Warning: Drama Teacher Burnout!

It’s been a while since my last post. I have had one of the busiest terms I have ever experienced in my whole teaching career! I have also had one of the most draining. A huge part of that ‘drain’ has been more a result of my ‘perfectionism’ than anything else. I am very aware of that, and I now realize more than ever that it needs to stop otherwise I will experience burn-out, because I am very close to it…

I take a ‘drama process’ approach to teaching drama. I coined the steps of that process as follows: planning, preparing, rehearsing, performing, reflecting & evaluating. Previously, I used to expect students to produce written evidence for every step of that process for one major performance at the end of the unit-of-work. However, that disengaged students because it was “too much writing” for only a two-minute performance, and I have to agree.

This term, I tried to adjust my expectations a little bit. I started only asking for evidence of planning or preparing or rehearsing pre-performance, and of reflecting or evaluating post-performance. So an example lesson would look like this: a quick warmup followed by a debriefing, then a discussion of the new content/concepts, then a quick performance task to apply the new content/concepts. All students would have to prepare a quick brainstorm (as evidence of planning), or write a short script or draw a storyboard (as evidence of preparing), or fill-out a rehearsal log (as evidence of rehearsing). After watching all performances and giving/receiving feedback, all students would then either write a reflection or self-evaluation or use a self-assessment checklist (as evidence of reflecting & evaluating).

This seems like a very manageable lesson plan. However, I only see the students for one double-period a week, so that’s a total of 86 minutes. For me to get through that whole planned lesson in 86 minutes, I would end up being very cranky and snappy and rather impatient, which is unfair to the students. Drama is a noisy and loud classroom, and is a highly-stimulating subject for both the students and teacher. Students take time to think and then write and then transition between activities. While I have managed to get through the planned lesson several times with many classes, I would end up feeling very tired and drained by the end of the lesson. This is worse on Tuesdays, where I have three double-periods of drama in one day! Also, the lesson does not necessarily cater for all students’ learning styles as I’d like to believe.

So I have decided:

1- I will not to be over-ambitious, not because my students can’t handle it, but just because it will burn me out.
2- I need to let go of control a little bit, and relax.
3- I need to give students more time to enjoy the practical activities and the noise and loudness associated with them.
4 I need to give students more choice as to how they want to produce evidence of their learning: one group member might want to write a reflection after performing, while the other might prefer to draw a storyboard before performing. I need to allow those choices, as opposed to force everyone to write a script, or draw a storyboard. Students learn differently!
5- Every week, I will alternate between pre-performance evidence, like brainstorms, scripts, storyboards, and rehearsal logs; and post-performance evidence, like self-assessments, self-evaluations, and written reflections.
6- When asked to demonstrate pre-performance evidence, I will allow students to choose, even if they choose different things within the same group: one group-member might choose to write the script, while the other to draw the storyboard. Students learn better and are more engaged when they are given more choices.
7- Since the MYP requires reflection to be ‘on-going’, I need to incorporate a short reflection exercise for every step of the drama process, not just post-performance. A fellow teacher pointed out that it is best to get students to reflect about what they have just done as opposed to only after their drama performance: so if one student is drawing a storyboard, I can ask them to answer some reflection questions about that specific storyboard like ‘how did the storyboard help you in preparing for your performance?’ and ‘what was the most challenging thing about preparing your storyboard?’

I hope these reflections, and the decisions taken as a result, lead to more engaged students and a much less burnt-out teacher (ME!)…

Image credit: By LaurMG. (Cropped from “File:Frustrated man at a desk.jpg”.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

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