Interview with Drama Teacher Samantha Clarkson

Here is the fourth interview of my ad-hoc feature; interviews with Drama Teachers who work at the coalface of the Drama Studio. This time it is with Samantha Clarkson. Samantha teachers Drama to 11 to 16 years olds in a comprehensive school in the UK. She teaches a mixture of AQA GCSE Drama and BTEC Tech Award. She is currently in her second year of teaching Drama. You can follow Samantha on Twitter @DramaTeacherSC

KRB: What is best memory you’ve got of teaching Drama?

SC: I think maybe in my ITT year, the first time you look around a room and realise you have engaged and excited all your students and you have got it ‘right’. After striving for that, probably for months, it’s such a reward to get yourself to that point of competence as a practitioner. I think as you move into being an employed and qualified teacher you forget the struggles and difficulties you faced as a trainee teacher and how far you have come since then. It’s very easy to put yourself down without reflecting on how far you have come since that point.

Additionally, I think the immediate aftermath of any big, public performances always make fond memories. You don’t just witness student’s post-show pride and euphoria, but you share it with them. The relief and reward after what is always a very stressful time is tangible. Those moments are what, in my opinion, this particular subject is all about.

KRB: What do you dislike about teaching Drama?

There are only a couple of things I dislike about teaching Drama. First and foremost the direction that it is going in competition with EBacc subjects. Even in schools, such as mine, that support Drama you can end up feeling like you are fighting for your subject and particularly fighting for high ability students to do Drama at KS4. When you combine this with the new, more difficult, specification- you end up feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle.

That being said, I would say the other thing I dislike about teaching Drama is that I feel there is an element of scare-mongering. Objectively- we know that creative subjects are taking a beating nationally, we know that we are having to fight the fight, and I take my hat off to all of us who are doing so because there is a society out there that needs us! But I feel that we need to do it with more optimism and positivity. Having joined all sorts of social media groups in my ITT year, the moaning and groaning and negativity becomes overwhelming. Negative outlooks impact your wellbeing, your wellbeing impacts your teaching and when you teach badly, you feel bad. I feel that as a community, Drama teachers need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make themselves individually indispensable, flourish and push their kids to do the same. Make the schools and communities see your value and hope that the people higher up see that too. I would urge anyone who wants to take to social media to pull the profession down to think twice- think about the impact your post might have on a new and susceptible teacher.

KRB: What drew you to become a Drama Teacher?

SC: Honestly, a desire for money and a lack of knowledge. I signed up to do the PGCE because I was working full-time in a Wetherspoons, I was skint, I had a degree in Drama and Creative Writing and no idea what else to do. I thought that teaching would be a means to an end, little did I know how much more I would get from it. When completing my PGCE I was lucky enough to be placed at Fred Longworth High School from January to July. The Drama department there is beyond outstanding and the teachers are nothing less than. When watching their ability to ignite and engage learners and make an obvious difference to student’s lives I knew that to be an outstanding teacher wasn’t a job- it was a vocation. Watching the fire and enthusiasm they had for their subject was, and still is, contagious and that’s when it all fell into place. That’s when I knew I was inspired to be as good as them, that I wanted to have the impact on young people that they have, that I wanted my department to present the same amount of potential as theirs does. I’m not sure that it would’ve happened if I had been placed anywhere else. As I have progressed, I still don’t think I am at that level yet. But this is a job that I love, a job that I think I am good at and hopefully a job that I will continue to make progress in.

KRB: What theatre genre, style or practitioner have you always enjoyed teaching or find influencing your work the most?

SC: Hands down Frantic Assembly. I love their work. It’s exciting, unpredictable, thought provoking and challenging to present to a classroom. I think Stanislavski, Brecht, Shakespeare and all those guys have a place in the curriculum- of course they do. But I think Frantic Assembly presents students with not just a mental challenge but a physical one and the students enjoy the change of style. I think that Frantic is also exciting because it seems to engage boys in a way that other stuff can struggle to and suddenly you see the potential that maybe some of the more difficult to engage students possess. I think it’s crucial to recognise the importance of contemporary practitioners and to encourage students to see theatre as something that is ever-changing and still very much relevant.

KRB: How do you feel about taking students on trips?

SC: I think that taking students on trips is vital in Drama and in general. Being based in a small community you see the insular perspective that students have and I think it’s so important that we as teachers try to broaden those horizons and encourage students to think beyond their own backyard. I think this in turn makes students more considerate and mindful of the people that they share the world with.

With regards to Drama, I think that taking students to see live performances is invaluable experience for them. So much time in class is focussed on how we do things, how we perform, how we use specific dramatic devices, etc. However we rarely show them the pay out of why we bother, many of them will never have had the experience of going and seeing a performance so don’t know the impact it can have. I think when students think about theatre, they instantly go to pantomime or musicals. Whilst both are great, it’s such a small part of what the theatre offers and I think that we need to push students to engage with the full spectrum of performance that is out there. Without doing this, students struggle to see that performances can prompt audience members to be moved, distraught, ecstatic, amused etc. and I think maybe without that exposure, student’s don’t set their aspirations as high as they could be.

KRB: If you weren’t a Drama Teacher, what would you be?

SC: I would love to go into the education and engagement teams that work directly for theatres. The challenge of engaging not just my own students but a whole community presents an exciting opportunity. I would love to be a part of a team that works to undo all the social stigma and appropriation surrounding the theatre and making it a place that is safe, affordable and accessible for everyone. We know that the theatre has so much to offer to so many people/ communities and I think it’s such a shame that it’s only shown to a very specific band of people.

Failing that. Most definitely a zoo keeper.

KRB: How do you feel about school productions? Do you do them? What was your most successful?

SC: School productions are generally a brilliant idea. I have seen some outstanding school productions and this year my own school is running the first one. Up until this point, the school hasn’t done a show in nearly 10 years!

I feel a variety of things about it, some positive, some not so positive. It’s been brilliant to see a number of students, some quite shy, challenging themselves to work beyond the parameters of what they are comfortable with. When things start to fall into place that sense of ‘This looks great!’ is overwhelming and you find yourself feeling very proud. In theory, it’s a brilliant way of engaging parents and make it a real celebration of achievement within the school. I’m in a privileged position where I am being helped massively, by a local performing arts group who have a wealth of experience. This is also great because it feels like we are strengthening links between the school and community groups whilst relying on the expertise of other people.

But it isn’t without its trials. School productions take a large amount of time up and it can feel impossible to manage, especially when being run by a one-person department and middle leader. Additionally, I think the unseen element is the pressure that it can put on that person to be a success, rather than just the kids.

KRB: What is the best and most practical tip you’ve got about teaching Drama?

Find the silver lining from each day. I know that every day a student or colleague will make me laugh, express appreciation or reach a goal. It’s so hard to be mindful of that day in and day out, especially when the demand and workload gets heavier. But stay focussed on what you enjoy in your job and let the kids see that enjoyment and commitment.