Every Friday I teach an after school drama club residency for twenty middle school students. Yes you read that right: twenty middle schoolers, after school, on a Friday. Any teaching artists reading are probably having the same reaction I did when I first got this teaching assignment. I felt like I was being set up to fail. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by this particular group of young people after the first week. To say they are chatty would be the understatement of the year. They are loud, unfocused and always moving. There are twenty of them and one of me.
But now that I’m well into the second half of the 25-week residency, they don’t scare me anymore. I still have to tell them to stop chatting roughly every five seconds. (It’s amazing how they manage to start new conversations every time I take a breath in giving directions.) But they are really good kids. I have grown to really enjoy these classes. I have formed strong individual relationships with many of them, and despite the pre-existing cliques and friendships, they make improvements each week in strengthening the bond of their ensemble as a drama club.
So how did this group move from those first few weeks of full-out anarchy to a more focused level of excitement and participation?
Yesterday I reminded them about the importance of being a good audience for each other during an improvisation activity. That got me thinking about the first time we discussed this drama club golden rule of respect. It was the third week of class, after the enrollment for the club was set in stone, and we set the expectation of everyone respecting each other, the space and ourselves. Even though I know that I am a capable, enthusiastic, knowledgeable teaching artist, it’s easy to forget that from a student perspective, I am just some random stranger who comes to their school for an hour and a half every Friday to play some theater games. Twelve weeks later, I am realizing that setting this set of values and including myself in the expectations for the year has helped set ourselves up for success. It makes that apprehensive, fear of inevitable failure seem like a distant memory.
This residency is the longest time I’ve ever spent with the same group of students, and establishing a trustworthy relationship with them has proved to be absolutely critical to the success of the residency as a whole and forming a collaborative ensemble.
The play they are writing together may or may not make sense. I will do my best editing, but it is much more important to me that these students learn to work together in a respectful manner, as well as have fun with seeing their creative, wacky ideas come to life.
Photo credit: http://www.classroommanagementonline.com/cartoon.gif