Saturday, 2 August 2014

Drama in the Classroom

The nucleus of this story comes from my time in Turkey. It actually comes from my very first week in the country when I was working in the rather pleasant confines of the capital Ankara. If I recall correctly it was a rather cold and windy afternoon and, because of the inclement weather, I was eating my lunch in the school. As I munched away on a rather good kebab, one of my students came across to the table at which I was sitting and asked if he could join. He took a seat and we engaged in some rather inoffensive small-talk about the weather and football before he broached a far more interesting subject. He said he had been in a couple of my classes and asked if I had done any theatrical training. 

It seemed a rather unusual question, so I asked him why he had posed it. He explained that he enjoyed the way that I gave real-life examples to explain vocabulary because he thought that I really committed myself to the example as though I were playing a part in a play. I thanked him for the compliment before explaining that I had no theater training at all. He told me that my answer surprised him and that he had recently been involved in a workshop for high-school and university teachers in Ankara that had focused on using theatrical skills to help teachers give extra color to their classes. This had led him to wonder if I had done something similar. 

My student's comments got me thinking about whether I was something of a drama queen in the classroom and if that was actually adding a whole different element to my classes. The idea lingered as I taught more and more classes in Turkey. And, I have to admit, I think he had a point. I noticed myself using accents and differentt voices more and more as I explained certain points and set-up activities. It also got me thinking back to my time in China and to one of the best teachers/trainers I ever worked with. His name was Jeff and whenever he dropped any Chinese language into his classes - he did this quite a bit when doing technical Business English - he took on a whole other persona. It worked fantastically well in pulling in the students. I began to think that the training he attended was a worthwhile idea. The ability to drop a few dramatic moments into a class could really add color to classes. 

Another interesting take on the subject came from my girlfriend, who often used to drop by my school and watch some of my classes. She pointed out that I was like two different people. The real Paul and 'Teacher Paul'. She explained that she felt I was like a chariacature of myself when I was in the classroom. I was louder, more outgoing and tried to tell more jokes. She said it felt like I seemed to have far fewer inhibitions in the classroom. Her comments really got me thinking and pushed me into a more existential line of thinking. Do we all play a role as 'the teacher'? Or, should we play that role? If we look at the classroom like a stage, it gives the teacher the opportunity to hide any shyness or inhibitions and bring great 'personality' to the class - even if it is not their own real-life personality. I was certainly doing that to an extent and I have, in the past, worked with teachers who were extremely different inside the classroom compared to outside. 

I am not 100% sure what my conclusions are on this topic. I know for sure that my student was pretty astute and spotted something that I had missed about myself. I did use a certain dramatic sense in my classes and it seemed to work. For the record, it still does and I would recommend a bit of theater to any teacher. Whether this means a few new voices and body movements or the creation of a teacher persona I am not sure. I would proffer the opinion that for naturally confident teachers a bit of theater is enough. However for those that are not so bursting with self-assurance playing the role of the confident teacher is a great way to approach delivering fun classes.  

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