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With some kids you really have to dig for gold. And here, in my drama lesson, I'd discovered a rich seam

In the latest installment in a fortnightly series, one 'travelling teacher' remembers a drama lesson in which there was rather too much in the way of smoke and mirrors

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In the latest installment in a fortnightly series, one 'travelling teacher' remembers a drama lesson in which there was rather too much in the way of smoke and mirrors

The fog clears and here we are.

What you need to know is that in Year 10 there are triplets. Three boys. And they are of the identical variety. Even their names sound the same: Joshua, Jonny and James. They sound like a 1960s psychedelia folk band – and in some ways, they often act like one. They often turn on (each other), tune in and, on occasion, drop out. They are, however, like many of the children that inhabit the past, affable. In Year 7 we were braced for their arrival from the primary partner school. As a staff we were essentially told to "get ready".  When they arrived, they slotted in and, interestingly, we thought very fondly of them very quickly. They even got a simplified catch-all nickname: Trip. They were all Trip. Even if they were in the same room, they shared the name.

So…..

Trip (Jonny, not James or Joshua) has chosen to take drama at GCSE, his brothers preferring the delights of whatever else was in the option column. It’s a bit of a surprise as Jonny is to drama what oil is to water or fire is to rain – you get the drift. He’s no menace, but even he hasn’t been lured by the promise of the sex, violence, death and witchcraft offered by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. He has no interest whatsoever in Miller, monologues or me. We just exist in the room together for three hours a week. Nobody gets hurt. There’s nothing to see here.

Tsunamic teaching

Today feels different, however. Trip is early and looking around the room. He finds a copy of the play and asks to borrow it for the lesson. He’s left his in his locker, he says. I nod as I don’t want him disappearing again now he’s here. He takes a chair and sits in the middle of the deskless space. I am frankly amazed he’s sat down without me asking him to. Others arrive and soon we are off to Salem, Massachusetts. We’re reading the play and doing character analysis as we go along. It’s not a complex plan but I am completely thrown when Trip puts up his hand and asks to read a part.

"Really?" I ask, genuinely.

"Yeah. I’ll read owt." he replies.

I’m not the only one amazed. Becci asks if he’s ill, and there’s a bit of telling each other to "shut it".

"Of course," I say, "Why don’t you read Proctor?"

Trip nods and the play reading begins.

Teaching can often be tsunamic. And when Trip speaks, I feel like I’m hit with a refreshing wave of some tremendous force. My eyes are stretched wide and even Troy, another refugee from food technology, turns to watch his peer read. Because this reading isn’t a reading. It’s much more than that. On teacher-training I was told that with some kids you had to dig for gold – well here and now, with Trip’s on-the-money delivery, I’ve clearly struck it. This is great. Trip has unlocked his potential. It’s not just reading, it’s emoting, it’s finding meaning, it’s…drama!

Properly stunned

When he finishes the speech, there’s actually a silence.

I break it by whispering, “Chuffing hell, Jonny. That was amazing!”

I am properly stunned and no mistake.

Suddenly Becci howls with laughter and is soon joined by others in the class. Only Troy and I are in the dark. What’s the joke? What’s so funny?

Becci, who would certainly pass the audition to be a hysterical witch-spotter, chortles out a reply.

“That’s not Jonny!! They’ve done a swap, Sir!”

All the ‘shut its’ start again.

I’ve been had. The penny drops.

Almost sympathetically, Becci clarifies everything. This isn’t the right Trip. This is James, not Jonny.

And... scene

I know it might be wrong and unprofessional, but I do see the funny side. Where is Jonny, I wonder aloud.

“He’s in graphics, sir. He likes drama, but he loves graphics,” explains this Trip.

James stands up and offers me the playbook. I go to take it then stop. I’m pondering. Then, firmly, I say:

“Sit down, Trip. We need to finish this scene.”

And the fog descends.

Ten years later I’m in a pub in the town centre. There’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn and am greeted by a fully-grown Trip.

“Which one are you?” I ask.

“Does it matter?” he laughs in reply.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. Read his back catalogue

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