Class act

25th May 2001 at 01:00
A school play is just the thing to refresh the parts - and people - who need it most, writes Trevor Folley.

The notice goes up in the staffroom: "This year the school play is The Real Inspector Hound. Anyone wishing to help with its production is welcome to attend a meeting this Friday."

Setting up the tables and chairs in the drama studio, I wonder if anyone will turn up. Has anyone seen the notice? Has everyone realised that they won't have any more time over the next three months than they do now? I opt for two tables and four chairs.

Seven familiar faces sit around the table (my wife tells me you forget the pain of childbirth). An eighth figure arrives late, apologises and hopes all the jobs have not been dealt out. Idealistic enthusiasm has survived term one and he intends to devour term two with enviable, NQT zeal.

Seven familiar faces remember why they have chosen to come, and the production team squares up to the task. There will be times when all eight will regret reading the notice - while writing reports, annotating exam work, sitting in meetings, crushed by stress and paperwork - yet they have no one to blame but themselves.

Why do we do it? Because we are obliged to, or because we want to? If it is because we feel obliged, that it will help our career, then take a break. There aren't enough buzz words in it. So why do we want to?

To complain about workload and then add to your own is daft. Spending Saturday morning running the touchline, or Thursday night stewarding the performers' "green room", clearly indicates that you haven't enough to do. It is a signal that you should be spending more time writing reports, filling out forms and attending meetings. Reports, forms and meetings serve an important purpose in supporting learning. Extra-curricular activities do not support education; they are education.

Clubs, teams and performances are not a supplement to the real work of schools. They are as vital to the development of some students as curriculum time. I have seen children come through the toil of preparing for a play and emerge with a sense of self-worth that will allow them to flourish. I have seen PE teachers build teams that help create individuals, and music teachers orchestrate opportunities to produce pleasure and pride. Sometimes children need somewhere to go where they feel valued. They benefit mmensely from our efforts - so do we.

Recently, I saw the leader of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme watching rain pelt against the staffroom window. He was smiling as I suggested he postpone survival training until the weather provided better odds of surviving. He, however, liked it when it rained. "We learn best when wet," he said. It wasn't that he wanted the children to catch pneumonia, or that he had read a new study extolling the virtues of aqua-ed; it was that he understood the shared nature of learning. When it rained, everyone suffered together - and found solutions together. Weak teamwork meant poor shelter meant wet people. He didn't use "we" in the patronising way of the apocryphal teacher-tyrant: "If we don't listen, we won't understand, will we?" He included himself as a beneficiary of the session.

Through a distant cousin of symbiosis, teachers reap the rewards with the children. We share the sense of belonging, achievement and self-worth. Every so often a student lets slip that he or she is thinking about a career in teaching and, when pushed, talks enthusiastically about the opportunity to "make a difference". Many are passionate - but more are passionate about the idea of contributing to a child's life. None mentions league tables.

I feel privileged to be a teacher when I am being a teacher; when I am working with children. It is natural that we will search that feeling out - the heavier the pressure, the more necessary the search. Those hours spent organising trips or refereeing the school Pokemon championships are the antidote to Ofsted. They revive tired spirits and flagging fervour. There are few occupations with ready access to booster jabs, and we should appreciate them.

Between now and the play's opening night, all the faces round the table will grimace regularly. They will curse the children, circumstances and me, but they will beam at the final curtain call. Congratulatory drinks will oil feverish discussions about next year's production, and memories of torturous rehearsals and last-minute panics will be shelved. In the future, they'll be taken down and repainted as anecdotal evidence for the fun we had. We will forget the pain and we will be back next year. How about Jurassic Park, the musical?

Trevor Folley is head of performing arts at the King John school, Thundersley, Benfleet, Essex

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