I’m an actress.
Well, no I’m not–I’m a teacher, but often the two are the same thing. As a kid I wanted to be an actress, and all the acting classes I took have been the single most useful thing for me in trying to be a good English teacher. (I’m not saying that this can replace professional teacher training, but since I don’t have that, I use the skills I do have to my best advantage) I don’t often post about my work on the blog because I want to preserve my and my students’ privacy, but I think this is an important topic. There are lots of English teachers in Georgia now, of all different ages and levels of professionalism. I have friends who are career ESL teachers or working on their PhDs in pedagogy, while I know others who consider their teaching incidental to the opportunity to enjoy plenty of Georgian wine. I’m in the middle of this spectrum–I’m not a professional English teacher (before I came to Georgia I was a language learner, a Georgia lover, and a swim teacher), but I take my job seriously. I owe it to my students to be the best English teacher I can be–and to do that I have to invoke the skills I learned in Middle School Drama Club.
Build your character Teacher Em is really a character I play while I’m in the classroom. Teacher Em is far more confident than Regular Em, and Teacher Em knows far more about English Grammar. When I get ready to teach, I get dressed and do my make-up for my role. The clothes I wear, the make-up (Regular Em doesn’t wear much) are all part of getting myself into character. I think of myself in my teacher persona before I go to class, and then I have the confidence to stand up in front of people for two hours and be an expert on the English language.
Learn your lines. Although developing a teacher persona helps me feel confident enough to stand in front of my class, Teacher Em can only make it so far if she hasn’t got a clue what the Present Perfect Continuous is (In case you’re wondering, that’s “have been” constructions) . This is why prepping for class, like learning your lines, is vital. I don’t script an entire class and then memorize it, of course, but I make a point to look at the activities and grammar explanations before I stand in front of my students. Sometimes their questions still catch me off guard, but that’s what improv is for (also, that’s what saying “That’s a good question. I’ll find the answer for you by the next class” is for).
Enunciate. This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised. Speaking English clearly helps the students understand, and improve their own pronunciation. And all those diction tongue-twisters we learned in Drama Club warm-ups make an in-class activity that even older students enjoy.
Energy! Energy! Energy! It’s rather tricky to teach your students anything if they’re fighting to keep from falling asleep. Bring the energy to help them stay engaged.
And even if something unexpected happens, in teaching like in the theatre The show must go on!