By Steven Rowbotham
In this essay I intend to outline my future plans, how I aim achieve them, what I have already done in preparation and an alternative plan. Throughout this assignment I will demonstrate the value of the skills and knowledge that I have obtained during my three years studying Theatre and Professional Practice and the importance of continuously learning and developing throughout my career.
Class Room Experience
Before I started my work experience program I had an idea about the style of teacher I want to be. I want to gain the most out of the time I spend with my students. Drama can be classed as a luxury subject. It can be a subject that certain students love and thrive in but can also have the opposite effect depending on the individual. That is why I believe it is important to adapt to your audience. Theatre is not just about putting on a play. It can help young people unlock intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative values and feelings. Just like music or sport, there is an area of theatre that all people can identify with. For me the teaching of theatre is not about putting Romeo and Juliet into a pupils hands and telling them to go and act, but to discover an area of theatre or the arts that truly inspires the student.
My work experience took place at Whitley Academy in Coventry. I had been informed that some of the pupils were somewhat challenging. As part of my preparation, I studied Whitley Academy and its surrounding area. Whitely Academy is a school located in a community where a large percentage of its pupils and parents have been affected by many; if not all of the country’s economic and social events that have taken place over the past fifty years. A decade ago Whitley was a failing school. Some children were being sent into the world with only the most elementary reading, writing and academic skills. Pupils were socially unprepared for the most basic requirements a young adult needs to function in society, such as effective communication, time management and interview preparation.
Since Whitley converted from a school into an academy its fortunes have transformed and it is one of the highest moving schools in the country over the past ten years. One of Whitley Academy’s strategies was to invest more time and money into its drama and arts department. According to my interview with head of drama at Whitley Academy Steven Steinhaus, theatre is having a positive impact on the school. Despite this information I truly believe that you cannot make judgments and it is vital to make your own easements on real events, with real people rather than making assumptions from government figures.
I have took the time to read literature on successful teaching practices which I have found useful as a starting point It. There is a vast range of literature with page upon page of tips and advice about teaching. You could read every book ever written and as much as that creates a foundation it does not prepare you for the first time you walk into a school and realise that these are real people, with their own personalities, their own issues, strengths and weaknesses.
During my first observation it was clear that only half of the students were remotely interested in the class, as the hour drew on a few of the pupils began to be disruptive, it seemed that the teacher had taken note but decided not to say anything. He then appealed to their egos, by using them as positive examples, which seemed to have a positive impact and they actually began to engage in the class for a few minutes. I could see that the teacher was using his experience both with students and these people in particular. This was more a case of damage limitation and trying to avoid conflict. Eventually, around three quarters into the lesson the teacher raised his voice to the disruptive pupils, which had a strong impact and they remained quiet until the end of the lesson. After the class had finished I asked him about his decision with dealing with the disruptive students. He explained that if he had tried to discipline them at the beginning of the class each time he spoke to them after that moment, would escalate the situation further. So whilst they are at an acceptable level and not disturbing the other students too much its sometimes best to accept a small level of disruption. At this point I realised how important experience will be to me as a teacher. I saw the importance of not only knowing the dynamics of a year group, or a class, or a group of people, but knowing each individual and treating them that way, as individual people.
I prepared my first lessons around forum theatre and the theories of Augusto Boal. I created situations in which somebody was being treated badly, unfairly, in short oppressed. I then asked volunteers to act them out. As a group we then discussed the scene, then played it out a second time but this time the audience had the power to stop the action and alter the future. I found that the students were learning through the power of theatre, experiencing serious life issues first hand without having to suffer the consequences for themselves, identifying and relating to the characters within the play with their own lives, which hopefully would help them question their own actions. During my workshops students have shown how they identify and relate to the characters they develop, providing them insight into their own actions in their own lives. It is these experiences which theatre enables that will be invaluable in the futures of these young people. However, I am very aware that if the students decided not to engage in the exercise it simply would not work.
Mr Steinhaus (Head of Drama) asked me to assist with the year 11 GCSE play. I was briefed by the teacher who outlined the aims for the term. The students had created an idea for a play to perform for their exam. The idea now needed to be developed and structured. The first challenge I encountered was to remember that this was not my play, and it was up to the students to create the piece and I was there to offer guidance. I found this quite difficult, because devising is something that I can just do. When I was a student my maths teacher would get frustrated because she couldn’t understand how we were struggling with such simple equations. Obviously maths was something that she could just do, but it didn’t mean she was a good at teaching it. Recalling my own experiences as a student meant that I was able to identify with their frustrations. I split the class into groups and gave them each a section of the play to work on. As I went round the groups it was clear to see which pupils flourished in this subject. They found it relatively easy to come up with ideas and just needed additional guidance and structure. The weaker students were not only lacking ideas but also confidence. So I gave them a few starting points, and the groups then began to find their own way. I shared their good ideas with the rest of the class and this seemed to install confidence and belief.
I also observed a year 8 drama lesson, who were studying Romeo and Juliet. The teacher had created a clever way to read the register. He made three categories linking with the previous class. Why Shakespeare writes in verse; Why Romeo and Juliet were forbidden to marry and quotes from the play. Each time the teacher read a name from the register the pupil answered by making an observation from one of the three categories. If they could not think of anything they could ‘tag out’ and somebody else from the class would answer. I found this to be a great way to start the lesson, because it recapped on their previous lesson and reminded the students of things they may have forgotten which obviously helps the flow of the lesson.
I have gained valuable experience both with the teachers and students. The main thing that I have learned through this experience is that you never stop learning, those that stay still get left behind and students will not engage in learning. Times change, people change, society changes and you have to change and adapt with it. I have strong ideas, but I have no proof that they work. As much as it is good to have ideas, I need to be prepared to be proven wrong and adapt year upon year.
My initial aim was to leave university and start immediately start training as a teacher, unfortunately this is not looking likely due to a fault with my UCAS application. However I am still waiting the response from one school.
So now I must revaluate this next year. First and foremost I need to live. I have rent and bills to pay so this means that volunteering in a school full time is out of the equation. I am very eager not to waste a year in a stop gap job not getting any closer to my goal of becoming a teacher.
I am a chef by trade and I have always worked in restaurants, I have always kept good professional links and relationships with my colleagues and previous colleagues, one of which has presented me with a timely opportunity. I have been recommended for the Sus Chef and personal Governors Chef position at a prestigious school; Kings High in Warwick. Although it is not teaching, it puts me in a school environment. I will gain hands on experience spending time with students and teachers. This will also look favourable on my CV and UCAS form for when I reapply for teaching training in September 2015. Additionally I have already spoken with the drama department and they have offered for me to help with the school productions and any additional drama workshops.
Another bonus with a job with in a school is that it is term time only, which means that I am able to add more to my CV over the summer. I have contacted Play Box Theatre, Teatro and Stratford M.A.D about volunteering with them over the summer holidays. I will also look into schools with drama academy’s and their summer programs in the hope of gaining as much experience and lines on my CV as possible. I believe that experience is the best way to learn, I am continually motivated to experience as many learning environments as possible, to work across educational sectors and apply the knowledge I obtain when I become a teacher. Missing out on my teacher training program for this September was a low point, but I need to use the silver linings in the cloud and see this as an opportunity to better myself which will in turn make me a better teacher.
Below is the letter that I have recently sent to Caludon Castle school, I will use this as a template (editing where appropriate) to send to schools and Theatre companies.
Dear Ms Gallagher,
My name is Steven Rowbotham; I am a mature student, currently studying at Coventry University. After graduating, my ambition is to become a Drama teacher. I am nearing the end of a Theatre and Professional Practice degree, and have applied through UCAS to start my training, including Caludon Castle School. I am eagerly awaiting a response.
After researching the performing arts department at Caludon Castle school, I was very impressed with the dynamic approach towards performing arts, not only trying to involve the whole school but also the community, which really fits into the way I see drama and the arts.
I have gained various work experience, in different schools over the past 3 years. Most recently I have worked in the drama department at the Whitley Academy which has been a fantastic experience. I worked with the year eleven pupils on a section of their exam performance and observed master classes with year eight pupils. I found the experience to be extremely valuable and further fuelled my desire to teach Drama.
If there were any opportunities for me at Caludon Castle School, I would be very grateful and would very much appreciate the experience that I would gain.
I hope to hear from you soon.
If I am not accepted at Caludon castle I will use the year to build my CV, create personal links and relationships within schools and Theatre companies whilst gaining experience working with students.
Running a Theatre Company
Writing and directing my own play was one of the best things I have done in my life. I thoroughly enjoyed the process from typing up an initial idea to placing a final product in a theatre. There are huge advantages in doing this project through university; I had actors, rehearsal space, a theatre, technicians, lights; everything I need to produce and play at my disposal. It was also cost effective as most of the elements of the play and venue were free or provided as part of my tuition fees.
Despite having all of this to aid the process, it was still a massive challenge that consumed my life and all of my spare time. There is an enormous amount of organisation to consider. For example; trying to arrange 12 people to be in the same room on any given day requires biblical logistics.
To create a theatre company from scratch you need more than just funding from the arts council, a Quality product, a fantastic cast, a transit van that won’t break down every other week; you need 100% commitment. Your new company has something that you have to live and breath in order to stand any chance of success, it would mean abandoning my dream of becoming a teacher which is something that I have sacrificed a lot for and cannot do. It is also a financial burden that I cannot currently bare. The scale of the task became apparent during the first week of business matters when we were set the task to create our own mock theatre company and book gigs. During this Glen Nobel, my tutor and previous co-founder of ‘Spike theatre’ ran a lecture on his experiences with creating Spike Theatre. Running a theatre company, Writing Material, auditioning actors, acting and touring whilst working additional jobs. All the while nothing is guaranteed, you are working towards something that you might get paid for, at the same time you could fail which is not currently an option in my life.
However, I enjoyed writing and directing so I will aim to start on an amateur pathway whilst working within the education sector. I will continue to write, at first for a smaller cast and a minimalistic setting. Without the recourses that I had at university I would have to plan on a small more manageable scale, This way I can gain writing and directing experience without creating too much additional stress and distractions. Once I have got a product that I am happy with I will apply the communication skills that I have achieved through business matters to invite theatre companies, directors, casting agents and writing agents to performances. I will also provide a detailed pack that can be emailed or posted including a memory stick containing a synopsis, photographs, video footage and documentation of the rehearsal process For those that are unable to attend performances but wish to have more information about the production. Through this I hope to build my reputation as a writer and director, which could lead into being commissioned to write or direct. This would be a more secure route into the industry, without having to take a risk in a highly uncertain industry. I would still have a career as a Drama Teacher which means I would not be pinning all of my hopes and aspirations on an industry that so few succeed in.
This has already paid dividends, I invited member of the British legion to watch my production of my WW1 themed play ‘The Last Train’ that I wrote and directed. I have since been asked to help with the devising of a WW1 play with the British legion, and if that is a success they would like me to follow on next year with a piece surrounding WW2. This is something that I will be able to fit around my life school hours.
The most important lesson that I have learned from work experience in a school, creating my own play and applying to be a teacher is to keep motivated. Even when it seems that there will be no show, no job and the students are not interested the only way to overcome your problems is to learn from your mistakes, gain as much experience as you can and then use it to better yourself.