What teachers can learn from performers | Education Support Partnership

What teachers can learn from performers

Teaching is a performance art. However you feel, whatever kind of a mood you’re in you know you have to leave one part of yourself at the door and go out there and perform every time you enter a classroom. Our CEO Julian Stanley looks at what can teachers learn from performers.

Before I went into education and running arts programmes I worked as a performer, acting and singing. I’ve also taught and taken classes in acting and worked in theatre in education. The two professions are strongly linked.

Teachers may not wear stage make up that helps actors hide behind a mask nor a costume but it’s still a performance. You may not paint on the slap - as actors call their make up - but you put on a virtual public face for classes. Sometimes it’ll be a smile; sometimes, out of necessity, it’ll be a stern look that shows you mean business. But it’s much like the business they call show. Thinking of it that way may help you in your career - you’re a performer. Which means sometimes you have to put on an act. Behave as if you are the teacher you’re striving to be.

This link between performance and teaching is why we chose a comedy night for our first major fundraiser earlier this year. Called The Funny Thing About Teaching the event wasn’t just about raising money and awareness. It was also intended to relate the event back to our cause and what we’re all about here at Ed Support - helping teachers and all education staff.

So well did our fundraising team do with The Funny Thing About Teaching that at the Third Sector awards held last month, we were placed in the Highly Commended category, beating off very stiff competition. I was thrilled our fundraising team received this recognition for all their hard work but I was especially thrilled that it brought to the fore the hard work teachers have to do every day performing in front of a class.

All our comedians at The Funny Thing About Teaching event had either taught at some point or spoke about their experiences at school and favourite or most influential teacher. They all made it clear how much teachers mattered to them and how important education is. Our audience was mainly teachers and teaching assistants - a night off for them, a treat we felt they deserved as well as a big thank you to them.

Comedians are similar to teachers as they too have to perform and take their audience with them. Two of our comedians had a background in teaching and all our comedians felt an affinity with teachers. There was a lot of love in the room that night.

What then can teachers learn from those who make their living on stage? Perhaps the first lesson, especially for NQTs, is never turn your back on the room till you’ve ‘got’ them. A simple technique that’ll help you gain confidence in front of a class - and something even seasoned teachers need to remember. Grab your audience as quickly as possible and make them feel at ease. It’s also helpful to know that your audience - your students - will relax and absorb far more if they genuinely sense you’re in charge and know what you’re doing.

Breathing exercises before a class can also help. Do these in your car, in the toilets at work or even in the cupboard! Just a few deep breaths, steadily controlled, really can make all the difference. Actors always warm up before a performance, even if just for a few seconds before they go on stage. Teachers should do the same.

A new class, new school or if you’re new to teaching or back from a break can make standing in front of a classroom tough. So use another fond phrase of showbusiness - fake it till you make it. By fake I don’t of course mean teach false facts! I mean fake your confidence and self assurance if you’re feeling a bit uncertain. Every public performer has had to do this. See yourself as play acting a strong character. That can help you perform more enjoyably in a classroom.

One of the roots of the word education is - as Muriel Spark’s anti-heroine Miss Jean Brodie frequently pointed out! - “educere," meaning to lead out. Sometimes the best way to do this, depending on your class and subject, is to entertain as well as teach. We tend to store in our brains memories of teachers who made us laugh, made us think, inspired and, yes, entertained us. This isn’t to say teaching is a trivial matter where a teacher must be a comedian and entertainer first. However, the tricks of the entertainment industry are useful to teachers because we’re all about the same thing - grabbing and keeping an audience for however long we’ve asked for their time.

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, workload pressures, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.