7 Practical Back-to-School Tips for Theatre Teachers

Written by Christina Nicholson

August 24, 2017

The new school year is upon us. This means anticipation, patience, and a lot of preparation for any teacher. Sometimes, there seems to be an endless to-do list consisting of planning for the year, getting your classroom ready, first week activities, classroom management, and, of course, parent-teacher communication. Looking for a first-week-of-class activity to get to know your students better? Check out Tiffany Wilkie’s “Three Objects Speech” activity, available for free here.

1. Planning for the Year

Since 2007, John Payne-Rios has been a theatre teacher. He has been a high school teacher and college professor, and now, he’s currently a theatre teacher at Odyssey Middle School, an Orange County Public School. In planning for the year John says, “The first thing I do is look at what worked last year, and if there are any improvements that I need to make from a curriculum standpoint.” John says he always checks his grade book to make sure it’s in order. Making sure the classroom is well stocked for supplies and decorating accordingly is essential to a successful start to the school year.

2. Getting Your Classroom Ready

Setting up your classroom can be one of the most joyous and stressful weeks of the year! You can feel the thrill of a new year, yet there is still a lot of work to be done. It’s always good for teachers to have a theme and then design the rest of the classroom from what it will look like from there. John explains, “Getting the classroom ready is a big project. Every teacher knows that. I think there are very few teachers whose classrooms are completely and 100% set up exactly how they want it for the first day. There is always something that is left out! Always something more that they wanted to do, and that inevitably will get done by the end of the first week of school.” So don’t sweat having everything done by the first day of school. But make sure you give yourself enough time before classes start to decorate.

This year John introduced different hall passes inspired by different playbills for various places to go on campus. The guidance hall pass is Aladdin, because they grant wishes. The gym hall pass is Bring It On, and of course, bathroom is Urinetown.

3. First Week Activities

The first week is all about getting to know the students, and it builds the relationship between the teacher and the students. Every teacher wants to create a safe, open, and collaborative learning environment. In doing so, this creates the most success for students to learn throughout the year. John explains, “A lot of the first week is going over school code conduct. [It’s] what I have to do with my Theatre II and Theatre III students.” It’s important for teachers to implement the consequence for negative behavior — and help students understand the reward for positive behavior, too.

4. Collaborating and Connecting with Colleagues

When asked about the most challenging part of getting ready for school, John replied, “Getting age-appropriate scripts. Middle school is a time where we are transitioning from child scripts to a little bit more adult.” He explained that part of the curriculum wants Greek plays to be used, but he’s not going to give his kids Oedipus. However, last year he gave his students Medea and they went “bonkers!” This is just John’s classroom preparation. Of course, the department, curriculum, and principal play a big part as well. Each year John’s principal wants a musical in the fall and spring. John says, “The other teachers take on the fall production and I just focus on the musical.” Last year John’s students’ performed Legally Blonde, Jr. This year with the proper rights granted, they plan on doing Xanadu, Jr. John says, “I think it’s imperative for any educator who is involved in the arts to be best friends with the principal and the bookkeeper!” His principal provided the funds to purchase eight lavaliere mics this year! Sharing ideas and responsibilities will benefit everyone!

5. Classroom Management

Classroom management is the foundation for everything that happens in the classroom. Students must understand rules and procedures from the first day of class. The classroom is built on teaching respect, responsibility, safety, and collaboration. John says he will stand, stay calm, and wait for students to quiet down. “You have to wake up everyday wanting to be in the classroom, regardless of student behavior.” Kids are still growing and going through vast amounts of changes, and it is a teacher’s responsibility, at school, to lead them, guide them, and make sure that learning can still happen even with all the craziness at home. Oftentimes, students just need an ear to hear them. Falling under the arts umbrella, theatre teachers are often seen as the teachers that students can approach with problems, questions, and general day to day anxieties.

John tried something new this year. He has a stuffed “poop emoji” in his class, and he told his students if they are having a “poopy” day, just go to his desk and get the stuffed toy, then bring it back to their seat and give it a hug. Every period so far during the first week of school, a student has used it! Students have a lot going on too, and it’s important for teachers to understand and remember that.

6. Parent-Teacher Communication

A parent and a teacher are the foundation for a student’s education. It is much more challenging for a child to be successful when there is no parent involved. When parents and teachers communicate, this is always the best way to help the student grow. Parents advocating for the arts at their child’s school can also help tremendously. Parents can write letters, volunteer, and gather with other parents to speak up at invited school meetings. At John’s school the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) gave a huge grant to help fund the shows last school year. Parents are the best advocates for students in the arts.

Need some advice? We’ve got you covered.

Christina Nicholson works for the Walt Disney World Company. She earned her B.A. in human communication and minor in mass communication from the University of Central Florida. She has worked as an editorial intern for a fashion magazine, and as a copywriter intern for an advertising agency. Christina enjoys acting, commercial modeling, yoga, outdoor adventures and writing.