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Primary Education News
News I love the freedom of teaching drama in an independent school
Jay Green drifted into teaching but then embraced it as a deeply creative career. He talks about the freedom and perks of teaching drama in an independent school
I studied English and US literature and drama at university, and like many arts graduates I had highfalutin ideas that I wanted to be a writer or perhaps a rock and roll star when I grew up. When I graduated I did actually spend a couple of years in LA as a session musician but missed all the things that are crap about England, from the weather to the cynicism. I spent some time managing Regent's Park Theatre which I loved but after the summer the theatre shuts.
Then in 1989 a small thing happened that changed my life. I pranged my car and needed a few hundred pounds to fix it. I suddenly realised I had to start earning some money. I'd never thought of teaching but I got some advice to go the Gabbitas, Truman and Thring, which for donkey's years was the teaching agency for independent schools. I wasn't a trained teacher so I couldn't even think of teaching at a state school.
I borrowed an ill-fitting suit off my father and I felt like a character in a PG Wodehouse film pretending to be someone else. They asked me what I was interested in for about 20 minutes and unbelievably I got a six week job as assistant housemaster at Reeds School in Surrey. There were no CRB checks, nothing. Looking back, it's amazing that they let me do it.
But after six weeks I realised teaching was something I really wanted to do. I felt like I was learning for the first time in a long time. People go into teaching for all sorts of reasons from social reasons to their own background, but I was drawn in because it seemed such a creative option. I drifted into teaching, but then I chose it as my career.
I got my QTS status working in schools. It's funny that teacher training has come full circle now with a move towards in-school training. But I have a suspicion that a good teacher is a good teacher, whatever the training. I got my first full time post at Mill Hill in North London and worked there for two and a half years teaching English and drama.
One of my biggest inspirations throughout my career is the great Jonty Driver, he was my headteacher for the last two years of my own education at Berkhamstead School - and has had a profound affect on me. We have become great friends but this only happened when we were adults. He had a sort of go-away and-grow-up philosophy which I subscribe to.
I honestly feel I don't teach drama, I feel like I make theatre - to me it's a crucial distinction and it may be why so many kids who have been to independent schools end up making it as actors, you could call it the Benedict Cumberbatch effect. I don't think it's the old boys' network, I think it's because independent schools are allowed to focus on making theatre. I know from my friends that there are different constraints in state sector.
The biggest lesson I learned from my colleagues in the early days of my teaching career was that there's no substitute for rigour and high expectations. Pupils can be restricted by teachers' expectations of them. I go in expecting professional standards - that's the point I try and get my pupils to. The challenge for a drama teacher is to get kids that find going on stage really frightening to the point that they can do it. The only way to do it is by hard work and encouragement, long, long hours of rehearsal and a clear idea of what you can achieve. The writer I come back to time and time again is Shakespeare. The moment you stand up and perform Shakespeare, it works (though of course not at all good to read in the classroom).
Outside the curriculum I put on one or two shows a term. In total we've got nine productions a term, many of them are exam pieces. The A-level course is largely practical and we don't do drama GCSE at Bedales - in fact we've dropped GCSEs in many arts subjects in favour of our own courses Bedales Assessed Course. It's a very interesting route, more challenging and exciting and includes outdoor work. We do know pretty much all our pupils will do A-levels but we have a very broad range of ability at Bedales, 10% may go to Oxford and Cambridge but we also have kids who don't want to go to university, it's a broad church.
I've been working at Bedales for just over two years. I've worked in very academic schools in London and traditional country schools, but find being here a unique environment. Teachers here feel valued and empowered and that's contagious. We have a constant professional dialogue with ourselves and our colleagues, so we are able to move together. Working at a boarding school is intense during term time. There's always a danger that it's like going on an oil rig for six weeks at a time, so you've got to be aware that you are actually allowed off campus. You have to keep the balance or you can easily end up being at school 24/7, eating all your meals in the canteen. School food is very good but you can't eat jam roly-poly everyday.
I would love to teach in a state school at some point in my life. I'm a member of National Independent School Drama Assocation (NISDA) and we try and bridge the game and welcome colleagues in all sectors. The dialogue is really important. We do work with local state schools, most notably Petersfield School. We also have charity initiatives when the whole school goes off timetable for a weekend to stay true to our founders' ideas, It's a way to try and burst the bubble, we are aware most of our pupils have a privileged existence and it's our responsibility to make sure the kids are plugged into the real world as well.
To stay as a teacher you have to stay alive, hungry for new ideas. This keeps me motivated. Who is to say how long I can teach for though, it depends on how the energy levels keep up.
I think it would be very unwise to think you can teach in an independent school now without being qualified. I was one of the last old dinosaurs to walk across that plain.
Jay Green is head of drama at Bedales, a co-educational independent day and boarding school in Petersfield, Hampshire.