I’ve taught theatre for over 16 years now: in the public school setting, at both academic and traditional summer camps, and at one awesome studio in Mt. Horeb. So I’ve had many chances to refine my class expectations, those guiding principles that all students follow without fail (ha).
I remember that my first set of expectations (I called them “rules” back then) was filled with redundancies – and they were pretty epic in size and scope. As the years passed, I whittled that list to a more manageable set of seven expectations that would serve as a guide for me and my students as we embarked on our amazing and often bizarre trip through the world of theatre. Notice that I said me and my students, not just my students. If I expect them to honor these expectations, then I should be expected to do the same. This way, the students know that we’re all in this together. And yes, I did just sing a certain song in my head when I typed that last sentence.
Below are the seven expectations that I use to set the tone for all of the theatre classes (and most other classes) that I teach.
Each day, you will be expected to . . .
1. Know that this class is all about you.
I assume that most students, when they read this, think “Well, of course it is.” But for those who don’t, this is important to state. It lets the students know that they are seen as individuals and will be taught and treated as such. That my teaching will be geared toward making their strengths stronger and helping them work to improve the areas in which they’re not as strong. Another reason this expectation is here is to set up number 2.
2. Know that this class is not about you.
Some students seem to be raised to believe that, despite scientific proof to the contrary, the world revolves around them. This is where I inform them that this is, in fact, not the case. The class is about more than them as individuals. It’s about the subject, it’s about the lessons, it’s about the learning, the projects, the characters, the performances, and most importantly . . . about everyone who’s in the class. Hearing the phase “It’s not about you” can be one of the hardest things a person can hear, but sometimes it’s also the best thing they can hear. Students, and adults, need to realize that they’re part of something bigger then themselves.
3. Do the right thing.
My friend and mentor Harvey Craft set this as the only expectation in his class. His view was that instead of having a lot of behavior-based rules, he would reduce it to one that covered everything. Throughout the year, he spent time talking with his students about what the “right thing” was, and most of the time, they knew in any given situation what choice they should make. When they didn’t, it was a great opportunity for a teachable moment.
4. Leave any issues that you have at the door.
To be able to get the most out of class, the students must be able to fully focus on what we’re doing. Everyone has issues they’re dealing with, and students feel those issues even more deeply than the rest of us. Dwelling on friends, family, school, or just being a teenager can make your students completely incapable of doing their best work, or any work. So before they enter, I ask them to simply leave their issues at the door. (I do let them know that they can pick their issues up when they leave, if they choose to.)
Naturally, some students find this difficult at first. Once it becomes a habit and an expectation, they’re often able as a group to help one another leave their issues at the door, where many of them remain unpicked-up after class.
Quick note: I do realize that there some issues you can’t just “leave at the door.” Those are handled as they come up, in whatever way the student needs.
5. Seek progress over perfection.
On a daily basis, I stress to my students that it’s not about being perfect; it’s about being better. At something. Every day. And when you do the best that you can do every day, you’ll make progress in some aspect of the class. I also stress to students the importance of looking back and recognizing the progress that they’ve made. Seeing how far they’ve come is vital for encouraging their continued growth.
6. Know that we succeed – or fail – together. Everyone is vital.
Here, I want everyone to understand that there is not a single person in the class who’s not vital. Everyone must do their part, play their role, to the best of their ability in order for us to succeed as a group. Success in theatre depends on everyone. Sure, there are bigger roles, but just like in a complicated machine, if the smallest part doesn’t come through, the entire machine can break down. That’s why I think it’s critical to develop a strong sense of community early in the year, to learn to operate as one instead of as a bunch of individuals.
7. Have fun.
At no point should you or your students ever forget that at the heart of theatre is the word “play.” People play because it’s fun. And when you’re having fun, you’re unshackled from the reality that you know in the rest of your life, and you have the freedom to create and truly experience the pretend, the magic. The fun.
That’s it! The magnificent seven. Feel free to use some, or all, if you find them useful.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.