Here is the first of a series of blog posts where I’ve interviewed other Drama Teachers. It has always been the case that many Drama Teachers work alone, isolated from others in a one person department. I have pretty much always worked in such a situation. It can be a very lonely experience and whenever there is doubt in your head about your teaching it can be very difficult to overcome it. Collaborating in one way or another is vital to both keep your teaching practice moving and your thoughts positive.
The first interview is with David Moloney. David is Head of Drama at a High School in Manchester. The work he does at the school with extra curricular opportunities is outstanding and inspirational to other Drama Teachers.
KRB: How long have you been teaching and can you say a little about what drew you to become a Drama Teacher?
DM: I have been teaching drama for four years and it was a wonderful lady called Christine, my Drama teacher at college, who drew to become a Drama Teacher. Drama wasn’t really ‘done’ at my school so college was my first experience of learning it as a subject. I loved her passion for theatre as an art form as well as a subject and it was infectious. Aside from that I suppose it’s the constant reminder that anything is possible in a Drama lesson. I found the prospect of that exciting and I still do.
KRB: What is best memory you’ve got of teaching Drama?
DM: Amongst the musicals and performances that are more ‘headline’ moments, my best memory is probably teaching my first EVER lesson in my training year. A Year 7 class, final period on a Friday no less. I talk about this with new trainees all the time. That first buzz of a creative, productive classroom. A real ‘wow, this is my job!’ moment. I’ll never forget it.
KRB: What makes a school production successful?
DM: The absolute refusal to accept what you know could be done better on the grounds of ‘Its only kids’. That type of thinking doesn’t help anyone. Everyone is capable of brilliance and I think success comes from maintaining high standards. If you set your stall out early on that front it means less stress later on, and much more fun for pupils. That’s what it’s about after all.I think school productions are important but I do sometimes resent the huge knock on effect they can have to everything else going on in the department. For the students involved it can be a defining experience of their time at school and a brilliantly rewarding thing to be a part of. They do have a habit of becoming steamrolling juggernauts however and lots of other clubs and projects have to make way for it. I don’t want that to be the case but in a small department it’s sometimes difficult.
KRB: What other kind of extra-curricular activities do you offer in your school?
DM: Extra-curricular activities are worth every moment of work we put into them and for me can be as important as the work we do in lessons. Aside from the school production we run a Key Stage 3 Drama Club, a Musical Theatre Club, the National Theatre Connections project as well as ‘Create Great’, which is essentially a student led project where our pupils create drama for drama’s sake. We also run cross-curricular projects with Music and Dance that are becoming much more of a fixture within the school.
KRB: How do you feel about taking students on trips?
DM: I genuinely believe it is as important as any extra-curricular endeavour we could offer. We run lots of trips for all age groups and try to take in a real variety in terms of what they see. Every day I see first hand how trips have inspired pupils. Recent visits to see Kneehigh and Gecko productions have immediately transferred to the classroom. I never went to the theatre at school and I desperately wish I could have done.
KRB: Thinking about what goes on inside the classroom, what routines do you have in your studio or classroom that really work and help students feel comfortable?
DM: It’s not a routine so much as it’s a mantra. We encourage our students to ‘be brave, take risks and create great’. From the very start of Year 7 we work hard to establish an environment where pupils can be creative without fear of making a mistake or doing something the wrong way. Drama isn’t a science and the more we move away from that the more our pupils will surprise us.
KRB: What theatre genre, style or practitioner have you always enjoyed teaching or find influencing your work the most?
DM: I’ve been a huge fan of Frantic Assembly and their methods since taking part in one of their workshops during my training year and have avidly enjoyed their work ever since. We teach elements of their process in Key Stage 3 and our students always respond wonderfully to it. Its accessible, effective and imaginative physical theatre that gives a lot of our pupils ‘spark’ moments when they study it. We also regularly host their workshops for Key Stage 4 pupils and I imagine that will be a staple of our calendar for many years to come.
KXB: Is there a scheme of work that you’ve taught more than any other and that you find you keep returning to again and again?
DM: We wrote a scheme of work based on Simon Stephens’ adaptation of ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ that we have taught to Year 9 for the past few years. For me there are few better plays in which to ignite the theatrical passions of young people. It is testament to what is possible and inspires an awful lot of our pupils, particularly boys, to pursue the subject further.
KRB: Do you think that there is a place for written coursework and written examinations in Drama?
DM: Yes but there is a time for it and that time is not the second they walk in the door in Year 7. We’ve fretted far too much about preparing students for the rigours of GCSE Drama written work at Key Stage Three when in reality, only five or six in a class will opt for it anyway. Key Stage 3 should be about enjoyment; igniting a spark and keeping it burning. There is plenty of time for the rest later on.
KRB: Finally, have you had any experience of working in the theatre world as a professional or as an amateur that hasn’t including working with young people or students?
DM: I’ve been regularly involved in amateur productions in recent years and it really has reignited my own passion for performing that I thought I’d left in the past. Its given me a renewed appreciation of what we put our pupils through when it comes to performances, but also a timely reminder of the wonderful feeling they get when they’ve been a part of it.
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