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Nervous for the start of term? Just be like an actor…

All teachers usually get nervous, even anxious about going back to school at the beginning of a new term, so it’s not just newly qualified teachers and trainees – no, not at all. I felt that way even after twenty-odd years of teaching. The feeling never left me - the adrenalin mix of excitement and fear. It’s a good feeling. Relish it.

Many teachers think that teaching is unique in terms of the emotional demands it makes. I’m not sure about that, but I know of at least one profession that is similar. It’s acting.

A couple of year’s ago, I saw a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For nearly four hours the actors elevated our emotions, transported our consciousness and created new understandings and knowledge – about ourselves and our perception of others - we did not know we could conceive.

That’s what good actors - like good teachers – do, every time they go on the stage. That’s how art – and education – works.

How do actors do it?

Well, first they start with good preparation. They learn their lines and get to know ‘their stuff’ – intimately. They study - not just the plot - but the sub-text and the con-text. They understand the characters, not just what they say - but what drives and motivates them. Teachers must prepare like that too.

They acquire the necessary skills, not just ‘technical’ - but emotional skills to engage and engineer response. They must form a relationship with the audience to inspire, nurture and develop response. Teachers must do this too.

And they do this night after night, even when they don’t feel like doing it. It’s hard work. So is teaching – both physically and emotionally.

Actors also know that with preparation, comes confidence. With confidence they can go on stage and invite their audience to be led out of the world of reality and in to a world of imagination.

Good teachers do the same – they lead us out of the subjective and into the objective; they lead us out of the mundane and into the sublime; they lead us out of our ignorance, our complacency and our stasis and on to a different place – into a different world - where new knowledge, understanding and a new consciousness reside.

This ‘journey’ is called education. It comes from the Latin root - ducere - meaning ‘to lead out’.

Ask an actor if they have ever conquered their first night nerves and few, if any will tell you they have. I suspect that they don’t want to either. Nerves fuel their energy and their purpose.

So however good actors become they know they still have to prepare well, and with preparation comes confidence and with confidence comes high performance.

But they don’t stop feeling nervous about the whole process. And neither should you as a teacher - whether you're an old hack (like me), a newly qualified teacher about to embark on your first job with a new class or a complete beginner starting a teacher training course.

So at the beginning of this term - and every term - steel yourself with renewed resolution to

be prepared, be confident, and yes be nervous… and still go on and perform.

As Ophelia said in Hamlet: “We know what we are, but not what we can be.”

Now is the time to find out. Go for it!

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and head teacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures and writes on professional values in teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.

His new book: ‘Becoming a teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ will be published by Crown House Publishing this summer and can be ordered here.


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