When The Cat’s Away The Mice Will Play
….or will they? Recently, I have been hit with a flare up of an old war injury (ruptured a disc in the lower spine playing mixed netball – don’t laugh – netball involves moving around, right?) and when the cat’s away, you’d think the mice would play? Yes? No!
Teaching five year levels of drama in secondary school (7, 8, 9, 11, 12), I had all sorts of activities going on in my drama classes – assignments due, scripts being written, class rehearsals, out of class rehearsals, prop construction and painting, excursions to concerts and the theatre – it was looking like a logistical nightmare while I rested by back at home for a few weeks. But with the help of a few colleagues, online technologies and a well structured syllabus, all has gone far better than anticipated.
My student record keeping of performance making projects in Year 11 and 12 drama is in the form of blogs, so in between lessons I was unable to teach, I could keep track of my students’ progress by reading their blogs from home. I was able to read about their discussions on a variety of aspects of their drama plays. There was nothing to stop my students from filming a scene from their play in class with their phone, uploading it to their blog in class and asking for my feedback before the next lesson. But even without that, blogs allowed for easy access to my students’ progress remotely.
My students at Year 7 drama were writing scripts for fairy tale plays, but because their script was written in Google Drive, I was already shared into the document and could read their work from home. Similarly, my Year 8 students were writing soap opera scripts and my Year 9 drama students were writing comedy plays – it was all there in Google Drive for me to view in another location at any time.
My senior students were updating major ensemble scripts, so seeing their revisions and being in touch with the progress of their scripts in real time was important for me. Every time I opened up Google Drive, I could see the latest version of their script. In fact, for any of these students writing scripts, I could easily have logged into the shared document from home and started a discussion with them about their script during their lesson by using the chat sidebar feature, all while I was resting my back on the couch at home. Gotta love technology, yeah? I could have used Skype to teach a lesson also, though I probably would only do this with senior drama students doing theory, as it may be problematic trying to teach a practical drama lesson to juniors remotely via the screen of an interactive whiteboard!
But it’s not just the technology. To achieve these things, you need a solid drama curriculum in place, so when disaster strikes you’ve got a better than average chance of things taking care of themselves in your absence. We’ve all been caught over the years too sick to come to work, but you’re stuck with that drama lesson 100% in your head, too hard to send in an email or tell over the phone and near-impossible for a colleague to interpret! No wonder it is my belief that most drama teachers rarely take sick leave – it’s just too damn hard to leave your classes with someone else. But if the work to be done by your drama students has academic rigour and has them engaged in the learning process, then why shouldn’t they carry on as normal when you’re not there?
A solid curriculum usually leads to drama students respecting you as their teacher. You teach them interesting things, they have fun while they’re learning, their confidence is increasing, and they love socialising and talking with others about problems and decision-making in drama. The bottom line is they feel connected to their drama studies and are engaged. If you have this, then everything will be apples when you get hit by a truck one day and spend several weeks in hospital (or just injure your spine in a netball game, like me!).
When this cat was away, the mice refused to play. All I got was progress without me in the room and substitute teachers saying how well-behaved and focused the students were in my absence. This is not because of me. This is because of a structured drama curriculum the students respect. I had the same response from substitute teachers taking my Year 7 students right through to Year 12. There was no difference regardless of age, maturity or year level. Granted, my chances of success here were greater in an all-girls school (sorry guys), but what surprised me was that my Year 7 and 8 students were just as focused (if not more so) on their drama activities in my absence than my seniors.
Leave rigourous replacement classes, take the time to write out solid drama activities for substitute teachers (instead of just playing drama games) and you should find your classes take care of themselves when you’re away. But most of all, never underestimate the power of your own students. During this recent experience, I had to trust many of my students that they would do the right thing and behave for others when I was away. Believing in your drama students is very important.