Drama Teacher Certification

A high school drama teacher is often one of the most beloved teachers at the school. Especially recently, due to the rise in popularity of movies like High School Musical and television shows like Glee, students often view drama class as a fun escape from the monotony of reading, writing and memorization. Thus, they are generally engaged, excited, and eager to please their drama teachers.

If you choose to get certified to become a drama teacher, you will not only get the satisfaction of teaching students a craft, but you will get to build relationships, challenge students to grow creatively, and see them blossom socially and academically.

A well-run drama class also needs to incorporate a great deal of structure and learning into its curriculum. Certified drama teachers must be creative individuals who are not only comfortable actors, but are well-versed in the design, lighting, costuming, music and production requirements for putting on a play. Even when it is disguised as fun, drama class teaches students a plethora of information about acting, set design, the origin of theater and much more.

Because drama teachers are often in charge of producing school plays and musicals for students, their families and their communities, they get recognized with more regularity and in more public forums than other teachers, which can be especially rewarding. In order to be sure that teachers are qualified to reap the rewards of a career as a drama teacher, they must complete the appropriate certification process.

Certification: What does it mean?

A drama teacher certification indicates that a teacher has met a set of requirements to show that they understand the best ways to educate students about acting, the history of theater, and more. Teachers can become certified through a rigorous process where candidates must complete teacher education programs, and sometimes must pass exams.

A typical drama teacher certification exam tests the prospective teacher on the terms, theories and practicalities of auditioning, blocking, character analysis, characterization, costuming, dialects, directing, Greek drama, improvisation, masks, origins of theater, pantomime, set design, stage makeup and more.

Because certification requirements are different for each state, prospective teachers can learn more about their state's requirements here.

Inspiring confidence in student actors

Drama class can often lead to increased self-confidence in students. Although a natural acting ability/aptitude is largely ingrained in a student’s personality, aspects of the craft can certainly be taught. A good drama teacher will enjoy watching even the most timid students blossom into confident actors by the end of the school year. Each and every student, no matter now unlikely, can benefit from the following principles and theories of acting:

  • Relaxation: Although this can be a difficult task for a room full of middle school or high school students, a drama teacher must instill a sense of relaxation in students, so that they are able to let go of insecurities and perform in front of their peers.
  • Trust: Certified drama teachers should position themselves as trustworthy authority figures that encourage students to learn, be themselves, and stretch their boundaries.
  • Discipline: Although aspects of drama class will encourage students to be loud, rowdy, and think outside the box, drama teachers must create the influence to get students back on task and learn the fundamentals of drama.
  • Constructive criticism: Drama is unlike any other class in that students may feel embarrassed and reluctant to improve, if it means performing in front of their peers. Certified drama teachers must learn how to respond to aspects of the acting, not the performer, and give constructive criticism in a way that encourages students to try and try again.

Day-to-day, there are many ways that a drama teacher can inspire confidence in students. By admitting to shortfalls from time to time, a teacher shows students that mistakes are necessary to grow. By presenting the students with opportunities for small successes every day, and praising them quickly and publicly, the students become eager to perform and participate for the same type of praise. Examples include answering a question correctly, being cast as the lead in an in-class acting exercise or suggesting a fun improv activity.

A Drama Teacher’s Lesson Plans

Over the course of a semester, a certified drama teacher will give students a broad-based introduction into the world of theater, acting, and stage management. Lessons and responsibilities may include helping students understand the background and history of the theater genre, become familiar with classic and contemporary plays and musicals, producing short plays in the classroom and feature-length plays outside of school; casting, blocking, and directing performances; coordinating sets, props and costumes; managing technology, sound, lighting, set design and costumes; and leading after-school rehearsals.

A typical class period in a drama teacher’s room may begin with a review of last night’s homework – if students were supposed to read an act of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, for example, the teacher would begin by discussing the events of the chapter, rooting them in historical context, and giving the students a short quiz to make sure they comprehended the subject matter. Then, the teacher would assign parts and, after a quick improv exercise to help the students warm up, have the class run through the Act aloud.

Depending on the subject matter that the class is focusing on, a lesson plan would look very different. Some days will be very hands-on, and others will involve more traditional learning. Over the course of a semester, a drama teacher could reasonably expect to cover:

The history of theater: Performance art has been around for centuries, and has evolved into the modern play and musical theater that we know today. Certified drama teachers will bring their students through the history of theater, all the way from before the ancient Greeks through modern times. They will cover the basic types of plays, including comedy (farce and satire), tragedy, and historical.

The fundamentals of acting: In teaching students the basics of acting, certified drama teachers will likely need to cover subjects including action, relaxation, objective, spontaneity, emotion, monologues, projection, presence, substitution, character analyses, heightened diction, dialects and more. The teacher will encourage students to explore their voices, gestures, accents and observations of the world around them through improvisation, games and skill-challenging exercises.

Costume design and stage makeup: Costume design involves the fabrication of apparel for a performer to help him or her transform into a character. The costumes that actors wear can alter the feel and believability of an entire production. Along with clothing, a costume may include accessories such as footwear, hats and head dresses; masks; makeup; wigs; underwear or other unusual specialty items. Certified drama teachers must be familiar with the four types of theatrical costumes: historical, fantastic, dance, and modern. They must also be familiar with the types and application of makeup needed to make actors’ facial features ‘pop’ while under bright stage lights.

Lighting, stagecraft and stage management: Drama teachers must be able to coordinate and lead others in coordinating all the working parts of a theatrical production. They must know how to organize the production smoothly, and coordinate communication and actions between the director, actors and the backstage crew. This multi-faceted discipline involves advanced knowledge of mechanized scenery, quick costume changes, controlled lighting, and more.

Directing a Performance: The certified drama teacher is generally the director, or primary visionary, of any after-school productions put on by his or her students. As director, the teacher makes important decisions about the artistic styling, interpretation and staging of a play or musical.

Putting on a school play

Certified drama teachers are often expected to put on school plays or musicals, often once in the spring and once in the fall. Rehearsals for these productions may be held within school hours, but are more likely to be held in the evenings after school, to allow participants’ academic freedom. While drama teachers agree to give up some of their out-of-school time for these productions, they are generally paid for their time, as the productions can bring revenue and recognition to the schools.

Some plays that are commonly performed by high schools include:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
  • Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring
  • The Crucible, Arthur Miller
  • Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  • Our Town, Thornton Wilder
  • Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
  • You Can’t Take it With You, George S. Kaufman

If a drama teacher chooses to produce a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the process would begin by casting students as lead performers, understudies, supporting roles (possibly dreamed up by the drama teacher for participation’s sake) and crew members. The cast would meet multiple times a week in the months leading up to the performance to rehearse lines, learn how to block the stage, create the set and more. As opening night approached, the students would hold one or two dress rehearsals in costume. Finally, the curtain would raise for the students’ families and friends, and the drama teacher would sit back and enjoy the result of months of hard work.

Becoming certified as a drama teacher

Drama teachers are creative, outgoing individuals who are devoted to nurturing their students’ confidence, individuality, and education. They must demonstrate an ability to teach both the performance and background of drama and acting.

If you're interested in becoming a certified drama teacher, find your state's teaching certification requirements here.

Incorporating Improv Exercises:

Many drama classes use improvisation (improv) in their learning and rehearsal process to help students practice basic skills like relaxation, listening to and being aware of the other actors, expressing themselves clearly, finding the confidence to make choices instinctively and spontaneously, and keeping calm in the face of the unexpected.

Certified drama teachers use a variety of improv exercises to help students explore their voices, bodies, confidence and relationships. Below are a few examples of exercises that a certified drama teacher may want to incorporate into a class:

Big blob: Give your students an ordinary scene to act out, but tell them that they are to perform the scene as if there was a giant blob of blubber in the middle of the room. The blob will slow them down, stick to them and interfere with their interactions. However, they should perform the whole scene never acknowledging that the blob of blubber is there. This exercise will help students recognize the impact that environment has on their performances and the importance that their body language holds while acting.

Gibberish: Sit your class down in a circle, and have one of them say a phrase in a gibberish language to the person on their right. That person then turns to their right and says a different gibberish phrase to his or her neighbor, mirroring the sounds, inflection and speed of the first speaker. This exercise will help get students comfortable experimenting with accents, dialects, and exaggerated intonation.

Silent scene: Split students into groups of three to five and give them an emotional scene to act out, but tell them that they are not to use words or noises of any sort. When they start to fall back on frantic gesturing or lip movements, gently remind them to use their facial expressions and body language to convey their emotions instead. This exercise is designed to help students recognize the powerful emotions that they can convey without ever speaking.

Speak as one: Assign your students into groups of five. Have them stand side-by-side and link arms. Name the middle student ‘team lead’, and have him or her come up with a sentence. Without telling the rest of the group what the sentence is, the team lead should begin sounding out the first word of the sentence. By looking around at each other and speaking very slowly, the group should speak the sentence together, seemingly as one voice and one mind. By watching each other closely, this exercise can help the group learn how to read each other while acting.

A certified drama teacher recognizes that while these improv exercises are a fun way for students to blow off steam, they are also helping the students to practice the craft and grow as actors, even if they may not realize it themselves.

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