be inspirational to their students, then it’s time to think of another profession.
A good Drama teacher is humble. Most of us go through that phase when we are young in the game and our ego rules most decisions. “Don’t I look good directing this school show”? “My student received an award thanks to me” and “I taught her everything she knows”. Some of us unfortunately never leave this phase in our career. But thankfully most of us do and we are pleasantly reminded that all our decisions should be based on our student’s needs, that the school show is about the students, not the teacher-director, and that without them, we wouldn’t have a job in the first place. Be humble, my friend. Your students will appreciate you more for it.
A good Drama teacher understands fairness and equality for all. A bad Drama teacher has favourite students in the classroom and casts roles in school productions not purely based on merit. Students can smell the Drama teacher who does not play fair a mile away. Worse still, some of them will never forgive you for it. Drama is difficult in the sense that it is easy to become subjective instead of remaining objective, particularly with a practical assessment.
Sometimes your reasons may be positive, such as rewarding the student who has had a tough time recently. But if this reward has nothing to do with the criteria for assessment published to the entire class, then by doing this you are being unfair to other students. Objectivity in Drama does not mean you are being unkind, it simply means you are being fair to all.
A good Drama teacher must believe. You must believe in every student, their creative ability and pursuits, no matter how difficult this may be. I firmly believe all students want their teacher to believe in them, it is just that some may not display this in obvious or tangible ways. If ever there were subjects at school where students needed the belief of their teacher, surely it has to be in the arts.
The uncertainty of creative pursuits in a subject such as Drama brings with it much vulnerability. Those of us who have been in the game a long time know that it is often at these moments of creative vulnerability that our students need us to believe in them most. It is from here that a masterpiece is sometimes born. That very moment where you have the greatest difficulty believing in your student’s decision-making or ability is the exact moment where belief is paramount.
A good Drama teacher must be passionate. I have never had an issue with the Drama teacher being passionate about what they teach. I always assumed it came naturally. How can one possibly not be passionate about a subject like Drama? This subject has so much going for it if you teach it properly. Over the years I have had many conversations with my students about activities, lessons, tasks, or programs in Drama where both my students and myself had so much fun we almost forgot we were at school.
But sadly, it appears I may have been somewhat naive. Not all Drama teachers are passionate about what they teach. To some, passion is a weak term. It is not ‘academic’ and relies too much on our emotions to understand it. But I honestly believe the day you lose your passion for teaching Drama is the day you need to hang up those boots. Drama teaching requires such a level of commitment and drive, that it is near impossible to fake it.
Be passionate or begone!
A good Drama teacher has a healthy sense of humour. Granted, for myself, this has usually been a never-ending array of dad jokes throughout my drama teacher career. One day I told a Drama class that my wife had given birth to our first child only to hear a response “Great, now he has a licence to tell those silly dad jokes!’. I took it as a compliment. If you don’t have a sense of humour as a Drama teacher, then perhaps you need a moment or two of self-reflection. The very nature of our subject naturally leads itself to humour.
Over the years I have found humour can be the answer to many a problem in Drama class, so it is best to embrace it with open arms. I usually use humour as a way of forging rapport with my students, no matter what age or year level. But as I have learned ever so clearly in my career, if you are willing to dish it out, you also need to be willing to accept it in return!
A good Drama teacher needs to be perceptive. Treat it like a sixth sense you use to gain insight and understanding into your students and their creativity. The very nature of being perceptive implies you have already achieved the respect of your students and are empathetic first. A good Drama teacher is often responsive, sensitive, focused, discerning, keenly observant, curious, incisive, and generally aware of their Drama students’ needs.
A good Drama teacher should be able to constantly reflect on their teaching in new and interesting ways. There are numerous methods to achieve this such as journaling, audio recording lessons, inviting a peer into the classroom to watch you teach, video recording, or openly requesting student feedback. How can we improve our teaching methods if we never seek feedback? A good Drama teacher should also be a lifelong learner interested in learning both within and outside the classroom, during school term and while on vacation. Our interest in teaching and learning should never cease.
A good Drama teacher needs to be enthusiastic. I once said to a pre-service teacher of mine that students expect the Drama teacher to be enthusiastic from the second they walk into the classroom. Yes, its a bit of a cliché that the Drama teacher literally bounces in the room, but if they look like a wet rag, cannot be heard by their students because they are so shy, sit quietly in the corner while students rehearse plays in groups, or deliver instruction like a speech at a school assembly, then something is wrong.
The Drama teacher, of all people, should be animated and be able to teach with enthusiasm. Remember, it is this enthusiasm that many students find infectious. Your enthusiasm as their Drama teacher literally works its way through the students in your class and soon even the quietest students are speaking to you enthusiastically about their next creative idea.
A good Drama teacher should be charismatic to their students. Everyone has charisma, sometimes you’ve just got to find it. Being loud does not necessarily mean being charismatic. Perhaps it is your empathy with students that is charismatic or your sense of humour, your fairness, trust or passion? In fact, many of the qualities on the list in this post are traits students find charismatic. What is your charm? It should be organic, not forced, and may require some self-reflection to determine what it is. If you have a good rapport with your students, better still, ask them what they find charismatic about you.
Skills Of A Good Drama Teacher
1. Creative Thinking
A good Drama teacher is a non-stop creative thinker. They are readily able to think outside the box when others simply can not (lateral thinking), perceive in advance how many things will combine to create a larger whole … umm … the school musical! (systems thinking), appreciate how things may be beautiful and pleasant to the viewer well before they are even created (aesthetic thinking), brainstorm concepts with originality and flexibility (divergent thinking) and receive insights from other sources (inspirational thinking). All of these types of creative thinking are essential skills for the Drama teacher.
2. Subject Knowledge
A good Drama teacher has breadth and depth of knowledge in this discipline. For many years, I used to think knowledge was king, but the nature of teaching has changed so much in the past two decades, I’m not so sure this is the case anymore as so many other skills are also required. Gone are the days when you just can stand at the front of the classroom and deliver content to your class.
Nevertheless, the essence of teaching requires we understand our subject area and this requires constant professional reading, upskilling, attending the theatre, participating in workshops, being part of a teacher network (whether formal or informal), self-reflection on our practice, and attending conferences.
Never before in history have we had so much knowledge at our fingertips (most of it free of charge), so while being discerning with trusting our sources, the Internet is rich with knowledge about the subject of Drama. It all comes down to how much time you have to seep up this knowledge and put it into practice.
3. Communication Skills
A good Drama teacher is an accomplished communicator and an accomplished communicator is first an effective listener, not a talker. The Drama teacher is often looked up to by their peers as one of the best communicators in the school. They’re the ones who are confident speaking at staff meetings and other functions and are never scared of a microphone! But the really good Drama teacher is able to communicate with their students in multiple ways. This can be both verbal and non-verbal. Effective communication in Drama requires empathy at its core.
A good Drama teacher must be able to instil confidence in their students. While it is true some of our students have confidence in spades, it is fair to say the majority of them do not. On the extreme, some are very shy. Now one might be able to get away with being shy in Science class, but this is not necessarily the case in Drama.
The strange thing about Drama is that one of its most important byproducts is gaining confidence. Yet the irony is our students have to get out of their comfort zone in Drama in order to gain that confidence they so desperately require. You have to be confident enough to take risks in order to gain more confidence. For many, this is a long and tough battle. It is up to the Drama teacher to use their skills in instilling confidence in their students, encouraging them to never give up, be resilient and keep persevering.
I always remind my students that confidence is a life skill. It is a skill that goes beyond our classroom walls and is necessary for healthy living for the rest of their lives. Sometimes I even say openly to my quieter students that I don’t care what their grades are in Drama this semester (and neither should they care). If they finish this course a more confident young person, then the grades really don’t matter, do they? What they have gained from doing Drama class is now far more important than individual grades along the way.
In my experience, there are few things more rewarding in Drama teaching than instilling confidence in students.
5. Emotional Intelligence
A good Drama teacher clearly needs effective emotional intelligence. So much of this discipline requires the teacher to be in touch with their emotions and that of their students. It is critical for the Drama teacher to have empathy and accurately detect and identify emotions during student consultation, practical class activities, rehearsals, performances, and more. Emotional intelligence is tightly linked to other qualities and skills in this post such as empathy and perception.
6. Academic Rigour
A good Drama teacher does not settle for sub-standard work from their students and similarly does not teach programs that do not demand academic rigour. Few subjects at school are as much fun as Drama can be. But this doesn’t mean it’s all drama games and no substance. Drama can be as rigorous and demanding as any other subject at school. Just because it is a much younger discipline than the Maths and Sciences which have existed for centuries at school, this does not mean Drama should be less academic.
Don’t put up with fellow colleagues, parents or teachers saying their child wanted to choose a more ‘academic’ subject, in the process putting Drama down. Drama is as academic as the next subject, just in a very different way. Set your standards high, no matter what age group, as your students will respect you more for it and the rewards will be greater in the end.
A good Drama teacher is a full-time leader. You don’t need a special title to be a leader.
But if you do want a title, every time you are the director of the school play or musical, you’re a leader. Every time you’re the coordinator of a school concert, you’re a leader. Every time you run a lighting workshop with a group of students, you’re a leader. Every time you’re the stage manager of a school show, you’re a leader. Every time you run a rehearsal you’re a leader. Every time you take your students in Drama class on a journey of some sort, no matter how small, you’re a leader. Every time you help a single student achieve just one of their personal goals in Drama, you’re a leader.
A good Drama teacher is highly organised. This is not always a skill Drama teachers are known for. In fact, the clichéd personality of the so-called typical Drama teacher is ‘out there’, a little crazy, highly imaginative and extroverted. This personality tends to be the right-brained, creative free thinker. The highly analytical, organised left-brained Drama teacher is sometimes nowhere to be seen.
After you’ve planned your first major concert, play or musical, you’ll quickly develop organisational skills (well … hopefully). Because on the one hand, it is very difficult to organise major school events such as these without being organised in the first place, and on the other hand, if you can run a school musical you can organise just about any event at your school.
9. Classroom Management
A good Drama teacher has strong classroom management skills. Want to give Drama a bad name in your school? Then let the students fly off the walls and run around aimlessly making noise. That’ll do it! But if you want Drama to gain the respect it deserves amongst all other subjects at school, our classes need to be experienced by our students and seen by others to be in control. Yes, we may be the noisiest class at school, but the noise does not necessarily mean chaos. The best Drama classes have the teacher always firmly in control, often managing multiple tasks simultaneously.
A good Drama teacher needs to be flexible. Plan A may be what you intended to teach in a particular lesson, but we usually need a Plan B and even a Plan C constantly up our sleeves.
There’s the student who forgot her costume, the group who can’t perform because two people are absent, the photocopier that won’t print your scripts, the well-planned activity that bombs before your very eyes, the students who are scared of Drama but chose it as an elective anyway, the group that lacks any sense of creative thought, the students who chose Drama because someone told them it was the easy subject, the group that decided passive bullying of their classmates was fun, the student in the corner in tears due to stress, and the teacher across the corridor asking your class to be quiet.
You get the picture. Adaptability in Drama teaching is essential.
11. Dedicated Work Ethic
A good Drama teacher has a dedicated work ethic at the very core of their being. If ever there was a poster child for working outside scheduled hours without getting paid or appreciated, it has to be the Drama teacher. This is not to suggest teachers of all subjects don’t take home corrections and such throughout the school year, but the Drama teacher must have a dedicated work ethic in order to simply survive.
Throughout your career you’ll end up painting theatre sets after hours, rehearsing musicals and concerts on weekends and even during school vacation, planning school plays over your summer break, rehearsing with students after school so many times you’ll quickly lose count, making costumes in the wee small hours at home, and much, much more.
Some Drama teachers will be lucky to get a time allowance to undertake some of these activities, some will get a monetary allowance instead, and a few will get both money and time. But many, many more Drama teachers will get neither of these for their hundreds of hours of time, effort and commitment outside of scheduled classes. There’s a reason why one of my previous school principals said to me teaching is a vocation, more of a calling than a profession.
As for a dedicated work ethic inside the Drama classroom, it’s simple. I see this as the practical implementation of the necessary skill of passion, listed above. It’s okay to be passionate, but a dedicated work ethic is where you put this passion into practice.
Tip: due to the many factors that comprise a good Drama teacher, most students expect us to be dedicated from the get-go (on both a small and large scale). So if you just are having a bad day or are not prepared to put in the hours rehearsing a drama concert, beware!
12. Teaching Strategies
A good Drama teacher understands how to execute multiple teaching strategies in their classroom, just like all good teachers should in any contemporary class. Indeed the Drama teacher is an expert in trial and error by the very nature of their craft, so doing the same by implementing various teaching strategies for students of different abilities or for those in different classes shouldn’t be that difficult.
Differentiated instruction, for example, is not as hard as it sounds. Just by thinking about how groupings are arranged in Drama class is a form of differentiated instruction. Do I create a super-group of talent over in the corner? Do I let the shy kids all create a group on their own? Do I mix the groups up so I have a ‘leader’ in each group? You’re already doing differentiated instruction without even knowing it, sometimes.
The Drama teacher experiences a wide variety of skills in a single classroom. When I didn’t understand Maths in middle school, I simply hid at the back of the classroom most lessons and hoped for the best. But when you don’t understand the concepts being taught in Drama, or worse still you are too afraid to get up and perform before the entire class, then you’ve got a problem on another scale, altogether.
In Drama, teacher-student barriers are broken down, school desks are non-existent and in many lessons, our students’ insecurities and abilities are front and centre for everyone to see. It is here a good Drama teacher is able to employ a number of diverse teaching strategies for different tasks or types of learning styles that may assist the introvert, the would-be Broadway star, the optimist, the extrovert and the over-achiever as well.
13. Critical Thinking
A good Drama teacher is also a critical thinker, not just a creative thinker. The best Drama teachers are able to use both sides of their brains simultaneously. You need to be accepting of the opinions and decisions of your students in a critical manner.
I have often worked alongside senior high students on a solo performance in Drama, where from the outset we have an agreement that I will offer suggestions for improvement and in return, they will justify the reasons behind their creative decision-making. At the end of the day, neither party will be offended and the student has the final say as to what is included in the performance.
This not only empowers the student but reminds them that the ownership of the piece is theirs, not the teacher. Whilst all of these discussions may have centred around creativity, the skill being employed was actually critical thinking. Analysis and evaluation are constantly being employed to determine the best outcome for the student.
14. Stress Management
A good Drama teacher is able to (mostly) cope with the many stresses that arise in this profession. Few classes at school are as loud or active as the Drama class. Our students need to make noise in order to create drama. But the noise alone can sometimes be stressful for the teacher.
Drama teachers struggling with classroom management can also find it very stressful. School productions bring with them a myriad of stressful situations, from deadlines in different departments to technical rehearsals and opening night performances.
Perhaps one of the most stressful situations for many Drama teachers is that you or your students are creating something out of nothing. Your audience may have preconceived expectations about the final product which can prove stressful for its creators or co-creators. Being able to manage the stress that comes with Drama teaching is a skill that may take months or years to accomplish.
15. Creative Collaboration
A good Drama teacher is also a creative collaborator. While the business world may value creative collaboration in teams in order to achieve final products or ends, those of us in drama land understand that teamwork and creative collaboration happen in nearly every class.
You don’t have to be the director of the school production to collaborate creatively. Simply working with groups of students in Drama problem-solving is undertaking this skill. Be aware that many students will model their behaviours on that of their teacher in Drama class including skills such as cooperation, inclusion, negotiation and compromise in group tasks.
But if you are directing the school production, then creative collaboration is a vital skill. I once directed a school musical in my early years of teaching where I counted over 50 staff had collaborated in order to get the show on the stage. While some were helping with supervisory duties backstage or ushering in the foyer, many of these voluntary jobs were creative such as constructing costumes, painting props and sets, running singing and choreography rehearsals, operating lighting boards, and more.