Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pooped but happy

My brain is fried today. Having always run more on enthusiasm than sense I still haven't mastered the mature art of pacing myself. I'd like to ascribe this to my joyous, childlike gift for living every moment to the full, but I think it's more a matter of discipline - I haven't got any.

Ah well. So here I am, completely shattered. As a rule, the body keeps going for twenty four hours after the brain turns to mush, which, as my Wednesday afternoon students can attest, means that there are times when all that remains are the big motor skills, and the knowledge that if I stop moving and talking for more than a minute I'll subside in a heap on the floor. Not every Wednesday ok?! Just at the end of more than usually frenetic weeks. (In case you're wondering, our working week is Saturday to Wednesday.)

This week has featured the dress/technical rehearsals and performances of our first year GCSE students. They have been devising original plays for the last month, and while they've all done improvisation before, and may have given lunchtime performances of particularly interesting and accomplished classwork in the past, a formal evening performance of an original twenty minute play on a full stage is a big step.

Of course, being fourteen or just fifteen, some of them don't realise this until the week of performance (meanwhile others are typing the script, plotting lighting, sound, costume and props). However, realisation usually dawns on the most happy-go-lucky some 36 hours before the curtains open. Bless!

So they were up there last night, with an appreciative audience, and it was a very good evening. Today they watched themselves on video, which of course was the first time that they could see their work as a whole, and knew that they'd done well - even allowing for bloopers.

I think that this performance project is one of the most valuable things we can offer these kids in their first year of GCSE. We teach them theory and technique, and they do all sorts of things in class, but after nine or ten years of necessary classroom protocol, some will have become very dependent on teacher instruction and approval. In order to be independent and creative, and really work their knowledge, they have to get out there and do it. The stuff they discover about responsibility, teamwork, risk-taking, coping with time constraints, creative block, getting on with the job and each other, etc. etc., is invaluable. And at the end they get applause, feedback in the canteen and at breaktime, and usually a pretty good grade too. Not bad a for a month's schoolwork!

And what we get out of it (apart from a pile of hyper kids fresh from Broadway success) is the bonding of groups made up of diverse personalities, strengths and shortcomings; and individuals who are more secure in knowledge and understanding of the specification (latest jargon for syllabus) and, as importantly, with a sharper definition of themselves, their abilities, and their worth to their peers. I love teaching GCSE Drama. I love it.

By the way, the bonus for me last night, was the wit of these kids. Everyone went for comedy this year. Confident - even audacious - plots, cultural references, physical comedy, clever dialogue, entertaining solutions to practical challenges. I was so pleased with them. And yes, there were one or two errors and pauses; structural weaknesses here and there, as you'd expect from first time playwrights; and a range of acting ability from very strong to not very much at all really - but every one of them did the best they were capable of, and it worked!

The other thing this week was the departure of the final year GCSE and IB students for study leave. I had a bad case of empty nest yesterday morning, as events conspired to prevent me saying a proper goodbye to my GCSE students. As you may gather from the above, we don't just teach these kids, we watch them grow - some over a span of five years, observe them very closely in assessment, work on the periphery of upheavals in their social and home life, see them through the disciplines of external exams and having to be mature now because this is GCSE, and so forth. And then they go. It's natural, it's right, and I don't want to hold on to them. But it's a shock to the system when the classroom door closes on their racket, and you know that in typical teenage fashion, they're outta here!


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