From the Teaching Trenches: When Special Ed Lands in the Theatre Room


Theatre teachers are all too familiar with the “dumping” that happens in our classes every single year, without fail. We are simply the soft place for those odd ball kids to land when they don’t quite have the rhythm for band/orchestra and can’t draw or paint to save their lives or they are the kid who won’t choose their fine arts elective because they are unmotivated, so someone had to choose for them. Or… the special needs kid who really can’t voice what he wants because he has moderate to severe autism, but his mom says he’s a real “character” and “loves to perform” and the class would be “perfect for him”.

This is what J’s mom said when I called her after the first day of school because her son refused to stay seated and seemed to want to float around the room, flapping his arms and making noises to himself, seeming to have no interest in my class. I was a first year middle school teacher and was literally hired the day before and had not been given much time to prepare or been given any of the required special needs paperwork for any of my students. I was barely able to figure out the computer gradebook system well enough to find J’s profile and parent contact info, which I was determined to find because J was by far the most difficult student I had encountered that day and I was leery of how well he was going to do in my class.

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From the Teaching Trenches: Truly Student Directed

In 2010, my advanced students were working on student directed one-acts.  There were four productions, directed by three seniors and one junior, and shows were cast from open auditions so some students were not in theatre classes. Unfortunately, I had to be absent to travel from WV to Maine to deal with my father’s ill-health, which ended up being his final days. I left the students in charge, with a teacher colleague “baby-sitting.”

During my absence, I received a few text messages about problems. They were not small problems either, they had to deal with re-casting two roles. The students handled the re-casting (at the last minute, mind you) and soldiered on. Their texts came to me after they took care of things on their own.  They were proud of their work and how they handled everything. I made it clear how relieved I was and how proud of them I was.

I returned the day of the performances to find they had everything very well in hand. I was honored to present them that night to the public as truly student productions.

The students not only managed to put up their shows on their own, but they inspired each other in the process.  The younger sister of one of the senior directors had a minor speech impediment that kept her quiet.  Though she had never done any theatre, she was cast in a two-character play.

The next year, she was in audition-based acting class and went on to be one my strongest and most committed students. She is currently studying theatre in college and I had the opportunity to see her play the lead in the college production of Madwoman of Chaillot last spring. She told me that theatre helped her turn her life around.

—Martha Louden; retired teacher of 26 years, 12 of those as a theatre teacher

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Ten Tips for Beating The Mid-Semester Doldrums

It’s the day before school starts.  Your classroom is ready. You are ripe with wisdom and inspiration from the many inservice meetings you attended.  You have visions of your students’ excitement and enthusiasm for learning.  This year you will be present, energetic, infinitely patient, and wise beyond your years!

Fast forward to mid-terms.  Your classroom is a mess, the kids are a little too comfortable in your class, and there is not enough coffee in this world to get you from your conference period all the way to end of rehearsal.  What to do?

Here are some tips we like to use to keep things fun and interesting, reconnect with your students, and beat those mid-semester doldrums!

1. Change your warm-up routine.

That fabulous activity you have the kids do every time they enter the classroom might be getting on your nerves by this point.  Change it up!  Give them a new set of vocal warm-ups, a new puzzle to solve, or improvisation exercise to do.  It will break up the monotony and be more effective in engaging the children.

2. Rearrange your classroom.

Nothing freshens up a space quickly like moving furniture around!  Switch up that floor plan and create a new zen!  Add some new decorations or educational resources to make the learning space more fun and appealing!

3. Attach “googly eyes” to things.

Because even a stapler can be a puppet if you believe.stapler_with_googly_eyes

4. Interrupt your class with a yoga/stretching break.

Put the lesson aside for a moment and move those muscles!  Just a few moments of deep breathing and stretching can increase focus and oxygen to the brain.

5. Try this hilarious improvisation game.

Have the audience choose an item or a classroom-appropriate topic (the more inane, the better).  The actor will then have to go on a full, ranting tirade about this item!  Then sit back and listen as they give their best “just saying,” #sorrynotsorry diatribe about socks and how they are a scourge on our society!

6. Organize a messy space.

Costume storage, desk, car, file cabinet.  It doesn’t matter.  Choose a cluttered area that you see every day and organize it.  You will feel proud and accomplished and have a more efficient space!

7. Teach in a costume.

You have all those great costumes just sitting there, go ahead and teach the parts of the stage as a 1920’s flapper girl!  It will entertain the students and give you something fun to do!

8. Classroom scavenger hunt.

Hide ten paintbrushes around the room and give a prize to the first student to find them all during class!

9. Post-It Note wall.

Give a prompt such as, “What theatre is to me…” and let the students post their responses.  Inspiration galore!


10. Schedule a Happy Hour with friends.

Take a break to enjoy friends and talk about things that are not job-related!  Have some chips and salsa, maybe a beverage, and unwind!  You deserve it!

Did we miss something?  What do you to stay fresh in the middle of the semester?  Leave a comment below!

Need to freshen up your classroom, or pick up great student gifts? Visit our shop!