You’ve trained for years as a theatrical storyteller, whether through performance, writing, or design. The next step is to pass your skills on to others. Developing and teaching a theatre course for younger students requires dedication and a clear sense of purpose. And it’s beyond rewarding as students begin to find their own purpose in the theatre world. Here are four tips for how to teach with impact.

1. Teaching is service

Before jumping into the classroom, it’s important to step back and remember why you want to teach in the first place. Just like any field in the theatre world, teaching involves lots of hard work and can be challenging at times.

What is your “why?” Maybe you want to inspire a student to take up a skill that you love. Or maybe you want to help introduce new voices to the
theatre world. It helps to think of a teacher who has particularly influenced your life and set you on the course of pursuing theatre.

Think back to how you felt whenever you entered that teacher’s classroom. Did you feel especially motivated, or relaxed, or confident? You have the power to make a student feel the same way no matter what subject you teach, and the first step is owning your sense of purpose.

2. Organization makes the difference

The next step is to write the curriculum for the course. Take a deep breath: this isn’t as hard as it sounds! Looking at each week individually, then setting a theme for each week, is the simplest way of organizing your class time. For example, if you’re teaching playwriting, you could possibly spend the first week studying character, then spend the next week studying plot.

You can then begin to go day by day to break each weekly theme into pieces. Some elements of plot include structure and pacing. To return to the playwriting example, that would mean that the week spent focusing on plot would include a day devoted to pacing and a day devoted to structure. It’s critical to keep the age of your students in mind and help them ease into new skills!

Sources like Youtube videos and articles can be used in class, but if you use any ideas that aren’t your own in your curriculum, be sure to cite where they came from. Discussions can be built around these outside sources: reading an article together and having a conversation about what everyone learned.

Once you decide on which books, articles, or videos you want to study with your students in class, you can begin to match them to the weekly themes, and the curriculum begins to come together.

3. Be authentic

Sharing opportunities with students is part of the job of a professional theatre teacher. That means that many teachers are likely to be willing to advertise your class to their students if you approach them well in advance. It can be as simple as sending an email to theatre teachers in your community with your course outline and a graphic that can be shared on social media.

Including your “why” in the pitch to teachers shows them what drives you as you create and teach your class. It’s critical to be authentically yourself through every step of the outreach process, as this encourages trust between you and your future students, as well as the professional theatre teachers that bridge this gap.

Once in the classroom, let your “why” settle into everything you do, including how you interact with others. You can show off samples of your old work to prove that progress is possible. For example, if you are teaching set design, feel free to show students some of your earliest set renderings that maybe were not necessarily your best work. The purpose is to create an atmosphere where everyone feels like they can succeed, no matter their theatre background or level of experience. Getting humble and sharing some of your less refined work shows students that it’s okay to be a beginner and that progress requires practice.

4. Take pride

Above all else, you want to make sure that your students feel confident and capable whenever they enter the class space. One way of doing this is giving students the opportunity to share the work they’re proudest of. At the end of each class session, students can be encouraged to talk about progress they made that day. If you’re teaching a costume design course, for example, try encouraging willing students to show an element of a recent sketch  they’re especially proud of.

Not every student in your class will have a background in theatre, and some may not want to continue working in theatre after the class ends. But if you can teach a student how to take pride in their accomplishments and share them with others, you’ll give them a skill that can be applied to anything they do. Part of modeling this for your students is sharing what you’re proud of in your own work.

Feel free to dedicate some class time to a question-and-answer session where students can ask you about your own theatre experience. Being open about your successes as well as your struggles teaches your students that everybody starts somewhere.

Impactful teaching is a mix of a service mindset, organization, and authenticity. As you teach students to find their purpose in the theatre industry, you’ll find your own purpose as well: guiding others into telling their own stories authentically and joyfully.  ♦

Dylan Malloy is a playwright and director whose first play, “The Rocket Man,” was adapted from a short story by Ray Bradbury and premiered in March, 2021. She attends Emory University as a playwriting major, with a double major in business on the arts administration track. You can find her on Instagram @dylan_writes.

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