Episode 117: Drama Teacher Struggles and Goals
What are you struggling with this year in your classroom? What are your goals? What do you want for your students? Find out what other drama teachers are striving for, fighting for, and hoping for as they tackle another school year.
Lindsay: Welcome to TFP, the Theatrefolk podcast, the place to be for drama teachers, drama students and theatre educators everywhere. I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Welcome to Episode 117. You can find all the links for this episode at Theatrefolk.com/episode117. This week, we’re talking to teachers. We were at the FATE Conference last month, the Florida Association of Theatre Educators Conference, and aside from being some of our favorite, favorite folks we wanted to talk to them. We wanted to get their point of view on two big things, struggles and goals. Oh, you’re sitting there right now. I’m sure you’re formulating. What’s my struggle? What was my goal? Did I have a goal this year? Hmm.
And I’ve got to say, we think teachers, and specifically drama teachers, they are, you are some of the hardest-working people around, and their voices, your voices, should be heard. So that’s what we wanted to do, so let’s go hear them.
Lindsay: Okay, introduce yourself.
Michelle Terl: Hi, I am Michelle Terl. I am the theatre director at Parkway Middle School of the Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
Lindsay: Awesome. What does teaching drama mean to you?
Michelle Terl: Teaching drama means enabling my students to find out what they are capable of and working together.
Lindsay: Cool. And when you started the year did you have a goal? That sounds like a really good goal.
Michelle Terl: I did have a goal this year. I wanted to incorporate more playwriting.
Lindsay: Oh, okay.
Michelle Terl: And it’s like right up your alley. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Oh, I know. I love it. I’m in. I’m in when teachers say that. Why? Why was playwriting something you wanted to strive for?
Michelle Terl: I always like it. I’ve always been somebody who tries to fit it in. This summer I went up and I did the Young Playwrights Teacher Training…
Michelle Terl: …and I loved it. So I came in and I was like, “That’s it, it’s just a big part of our curriculum this year. A couple of days a week we’re trying to focus on it and trying to get more students to realize that they are playwrights.
Lindsay: Cool. What about struggles? Are you having any struggles this year?
Michelle Terl: Time management.
Michelle Terl: Always a big thing. I want to do so much that I find I overschedule sometimes, and so allowing myself to slow down, to get back to some of the basics that sometimes get lost I think is a struggle that I work constantly at fixing.
Lindsay: Yeah. What would happen if all your struggles disappeared? What would that be like?
Michelle Terl: [Laughs] If all my struggles disappeared I would find more things that I wanted to do.
Lindsay: No! [Laughs] Yes.
Michelle Terl: That’s just who I am. [Laughs]
Lindsay: You would just…
Michelle Terl: I would just do more! [Laughs]
Lindsay: You would fill in and then struggles would happen.
Michelle Terl: Exactly, and we’d just keep going.
Michelle Terl: Yeah. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Michelle Terl: You’re welcome.
Laurie Philpot: My name is Laurie Philpot. I am a middle school theatre teacher.
Lindsay: And where do you teach?
Laurie Philpot: In Hillsborough County.
Lindsay: Cool. So what does teaching drama mean to you?
Laurie Philpot: It means confidence, it means passion, and it means courage.
Lindsay: Oh. In what way?
Laurie Philpot: Being able to put yourself out there, allowing students to become something other than themselves and allowing them to express feelings that they are bottling up in a way that is a safe environment for them.
Lindsay: Yeah. When you started this year, did you have a goal?
Laurie Philpot: Yes, [laughs] to make it alive to the end.
Laurie Philpot: Now, [laughs] my goal every year is to just make sure that every student is confident in themselves in being able to approach others that they never felt that were approachable and being able to ask for help when they felt that help was not needed or available.
Lindsay: Yeah. Are you having any struggles this year?
Laurie Philpot: A little bit, but nothing that you can’t improvise in…
Lindsay: Oh, awesome! Isn’t that cool?
Laurie Philpot: …and you know, make the best of what you can do.
Lindsay: You’re just sort of they’re there and you have to deal with them.
Laurie Philpot: You do, you do. You have to roll with the punches. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Cool. Awesome. Thank you so much.
Laurie Philpot: Yeah. Oh yeah, okay.
Gail Chase: My name is Gail Chase.
Lindsay: And where do you teach?
Gail Chase: Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Florida.
Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So when you started this year, did you have a goal for the year?
Gail Chase: Survive.
Gail Chase: Yes.
Lindsay: Why? Why is that the word that comes to mind?
Gail Chase: Because the mandates that are coming down from the state are so dark and nasty that it is sucking all of the joy out of what we do.
Gail Chase: So I’m trying to insulate myself, protect my students, and create a place where they can be happy and fulfilled, learn a lot, and not be inundated by all the ugliness of EOCs and accountability and all of that overtesting that they are shoving down our throats.
Lindsay: My next question is, what struggles are you having? That kind of sounds like that’s the struggle you’re having, is to find that balance.
Gail Chase: Yes.
Gail Chase: They’re trying to create a business model for education and it’s not working, and I hope everyone will get out in November and vote because we need a change. It’s terrible right now. I have a first grader and a fourth grader, so I’m approaching this as a parent and as a teacher.
Gail Chase: And they’re getting tested in every subject area, paper-pencil tested.
Lindsay: Which in drama just doesn’t…
Gail Chase: No.
Lindsay: [Laughs] It doesn’t work.
Gail Chase: Let’s talk about how you act instead of actually acting. It doesn’t make sense.
Lindsay: Right. Okay, so if you could have all of your struggles disappear, what would that be like for you?
Gail Chase: Heaven. Heaven.
Gail Chase: Yeah. I love my job, I love my students, I love teaching, I love directing, I love inspiring them and creating a safe space, and I appreciate that accountability is important.
Gail Chase: So I’m not trying to escape that responsibility, I just don’t think it’s…
Gail Chase: It’s headed in the wrong direction for theatre right now, and all arts.
Lindsay: What does drama mean to you, teaching drama? What does it mean to you?
Gail Chase: It gives me the opportunity to provide for young people what was provided for me. When I was a child I had great theatre educators who helped me discover who I was and in a safe place where I could be different and odd and…
Gail Chase: …and it was okay. And so my main goal and mission as a teacher is to have a bully-free zone where students can explore themselves and find out who they are, and no matter what they decide to do when they go out into the world their time in theatre will have helped inspire them, made them more emotionally intelligent, taught them multitasking and problem-solving, and it can help in every aspect of their lives.
Lindsay: Thank you so much.
Gail Chase: It’s my pleasure.
Craig: Tell me your name and where you teach.
Kendra Blazi: Kendra Blazi and at New Smyrna Beach High School in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Craig: And when you started this school year, what were your goals? What were you trying to accomplish?
Kendra Blazi: We wanted to build our program. We lost a lot of heavy-hitter seniors last year and we needed to have our veterans train some newcomers to our program.
Craig: And are you encountering any struggles or obstacles right now?
Kendra Blazi: Yes. We are running into a little bit of an issue at our school where some of the upperclassmen feel like there are too many new kids and they want the prime roles and they don’t want the younger ones to get them.
Kendra Blazi: Yeah.
Craig: So how are you overcoming this?
Kendra Blazi: We are working with our board of directors right now to try and come up with solutions but we haven’t come up with anything viable yet. I’ve talked to a lot of the upperclassmen about how they need to build a legacy to leave behind them, and at this point we just were made aware of the situation actually by one of our alumni who came to see a show and kids pulled her aside and talked to her about it. So I just found this out a few days ago, so I’m sort of wracking my brain right now to come up with some good plans for the future.
Craig: Interesting. And so what would it feel to have this struggle behind you? How would you feel?
Kendra Blazi: Oh, it would be so much more harmonious. When the kids are getting along well together, it makes the show so much better. We always say that we’re family but…and all families are somewhat dysfunctional. So the less dysfunctional a family is, the nicer it is to work with them. So we try our best to make everybody happy and have everybody get along, and it’s been a really great year. We did a very large show already and we built our program tremendously from it. We’ll be inducting probably 20 or 30 new members this year.
Kendra Blazi: So it’s a good beginning for a good year.
Craig: Well, thank you so much, Kendra.
Kendra Blazi: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Edna Bland: Hi, my name is Edna Bland and I am the lead drama teacher at Millenium Middle School, which is a fine arts and communication magnet in Sanford, Florida.
Lindsay: How long have you been teaching?
Edna Bland: I’ve been teaching in whole for…this is my 11th year but my sixth year as a drama teacher.
Lindsay: And what does it mean to you to teach drama?
Edna Bland: Well, actually, to teach theatre.
Lindsay: Teach theatre. Okay, yes.
Edna Bland: Theatre because I’m more of a theatre arts teacher because…
Edna Bland: …my main discipline is puppetry. I’m a professional puppeteer…
Edna Bland: …and I was even mentored by Caroll Spinney who’s Big Bird from Sesame Street.
Edna Bland: So I like to encompass the whole…the total of the arts…
Edna Bland: …so in every, you know, between dance and art and puppetry, mask, clowning.
Lindsay: And why is all that important? What does it mean to you to teach that to students?
Edna Bland: Because it’s an extension of life. It’s just simply we can use those elements that we teach our students in the performing arts for them be it that they’re going to be professional artists or that if they use it in the business world.
Edna Bland: I even…for example, improvisation. I tell my students, “Say you have a job, you’re part of a production team, your boss needs you to come upstairs and talk about what you’re working on, a project. You don’t have time to sit there and say, ‘I need to write a report.’ You got to go up and improvise.” So I just show them that all areas of the arts that they can use in their professional life, whatever they choose to do when they grow up.
Lindsay: Yeah. When you started this year, did you have a goal for the year?
Edna Bland: Well, my goal always is to…as art imitates life, so to give them that overall experience. Like yes, we have the specific rubrics and standards that we have to teach, you know, Florida…but at the same time it’s like, what’s the whole life…what is theatre really about in how it connects with your everyday life?
Lindsay: Are you having any struggles right now?
Edna Bland: Yes, I’m having a struggle. My Theatre III class, I take them to a junior thespian competition for one act and this particular…last year we did good, we had…we did great, we got an Excellent, and this year’s crop of students just don’t seem to get it. And we were explaining…and it’s very simple things where I have to even teach them specific hand movements to do. It doesn’t come natural to them. So it becomes very frustrating even to the point where it says, “Okay, if the book, you know, if the script says to cross down left, they’re still just sitting / standing there.
Edna Bland: It’s like, read the script, like take some initiative in yourself. So that’s my biggest struggle.
Lindsay: The big struggle, yeah.
Edna Bland: And also, just another struggle and goal for kids to see that theatre is not just we get to put on a cool costume or a hat and sling around a sword, and how it is discipline, how actors know what they’re doing on the stage at all times, and just, you know, that it’s focused, it’s discipline, and how that can even expand when they’re taking their tests and stuff like that.
Edna Bland: So that’s what…
Lindsay: That’s what you’re dealing with.
Edna Bland: That’s what…
Lindsay: And what would it feel like if all of your struggles disappeared?
Edna Bland: Oh my gosh. [Laughs]
Edna Bland: Nirvana. Are you kidding me?
Edna Bland: It would be wonderful.
Edna Bland: It’d be perfect. And you know, and I also just want my students, like I said, to succeed in whatever they want to do and I always tease…well, I’m not really teasing, at the end of the year, I say okay, “One of you guys are going to make it one day, so I want to be thanked at the award ceremony. I want to be on E! Hollywood Story as the drama teacher who saw that thing in them, and I want 10% of their first million dollars.
Lindsay: [Laughs] Awesome. Thank you so much.
Edna Bland: [Laughs] Thank you.
Janet Raskin: Hi, my name is Janet Raskin. I live in Miami and I’m adjunct faculty at Florida International University and at Miami-Dade Community College, North Campus.
Lindsay: Cool. What does it mean to you to teach theatre?
Janet Raskin: Ah, wow. In a nutshell, it means giving people an opportunity to express something about themselves that they maybe kept locked up or didn’t think that they could express and helping them find a way to do it in an artistic way.
Lindsay: Mm-hmm. And when you started this year, did you have a goal in mind?
Janet Raskin: To get through the semester. No. [Laughs]
Janet Raskin: No. My goal, because I teach it for only…you know, I have my students for only one semester in college, and that is to get them engaged right away…
Janet Raskin: …get everybody working, working all the time, not too much talk but everybody out there and doing and trying things, just jump in and try and see what happens…
Janet Raskin: …which really…that works.
Lindsay: Cool. Have you had any struggles so far this year?
Janet Raskin: I have a class of 22, and for an acting class it’s a struggle sometimes to give everybody enough play time so that they’re onstage. It is acting for the camera and that does require a little bit of figuring out how to work the cameras and there’s a lot of retakes and things like that.
Janet Raskin: So it’s always a struggle about how to get them enough time for individual on-camera work, and then to get them to rehearse is also a struggle.
Janet Raskin: It’s like, “Okay, we have our scripts out. What do we do with them?” I’m like, “Ah, that would be rehearsing.” [Laughs]
Lindsay: [Laughs] Yeah.
Janet Raskin: So you have to give them very specific techniques. “We’re going to read, look up and say. We’re going to do this. We’re going to do that with your script,” and just keep everybody willing and engaged.
Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you very much.
Janet Raskin: Okay.
Craig: Alright. Tell us what is your name and where do you teach?
Kay Stewartson: My name is Kay Stewartson and I teach in South Florida, Miami-Dade County.
Craig: And what goals do you have for this school year?
Kay Stewartson: My goals for this particular school year, we’ve just increased with our testing, we have an end-of-course exam testing, so my primary goal is to get as much information to the students so they can feel comfortable taking the tests.
Craig: What would your goal be if you didn’t have to deal with all the testing?
Kay Stewartson: Mm. If I didn’t have to deal with all the testing, I would say to have them learn to love Shakespeare, one, in any form that I can get it; two, for them to be comfortable onstage; and three, for them to really allow their passions to really flow because right now I’m just getting a lot of “I don’t feel like doing this, blah, blah, blah, blah” negativity.
Craig: And, okay, so that leads into my next question.
Kay Stewartson: Mm-hmm.
Craig: So what struggles are you having with achieving these goals right now?
Kay Stewartson: Um, hmm, huh, high school students. I’m also struggling with raising money because we’re trying to attend the festivals to try to get the passion going, because if they…kids are very group-oriented, so if they see other kids involved they’ll get involved and they’ll be more involved with what we have in our program. So just raising the money right now for me is challenging because it’s thousands of dollars and that’s hard. So that’s one challenge, and the second challenge is for them to work as a group to see that to get ready for competitions we have…I have them…they’re working their pieces, then I have them come together and I have them critique each other. So that allows us some of the passion to build because like, “Oh my gosh, that person’s doing great. I want to do just as well,” and so forth.
Craig: Okay, so then if everything was removed, like the whole testing stuff was, let’s pretend it doesn’t exist because…
Kay Stewartson: Okay.
Craig: No, everyone wants to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Kay Stewartson: Okay.
Craig: And if you had all this full participation and everyone was there, what would that look like?
Kay Stewartson: Wow. That would be…some days would be working on text, just the history of theatre, the other days we would be rehearsing for a full-length play, the other days or intermingled with that would be working on building our costumes and/or building our sets.
Craig: And how would you feel when you were doing that?
Kay Stewartson: How I feel when I see them working all together? I’d feel fulfilled and excited. And that sounds cheesy, but when they’re working I get excited because they’re excited.
Craig: Interesting. Thank you so much.
Kay Stewartson: Thank you.
Patt Martin: Hi, I’m Patt Martin-McNorton.
Lindsay: And where do you teach?
Patt Martin: Sandalwood High School in Jackson, Florida.
Lindsay: Okay. So Patt, when you started the school year what was your goal for the year? Did you have one?
Patt Martin: My goal for this year? Wow. Number one was survival because I came off a very rough summer. [Laughs] The second one was to truly make sure that I was writing good lesson plans and making my administrators happy.
Patt Martin: And the third goal was obviously creating really good lessons for the kids so they really felt the class was valuable.
Lindsay: Cool. And have you had any struggles so far this year?
Patt Martin: Oh yes.
Lindsay: Oh, what kind? What kind of struggles?
Patt Martin: Well, the first struggle was that I was just tired. I was exhausted coming off the rough summer.
Lindsay: Right. Right.
Patt Martin: So I was pushing, pushing, pushing to be on my feet and teach during the day and then sit at my desk for another two-and-a-half, almost three hours, almost every night for the first three or four weeks of school just to write the lesson plans, go make the copies of this and that, dig through all my books, go back through my lists of plays, pick out things for the kids.
Patt Martin: So that was tough because I was fighting exhaustion.
Patt Martin: And then, secondly, when I thought I had the administrators figured out, guess what? They moved the hoop that we have to jump through and I went, “Aaaaargh.” But I overcame it, sat down with three other teachers who also were feeling a little lost and each one of us brought something to the table that we shared with each other, and thus we conquered the administrative problem.
Lindsay: The administrator hoop?
Patt Martin: Yes. Oh my God, we found it and we’re almost through it now. [Laughs]
Lindsay: So what would it look like to you to just, as a teacher, to have these struggles like totally to be fully…
Patt Martin: Totally gone?
Lindsay: Yeah, how would it feel to have your struggles totally gone?
Patt Martin: Oh my gosh, I would be like floating. I would be euphoric, and then I think a piece of me would be going, “Hey, is there something wrong?”
Patt Martin: “Because aren’t we supposed to be fighting a battle here somewhere?”
Lindsay: Isn’t that funny? Because if it’s all about fighting battles, like how does that help? Where do the students come into that?
Patt Martin: But it makes us stronger.
Patt Martin: And if we’re stronger, we give something more to the students. I find that when I’m fighting myself to be successful, my kids are finding more success. Isn’t that weird? I work so hard on myself that I work harder on them; I work harder for them and they are my focus.
Patt Martin: Many, many, many years ago, a teacher, an old seasoned teacher, said to me, “No matter what you do, no matter what battle you fight from the administrators, you have to come back down to making the decision, what is best for your kids? And if it’s best for your kids to stand between them and the administrators, you got to do it. And if it’s best for your kids for you to go through an extra effort, then that’s what you got to do.”
Lindsay: That’s awesome. Thank you so much.
Patt Martin: You’re welcome.
Lisa Stewart: Hi, I’m Lisa Stewart and I teach high school theatre in Fort Pierce, Florida. I teach grades nine through 12, Theatre I and II, and Theatre III Honors and Theatre IV Honors.
Lindsay: Full plate.
Lisa Stewart: Full plate.
Lisa Stewart: [Laughs] Yes.
Lindsay: So what does teaching theatre mean to you?
Lisa Stewart: It is the opportunity for me to empower young people. That’s why I get up and go to work every morning.
Lindsay: That’s awesome. And now, when you started this year, did you have a goal for the year?
Lisa Stewart: Yes. I wanted to be better at marketing.
Lisa Stewart: I wanted to be more effective at marketing.
Lindsay: In what regard?
Lisa Stewart: In regard to our show. For example, I wanted to be able to utilize certain parts of social media more effectively as well as moving towards more traditional ways of marketing like taking our kids out to the farmer’s market where there’s a huge gathering and giving them a tickler of our spring show, or heading up to a senior citizen facility where you have lots of people who like to go to those types of shows and those types of functions and get the word out, the word of mouth, and then be able to kind of, yeah, just use social media as well.
Lisa Stewart: So that combination of the traditional and the nontraditional.
Lindsay: And what does that mean to you to up that game in marketing? What’s your result going to be?
Lisa Stewart: I want to fill the house.
Lisa Stewart: I want to pack the house because, again, one of the things that…without an audience, you can’t have theatre.
Lisa Stewart: And I want my kids to have an audience.
Lindsay: Want them to experience the audience response.
Lisa Stewart: I want them to experience…the audience response. It’s true.
Lindsay: You had any struggles this year?
Lisa Stewart: On a personal level, my biggest struggle is trying to figure out what I want set-wise for the spring show…
Lisa Stewart: I’m not good at the set design concept.
Lisa Stewart: I’m good at getting people to perform, I’m good at putting things together, I’m good at the staging and everything, but I just…I have no idea [laughs] how to go about, you know, conceptualizing an actual set, and that’s my biggest struggle at this very moment. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Yeah. As a teacher, what would it be like if all your struggles went away? Like if you could just go in and teach, what would that look like to you?
Lisa Stewart: [Chuckles] That would look like a well-oiled machine.
Lindsay: Hmm, yeah.
Lisa Stewart: I think that’s what a lot of people want. I’m seeing aspects of that…
Lisa Stewart: …when I saw my student reps running our Addams Family auditions [or in giving me the opportunity to work with the different directors in our play and 68 students came out to audition, and they have three students making sure that people have their audition numbers and that they’re in line and they go to their location at that particular time.
Lindsay: That’s a community. You created a community.
Lisa Stewart: That’s a community. It’s beautiful.
Lindsay: Oh, thank you so much.
Lisa Stewart: Thank you.
Lindsay: Ah, I really enjoyed putting this podcast together. As I said, these are some of our favorite folks. I love talking to them. A big thank you to Patt, Kendra, Edna, Kay, Michelle, Gail, Lisa, Laurie, and Jane. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and we learned a lot. I learned a lot, because what it really comes down to is it’s all about the kids, right? Drama teachers want to do the best for their kids. I can’t think of a better goal and I can’t think of a better thing to struggle for. So what about you? What are your struggles? What are your goals? Let’s continue this conversation, right? Let’s continue getting drama teachers heard. Visit Theatrefolk.com/episode117, Episode 1-1-7. Leave us a comment. Let us know what you’re fighting for. What are you fighting against? Are you the one standing in between your students and your administrators? What do you want for your students? What do you want for your kids?
We’re also going to post a collection of quotes from this podcast on our blog, Theatrefolk.com/blog. Print them out. Post them on your wall. Know that you are not alone in whatever your goals are and whatever you’re struggling with.
Finally, where oh where can you find this podcast? Where can you direct students to find this podcast? We post new episodes every Tuesday at Theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/theatrefolk and you can find us on the Stitcher app. You can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word Theatrefolk. And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care my friends, take care. Go, drama teachers.