Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Camp
I taught a one week arts camp a couple of weeks ago. While not my finest or my funnest hour, it certainly was a learning experience. And, I’m extremely proud of how I handled most of the road blocks in my way.
Here are some do’ and some don’t’s based on my experience.
DO be flexible.
It became clear really quickly, that though I was asked to prepare an acting skills program, the kids couldn’t have cared less about improving their acting skills. I got a strong impression that at least half weren’t interested in drama at all. Improv, yes. But acting? Not so much. At least half of my planned program went out the window. Add to that the fact that the participants were an “interesting challenge” when it came to focus. They would focus when a competition was involved. They couldn’t focus as a large group but were quite productive in groups of three. It became necessary to revise the program each day to meet these challenges and find the best way to engage the participants.
DO listen to what the participants want.
It’s important to remember the situation. This is a caaaaaaamp. It’s not school. It’s not a job. There is no grade at the end. It’s supposed to be fun. So, if you hammer home some program just because it’s what’s on paper you’ll have an awfully disgruntled group. It’s a balancing act.
This particular group loved doing improv. Fair enough, we played improv games every morning, (of my choosing based on the theme of the day) and then if they remained focused during other activities, they got to play games of their choosing at the end of the day. It’s amazing how much it meant to the participants to have that opportunity.
DON’T give up.
It would have been easy to throw my hands up and say – Forget this, improv all day for the rest of the week! It would have been just as easy to throw my hands up and say – these kids are unteachable! It’s all their fault! Every person is teachable and it was my job to look for the way in.
For example, I learned by accident that these participants were excellent readers and writers. I had planned to junk a monologue writing exercise before this and I’m so glad that I didn’t. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the week.
Also, just because someone don’t want something, doesn’t mean you can’t teach it. There are ways to teach acting skills without calling them skills. Sort of like hiding the spinach in the smoothie. Instead of having a teaching moment on how to properly use the voice in acting, we had a tongue twister competition. We sang camp songs every day in lieu of a vocal warm up. When participants wanted to play a specific improv game, we said “let’s do this character exercise first.”
And sometimes, when presented with a knee jerk reaction it’s important not to give into that reaction.
At the end of the week there was a showcase, which included each participant being involved with a short two to three page scene. When I gave out the scenes on Thursday, at least half of the participants expressed great concern about being able to memorize their lines. It would have been easy to let them not memorize, give up on the project given the loudness of the protest. Instead I encouraged, I said ‘let’s try first,’ and by the next morning every group had their scene down.
DO be on the look out for positive moments.
When dealing with a group with an “interesting challenge” it’s easy to find yourself feeling like the wicked witch of the west when it comes to discipline. Or, find yourself repeating the same request over and over and over again. And over, and over, and over…..It can be frustrating. That’s why it’s so important to always be on the look out for the positive. It’s supposed to be a camp. It’s supposed to be fun. All kids, no matter their behaviour, want to be acknowledged when they do something good. Whenever I had to discipline a participant, I made it my job to watch like a hawk for the opportunity to compliment that same participant.
On the last day, we had a huge problem with keeping the participants quiet back stage during rehearsals for the showcase. Yep, very focused challenged. I made sure, when chastising the group about their behaviour backstage, that I told them how proud I was of their work onstage. And I was! They did amazing onstage. But it would have been easy to forget to mention that because the negative was overwhelming. In the end, they pulled it together both onstage and off.
DON’T loose your cool
I wasn’t always successful with this one. And I fully admit, it’s an area that needs work. What I was successful with was the moment after: look for the positive, remind myself it’s a camp, try to have as much fun as the participants.
And in the end, while the experience wasn’t easy, it definitely felt like a success. It was downright rewarding! And I know everything I learned will only pay off the next time I step into a classroom.