The showing-off business

Having dual professional status can be an advantage, but sometimes it's better to move things on a stage

Dual professionalism is highly desirable in vocational education. Not only are dual professionals skilled teachers, but they are experienced practitioners in their subject specialism, often continuing to work in their field of expertise.

Having had three years' training at an acclaimed London drama school, then a successful 10-year career as an actor, perhaps I should specialise in performing arts.

Part of my teacher training demanded a period of teaching practice. I contacted my local college and was taken on as a teaching student in the performing arts department. I arrived exhilarated at the start of my journey towards becoming a teacher, ready to shadow and learn from respected practitioners. I hadn't thought it through.

When I was at drama school 20 years ago, there were many committed professionals devoted to guiding their students towards mastery of the art of theatre. There were also a couple of teachers who had clearly failed in their quest to be Kenneth Branagh and used their classes as a stage for themselves to perform. Learning was almost irrelevant: the students were state-funded audience members. One particular teacher's classes were entirely pointless. Students called his sessions The (insert name) Show.

The protagonist in that classroom cabaret is now one of the most powerful directors and acting coaches in the UK. That climb to greatness is a testament to his own capacity to develop, but to me he'll always be that daft tosser who couldn't stop showing off.

By coincidence, the college in which I had secured teaching practice had a similar teacher and I had the misfortune to be placed with him. I encountered him slouching off the fire exit, smoking roll-ups and being overly chummy with his young charges. Once the class began, he performed an extended, unscripted monologue. Suffice it to say, I didn't make it to lunchtime as a performing arts teacher.

Now, after five years' teaching English, I wondered if my poor first experience had directed me away from my true teaching specialism.

I recently agreed to be interviewed in a student TV production about my past career as an actor. During the live interview, a student who was working on the show was mucking about loudly. I was soon seething at his amateurish behaviour. Had this been a professional production, he would have suffered a sweary dismissal.

I had to talk myself down from blind rage. I was judging the situation from a professional TV perspective and not from one of a learning environment. Sometimes students muck about and don't meet the standards demanded in a real-life situation. My blurred boundary between the two was to blame for my disproportionate reaction. It confirmed to me that I was right not to teach in my first choice of vocation - or at least that I had left it too late to try.

Sarah Simons, FE lecturer, works in a large FE college in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.

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