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Things I wish I'd known

School drama promotes confidence and good relationships in a fun atmosphere, says Sue Cowley

Some of the best moments of my teaching career have been during school drama productions. Watching the nervous energy as the cast wait to go on stage, or the shining light in their eyes as the audience applauds them, is a special sensation. Although new teachers should guard against taking on too much, you get back so much more than you will ever put in with extracurricular activities.

On a personal level, helping out with the school production gives you a chance to get to know your children outside lessons, in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. It also allows you to build relationships with pupils from other classes, so that when you meet them in the future they're already on your side.

And it lets you focus on something other than the daily grind, and gives a much needed boost, often at the tail end of the term. You get the chance to learn new skills, and to build your strengths as a team player. There are many bonuses for the children too: the academically weak have a chance to shine, and it builds their confidence immeasurably.

Even if you're not a drama teacher, I guarantee that your help will be gratefully received. There are a million jobs to be done: building or painting the set, making costumes or organising props, helping with front of house, or supervising backstage on the night.

A few tips for that big night, garnered from many years' experience of putting on school plays. For a start, the cast will get very excited, so keep the atmosphere calm. Find a room where the children can be safely stored until their moment of glory, or you risk having them roaming the corridors in a mad frenzy of anticipation.

The area backstage tends to get crowded during performances, as the entire cast gather to see what's going on. Instead, keep them tucked away and employ a reliable runner to bring the actors backstage at the appropriate moment. The day after the play you will be exhausted, but on a high that should see you through until the end of term.

As well as helping out, why not get the staff to tread the boards themselves, unleashing the big kid that lurks inside us all? I've had some great times writing and performing in staff pantomimes, and these go down a storm, enhancing your reputation immensely. Luckily, my colleagues have been willing to muck in, playing roles as artistically challenging as Beavis and Butthead and the Teletubbies.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book, Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact:

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