The showing-off business

9th August 2013 at 01:00

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

Having had three years' training at one of the most acclaimed London drama schools, and then a 10-year successful career as an actor, the profession in which I should specialise is performing arts.

Part of my initial teacher training demanded a period of teaching practice. I got in touch with my local college and was taken on as a teaching student in the performing arts department. I turned up on my first day 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 on which to perform. Learning was almost irrelevant: the students were there as (in those days) state-funded audience members. There was one teacher in particular whose classes, although entertaining, were entirely pointless. Students called his sessions The (insert name) Show.

Incidentally, the protagonist in that classroom cabaret is now one of the UK's most powerful directors and acting coaches. Although this climb to greatness is clearly a testament to his own capability for development, to me he'll always be that daft tosser who couldn't stop showing off.

Sadly, it seemed that 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 spitty roll-ups and being overly chummy with his young charges. Once the class began he performed an extended unscripted monologue. Suffice to say, I didn't make it to lunchtime as a performing arts teacher.

Recently, after five years teaching English, I found myself wondering if my poor first experience had directed me away from my true specialism. But then I agreed to be interviewed on a student television production about my past career as an actor. During the live interview, a student working on the show started to muck about. I began to seethe at his amateurish behaviour. Had this been a professional production he would have suffered a sweary dismissal.

After the interview I had to talk myself down from blind rage. I was judging the situation from a professional TV perspective and not from that of a learning environment. Sometimes students mess about and don't exhibit the standards demanded in a real-life situation. My blurred boundary of expectation between an education environment that attempted to replicate a live TV studio and the real thing 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 works in a large FE college in Mansfield, England.

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