“So What Do You Do?”

This Educator’s Corner is written by Taryn Henning, mommy of twins, a wifey, Drama Rama teacher, lover of theatre and dance and of life.

Random acquaintance: So, what do you do?
Me: (with enthusiasm) I’m a drama teacher!
Random acquaintance: (polite smile) That’s nice.

I know teachers don’t make a lot of money, but I would be a millionaire by now if I was paid R100 each time I have been a part of this exchange. Teaching as a profession is not particularly valued in the South African context but being a teacher of “the arts” is even less so. This negative attitude exists within our families, friendship groups, parent bodies, and school administrations. I once googled “how do other people see drama teachers,” and I was saddened by the fact that the first three posts were negative; one was even titled “The Ugly Side of Drama in Schools.” There were many positive articles, but still.

However, I like to focus on what it is a drama teacher actually does. So, to answer the question, “so what do you do?”, here are some thoughts.

I get to listen. I get to create spaces to actually hear what young people today are thinking and feeling about their world because this is what drama encourages: communication. And it’s tough to be a teenager today. Seriously tough. There is so much going on right now in South Africa and globally that it is a very informing and yet confusing time. I am someone who encourages courageous conversations around sensitive topics in order to foster the type of thinking drama requires. For example, our Grade 12 Externally Set Integrated Task this year tackled structural violence and femicide, two topics that have been in the news every day since the beginning of September.

I get to be emotionally involved and vulnerable with my students. I get to cry, and admit my mistakes, and feel compassion towards theirs and also grander societal issues because of the approaches we encourage towards acting. I must make myself vulnerable to fully inhabit a character, and as such I show my students that vulnerability is powerful.

And this leads to my last comment:
I get to be a place of support for some children. That child who is described by other teachers as “lazy, disengaged, acts out” etc. is actually the one that drama teachers know is struggling and the only way they can cope is by acting out or disengaging. But that child knows that after conversations with their drama teacher about these painful experiences, in the preparation for an acting role, they have someone on their side. And that is powerful, and scary, and wonderful all at the same time.

So, drama teachers “do” a lot. They do a lot of things other teachers don’t have the privilege to do because of the nature of their subject. And every day I know how lucky I am.

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