Teaching – Sailing & Navigating Through Change

This year I began teaching at a new school. I have just finished my first term. This is the first time in my career as a teacher that I have moved on from a school. I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to reflect on this “transition” as I have called it.

Preparing to Set Sail

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I feel I have been living this transition for some months now. It was late last year that I had to make the decision to accept an offer of moving to a new school.

I was ready to move on. In terms of the goals I had set for myself, of which most were Drama orientated, I felt I had achieved all that I could. I’d started a Drama Club, put on several Drama productions, produced the first musical at the school in many years, entered the kids into Drama festivals, competitions, sent them off to camps and auditions and just generally improved the profile of Drama within the school to something that now resembled respect. There was a solid foundation that someone new could come in and do something with.

Admittedly I was also a little burnt out and really wanted to focus on my classroom practice. Yes, I had survived the tumultuous first three years of being a new teacher but so much of those first few years had seen me focus on things outside the classroom that I felt as though the quality of my teaching had suffered at times.

My school was an absolute culture shock with its challenging students and constant loneliness due to my being the only Drama teacher in the school. I chose to swim rather than sink however, searching for every possible positive opportunity I could. I joined committees, became the Peer Mediation Co-ordinator and Year Adviser which, aside from every Drama thing I have achieved, is probably my biggest achievement and the most rewarding thing I have done as a teacher to date. I learnt about PLN’s and the power of Twitter and blogging and from there my teaching world opened and it was time to look for a new experience. I wasn’t an island any more. I had built a small raft and I wanted to try it out.

I had grown personally as well, outgrowing some things and growing into others. I became much more confident and comfortable in myself and who I was, no longer anxious, stressed and flighty.

Life however, takes you on its own path. Most things are beyond your control so I wasn’t sure when or what my next opportunity was going to be. I put a tentative plan into place and was happily working towards that. Of course, that is when life throws you its curve balls and forces you to make difficult decisions.

It was the most difficult decision I had had to make in some time due to, what seemed at the time, as really crummy timing.

To a degree there is still a part of me that feels enormous guilt at leaving some of my students behind, particularly my year group. I’m an emotional person. I became incredibly attached to them. Honestly, I felt somewhat mother-like and I had never experienced such appreciation from people whom I had shown genuine care for who weren’t my family or friends. It was overwhelming. My final term was bittersweet and very emotional for everyone, staff and students. Some of my most treasured memories that I will hold dear will certainly be from that time. I went from hating this school to struggling to leave. I never would have expected that in a million years when I started.

Sailing the High Seas

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I was familiar with my new school, having gotten to know some of the staff from the faculty through TeachMeet’s. One is now a very dear friend. Having a person to support me through this time made it a lot easier but also I was just much more confident in general because I now had experience under my belt. I knew what questions to ask, I knew that it would take time to get settled so I was patient with myself. Starting at the beginning of the year was also a massive plus! It’s amazing how much more structured school orientation programs for new staff have become.

I was most nervous about my senior classes. Having been in the school system a long time, they knew how to push buttons and also to let you know, very honestly I might add, as to what they expected from you. They wouldn’t let up until they thought I had earnt it either!

It was difficult not to make comparisons early on, something I was very conscious of, and still am because I didn’t want it to seem that my previous school was any better or worse than where I was now.

Treading Water

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I still feel as though I am settling. The transition is ongoing and will be for a while yet. I am in a bit of a lull on my raft. It doesn’t quite know which direction to go in because the wind hasn’t picked up yet. This does frustrate me because I am quite “gung-ho” when it comes to my work. I like to get in there and get my teeth stuck into things. I’d say my job forms a significant part of my identity and that without it I am lost.

In saying that too though, it has been good to reflect and to take time to think about where I want to go with things in terms of my teaching.

To be honest, I really don’t know. To a degree I don’t miss all the extra responsibilities and absolutely love being able to focus solely on my classroom practice. In the same breath, I do get bored easily.  It also seems, although most teachers won’t say it openly, it is expected that you take on something additional to that of your classroom responsibilities which I don’t mind doing, I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already done because I’ve done it. If you catch my drift.

The vastness of the ocean in front of me with no markers, no islands in sight, makes me uneasy. What do I look out for? Or do I just wait for the wind to carry me where ever? Part of the latter intrigues me but my controlling nature makes me want to have a larger degree of influence on my raft’s direction.

Yet, that’s life isn’t it? I don’t know where I am going with this whole teaching thing but I’m on my way to a new island and the unknown adventure is a little exciting but mostly completely nerve-racking. Everyone wants a little certainty right? At this stage I feel certain of nothing but I’m learning to sit quietly on my raft with that uncertainty by my side, getting better acquainted and trying to navigate this vast ocean together.

Photo Credit: Fiji 2014 by karlao

Monologue Must Share: Calvin Candie, Django Unchained

I’ve got the 52 Plays in 52 Weeks Challenge but I’ve also had a little challenge going for a long while now that I haven’t talked about.

I’ve made myself a long list of films to get through in search of good monologues that students could adapt and perform for their Individual Performance in the HSC.

This one, that I just had to share, is from the film Django Unchained. Now it is rated MA15+. It is violent. There is bad language. This YouTube clip is in serious breach of copyright.

In saying that however, I just had to share this moment from the film. How Leonardo Dicaprio has not won an Oscar I still do not understand.

I was completely glued to him during this scene. I can’t really describe it. You just have to watch it. Whilst watching it however,  I did wonder, could it be performed on stage? I don’t see why it couldn’t. With a few little tweaks (namely the knife cutting the skull as blades are not permitted in performances) it could be a really good piece for a strong male actor and I always seem to find it hard to find good male pieces. Or maybe I’m just completely mental for thinking this could work as a piece of performance.

What do you think?

You can find other monologue suggestions at the top of the page under the Suggestions for Monologues section.

HSC Drama: Contemporary Australian Theatre Resource List

I’d like to credit the following resources for helping me put together my lesson sequence for Ruby Moon and Stolen that I have shared with you over the last couple of weeks.

I have also included the assessment task, work booklet and program that I have created for this unit.

Ruby Moon


Video Clips

This is my Year 12 Drama playlist that I keep adding to as I find things. A couple of clips I have found useful when teaching Stolen include:

  • Rabbit Proof Fence Removal of Children Scene
  • Black Deaths in Custody 20 Years On. This is good if you’d like to extend looking at the repercussions of the Stolen Generation on Indigenous people in the present day.
  • Sorry, Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation

HSC Drama: Exploring the Characters in Stolen

This is the final post in the series on Stolen by Jane Harrison. This is the last lot of workshops that I do with my students before we work on the assessment task and put our understanding together into an essay.

It works from the basis that the students are familiar with what is on stage. If you have not covered this with your students be sure to go over the set and stage requirements before working on the activities. I usually try to cover it in the moved reading.

Secondly, it might also be an idea to find an example of what each dramatic technique and convention can look like in performance, using YouTube clips for example, as a way of helping to scaffold ideas for the students.

Also, if you are short on time (which I always am) break the class up into groups and give them one of the characters each. They can devise and perform them for the class and use a reflection template or discussion questions to help draw out understanding of the characters from all students. Collect them and mark them to help you better assess if your students are on the right track.

Activity 1 – A Focus on Jimmy

1. Write a character description of Jimmy in your logbook.

2. In groups of 3-4 devise a short piece (2-3 mins) that conveys the inner struggle for Jimmy in the play. You are to incorporate the following dramatic techniques and conventions:

  • Voice Over AND/OR Projections AND/OR Transitions between two key moments.
  • Move/utilise the beds in a different way in each moment.
  • Use transformational acting between child and adult Jimmy.
  • Either a suitcase or a pillow/pillowcase must be present somewhere in the scene.

Activity 2 -  A Focus on Sandy

1. Write a character description of Sandy in your logbook.

2. In groups of 3-4 devise a short piece (2-3 mins) conveying the importance of Aboriginal storytelling on Sandy’s identity. Contrast this with Sandy’s modern day storytelling to the White Woman in “Sandy’s Life on the Road” pg 23. You are to incorporate the following dramatic techniques and conventions:

  • Sound (chanting, songs, music, rhythms) AND/OR Transitions between the storytelling moments.
  • Either a suitcase or a pillow/pillowcase must be present somewhere in the scene.

Activity 3 – A Focus on Shirley

1. Write a character description of Shirley in your logbook.

2. In groups of 3-4, devise a two-act piece of about 5 minutes in length that explores Shirley losing her children, then Shirley attempting to find her children. You are to incorporate the following dramatic techniques and conventions:

  • In Act One you are to focus on creating a mood/atmosphere as per the stage directions. Consider also the transitions used in the space.
  • In Act Two you are to focus on the use of props such as the filing cabinet, knitting (wool/needles) and the beds to convey her search. Also consider lighting and voice overs. What is the effect on the audience and where is the tension?

Activity 4 – A Focus on Anne

1. Write a character description of Anne in your logbook.

2. In groups of 3-4 devise a short monologue (2-3mins) that Anne speaks directly to the audience about the struggle with her identity. You are to incorporate the following dramatic techniques and conventions:

  • The use of the shadow screen. The parents and other characters are never seen, only heard or mimed behind the sheet.
  • Either a suitcase or pillow/pillowcase must be present somewhere in the scene. What effect does this have on the audience?

Activity 5 – A Focus on Ruby

1. Write a character description of Ruby in your logbook.

2. In groups of 3-4 devise a short piece (2-3mins) that conveys Ruby’s journey from innocent child to mad, young woman. You are to incorporate the following dramatic techniques and conventions:

  • Song AND/OR Chorus Work AND/Or Rhythm AND/OR Transformational Acting into another role other than Ruby.
  • Either a suitcase or pillowcase must be present somewhere in the scene.

Activity 6 – Workshop Reflection

1. Use the workshop reflection template to answer the following question:

How is the individual experience of the characters conveyed in Stolen?

Photo Credit: Luke Durkin via Compfight cc

HSC Drama: Exploring the Themes in Stolen

Recently, I started a second series of posts on the text Stolen by Jane Harrison which is on the prescriptions list for 2015-2017 in the Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice section of the syllabus. I wrote about how I introduce the text here. This post and one to follow is a breakdown of two workshops that I have put together for my students.

Admittedly, I’ve always found it hard with Stolen to try to combine an understanding of the themes and the characters with an effective link to the dramatic techniques and conventions. I’ve never quite felt like I’ve gotten it 100% right. In saying that, this latest update of my program that I am sharing with you feels like my best one yet. Hopefully you find it useful. All feedback is appreciated.

Activity 1: Structure, Style and Language

Before I begin the experiential exercises I provide the class with some notes on the structure (form), style and language of the play with a basic run down of the dramatic techniques and conventions used throughout the play. These form the structure of the experiential exercises later on. In particular I focus on:

  • The episodic, non-linear structure of the play. It moves backwards and forwards in time. Therefore the stories are not chronological and are blurred and lack structure in terms of plot and character development.
  • Very few stage directions are given leaving the transition between scenes open to interpretation and to connect the past and present in a moment that appears to be suspended in time.
  • There are five different narratives to highlight the fact that the experience was different for every member of the Stolen Generation.
  • Some of the techniques and conventions used include monologues, storytelling, transformational acting, direct address, chorus work, song, music, sound and vocal effects, multi-media projections, symbols and lighting. I use these as the basis for creating the experiential workshops so that students are exploring both the themes and the techniques at the same time.

Activity 2 – The Power of Language

Themes Explored: Racism, Discrimination, Persecution, Lack of Respect, Identity

The language and dialogue used in the play is shocking, disturbing, provocative and racist.

What is the effect of this on the development of the characters as individuals and for the audience?

You will now explore a possible answer to this question through the following exercise.

1. Make a list of all the derogatory words used in association with Aboriginal people in the play. Pay particular attention to “Racist Insults” on pg 32.

2. In groups, great a soundscape/montage using some or all of these words. Explore the use of volume, pace, repetition, pause.

3. Create a series of tableau’s or physical movements to compliment the use of the words.

4. Perform your piece for the class. Discuss the effect for both the actors and the audience. Answer the question posed at the beginning of the lesson.

Activity 3 – There’s No Place Like Home

Themes Explored: Forced Removal, Loss of Family, Heritage, Culture, Isolation, Extermination, Identity.

The word “home” is referenced frequently throughout the play.

What is the effect of this on our understanding of the characters and their experience in the play?

1. Read the opening scenes “Arriving” and “Adult Flashes.” Follow immediately with the final scene “Sandy at the End of the Road.” What does it establish for the audience?

2. Look at the quotes from the play about home. How is the word used in the play?

3. Why is the word used so often?

4. Is a child without a home homeless forever?

5. Use the answers to questions 3 and 4 to help answer the first question posed at the beginning of the exercise.

Activity 4 – A Day in the Life

Themes Explored: Stereotypes and Authority, Conditions within Institutions, Abuse (Physical/Sexual), Exploitation, Mental Illness, Impact of European Occupation.

1. What is the effect of the off stage voices in “Hiding Sandy” pg 3, “It Rained the Day” pg 4 and “Shirley Never Gives Up Searching” pg 21? Where is the dramatic tension? What does is suggest about authority?

2. Perform the “Line-Up” scenes in consecutive order: “Line-Up 1″ pg 5, “Line-Up 2″ pg 13, “Line-Up Age 12″ pg 17, “Line-Up 3″ pg 20. What is the effect on the characters and the audience?

3. Look at “Cleaning Routine” pg 3, “Cleaning Routine 2″ pg 17 and “Ruby’s Descent Into Madness” pg 24. What elements of drama, dramatic techniques and conventions are used? What is their effect on the audience? Explore the scenes using real cleaning products and materials.

Activity 5 – Workshop Reflection

Using the workshop reflection template answer the following question:

What are the key themes in the play and how have these been explored by the playwright through dramatic techniques and conventions?

Photo Credit: sidkid via Compfight cc

Warm-Up of the Week: Beach, Boat, Bank

This is such a fun game to play! Try this one for an energetic classroom warm-up to get the blood going on these ever chillier mornings!

1. Have the class line up along one side of the room. They are all facing the same direction. This is the “beach.”

2. Next, have the whole line move forward to the centre of the classroom. This is the “boat.”

3. Finally, have the whole line move forward again to the other side of the classroom. This becomes the “bank.”

4. Repeat the positions but for each position the students must come up with a frozen position which represents that they are on either a “beach, boat or bank.” Try also to incorporate level. So, for example, when on the beach the frozen action may be lying down and sun baking. When on the boat they may be standing and looking through binoculars or pulling up an anchor.

5. Once the students have worked out their frozen positions the teacher then calls out either “beach”, “boat”, or “bank” in any order. The last person to get to the correct part of the room and in their frozen position is out.

Helen Mirren Thanks Her Teacher

Yesterday, Helen Mirren received BAFTA’s annual Fellowship Prize. In her acceptance speech she said,

“My journey to this place began with a great teacher, Alice Welding, who died just two weeks ago at age 102. She alone was the person who encouraged me to become an actor. And I’d like to thank all those teachers now.

For a mid-week dose of inspiration, watch this fabulous actress share her thoughts on teachers.