Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

Expectations: Lowering vs. Adjusting

Teachers are special people. Yes, you are! You do so much for your students and wear so many different hats. But teachers are human as well. You may feel frustrated with your students’ apparent lack of interest or effort. You may feel that your students are not performing at their pre-pandemic level. You may notice that things are taking longer than they used to.

And all of that is true. While things have changed drastically since March 2020, we are still dealing with the fallout of the pandemic. Students, teachers, and parents are still getting sick. Students are re-learning how to function in the real world. Their focus and stamina are low, and their coping skills have been stretched and tested. We’re all sick of pivoting. 

Thanks to social media, students are also acutely aware of current political issues and more in tune with their mental health. It’s a lot to deal with, on top of the regular problems of teenage existence. So it’s no wonder that students may not be living up to our previous expectations. It’s too much pressure.

Rather than thinking that you have to lower your expectations of your students, look at it as adjusting your expectations. Sometimes we get caught up in the drama of drama class, and we need to pause and re-frame things. So take a deep breath and read the following five tips for adjusting your expectations — not only for your students, but also for yourself.

1. Find out what students need.

Your students are likely trying their best. Remember that they are re-learning social and emotional skills and that their best may change from day to day. Observe your students during class and see where they’re struggling. Ask them what they need to succeed. Do they need more rehearsal time? More time to practice new skills? Do they need shorter scenes, or alternative lesson plans? For example, if you have a class of reluctant performers, could they focus on analysis, tech work, assistant directing, or playwriting? The Drama Teacher Academy (please include link) has over 1000 lesson plans to help you mix it up.

2. Simplify.

If you’re working on a production, what can you simplify? Before you begin, can you choose a shorter script or cast fewer actors? Does your set have to be entirely built from scratch, or can it be simple curtains or a few flats? Does every costume need to be hand-sewn, or can you rent or borrow from another school or a local theatre? If you’re directing a musical, could you reduce a four-part harmony to two or three parts? Can choreography be simplified (time permitting, of course)? 

Simplifying your show helps your students by reducing the extra “stuff” and allowing them to focus on their lines and character work. Be gentle with yourself and know that it is ok to simplify. Don’t hold yourself to impossible standards. On that note…

3. Adjust your expectations of yourself.

You may also not be operating at full capacity at the moment. Teaching drama can be exhausting (especially if you’re doing additional work such as directing a show, organizing a fundraiser, or supervising the drama club) and you may be burnt out. Your students will likely pick up on how you’re feeling, and you don’t want to push yourself towards illness. Try to delegate or eliminate some tasks if possible — perhaps a student teacher, assistant director, or volunteer team member can help. Know that, like your students, your best will be different depending on the day. 

4. Rebuild and restructure.

It’s taking longer for students to learn right now. Accept it, and let it go. Look at this as a time to rebuild and restructure in your drama department. Curriculum evolves and changes over time. Go back to the basics and help your students build a solid foundation of skills they can develop. If you’re doing a class or school production, you may want to add a few more rehearsals to your schedule than you usually do. You can always cancel a couple rehearsals closer to showtime if you find that your students are doing better than you expected.

5. Remember that drama class is supposed to be fun!

Yes, we have a lot to teach, work to be assigned, and grades to give out, but when it comes to creating theatrical pieces in the drama classroom, I don’t know about you, but I believe the point of drama is to be fun and entertaining! Don’t get bogged down in the details. A theatrical piece is called a “play,” so let yourselves play and enjoy the process.

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