Superman meets Hannibal Lecter

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Sarah Downing was slightly shell-shocked by her first drama workshops, as her diary recalls.

I always said I would never be a teacher. I certainly never learned to respect any of mine. If teachers were really any good at anything surely they would be doing the thing that they were good at. It never occurred to me that maybe being good at teaching was a skill in itself. That was until I walked, or quivered, my way into a classroom for the first time, not with teaching experience or training but awash with terror, sleep deprivation and enough notes to bury the children if things went horribly wrong.

At the back of my mind, I clung to the thought that I could always leave, claiming that I couldn't find the children, escape through the window, faint, pretend to be the cleaner, make large windmill arm movements and talk in a loud voice about how great I feel since kicking my heroin addiction. On the other hand I could admit that I had been wrong, stride purposefully into the room and introduce myself as the new drama teacher.

Week 1 Philip aged 7 (alias Damien, child of the devil) bites Leo. Thinking on my feet I give Philip a small talk about how we don't bite people in drama - he sits on a chair and sulks for the rest of the lesson.

I later ask the children what they enjoy doing in drama - Joseph tells me: "I like doing things about the future and the past and about good and evil - I normally play a super hero who conquers the baddies and saves the world. " I like a child with ambition.

Week 4

Gaining more confidence I give the children a freer reign to use their imagination. Working around the topic of The Mad Scientist we are having difficulty following one group's enactment of the story, so I ask Michael for a recap: "Well, he is the mad scientist and he poisons me and I turn into this zombie who calls the mad scientist Dad because he created me and then he chops my limbs off and feeds them to me but as soon as I have digested them they grow back . . ." The girls start squealing at this point and I ask Michael if they could finish off the story quickly, in mime.

Philip (aka Manic Monster) has taken to clinging on to my arm or grabbing handfuls of my rear and screaming at the top of his voice, pulling the girls' hair and refusing to work with anyone. He prowls around the room howling and hitting the wall. I am assured by the other teachers he is as disruptive and uncontrollable in their classes. So, that's OK then.

Week 7

By now, I feel that a trust is building up between me and the class and I begin to look forward to my weekly forays to their classroom. During a warm-up exercise in which you have to find a new chair if you agree with the question asked, Chloe says "anybody who thinks that Sarah is the best drama teacher". Leo clings on to his chair in a determined manner and refuses to budge.

Week 10

I finish off my last class with a game involving chocolate - big mistake. End-of-term excitement coupled with competitive chocomania sends the kids into a frenzy - "she's eating loads of it", "you're a fat pig, you are", "I'm never gonna get any", "I can't eat any more, I feel sick".

The class ends when they finally run off to play with a Karaoke machine someone has brought in. My last sight of Philip is him dancing like a Chippendale after giving a one-man performance of The Mask.

I would recommend any would-be drama workshop teachers to arm themselves with endless patience, energy, good humour and, most importantly, ideas. Take your courage in both hands, stride into the room, expect to be thrown and enjoy.

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