ACTOR’S CALLING: Being A Teacher

This is going to be a personal entry.

Teacher’s Day is upon us. I’m now celebrating my 12th year as a teacher and I’m thankful that each and every day I wake up, I get to do a job I love. Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have my fair share of guides, mentors, herders of lost sheep (i.e. me) and disciplinarians to kick my ass when I needed it. Off the top of my head, names like Mrs Perera, Mr Teo, Mrs Da Silva, Mr Varghese, Julia Gabriel, Carlos Colunga, Claudette Sutherland, Marc Marno and Hedy Sontag come to mind. Perhaps some of my faithful readers might recognize these names. Perhaps not. More importantly for me, these people played a massive role in teaching me, regardless of whether it was what I needed to hear at the time or things that I would only be ready to hear when I grew up, even when I was an unwilling participant in these lessons.

As I continue to expand on what I teach and deepen how I teach, it amazes me how some of my employees and colleagues both in the private and public sector do what they do. Yet, one question pops up time and again as I continue to teach: What is the role of the teacher?

There are many answers for this question, and I’ve made a list below – my personal views on what teaching constitutes for me.

The teacher as a Facilitator

The teacher as a Leader

The teacher as a Role Model

The teacher as an Activist

The teacher as a Provocateur

The teacher as a Resource

The teacher as a Parent

The teacher as an Older Sibling

The teacher as a Friend

The list goes on. Yet, many of my colleagues, students and friends continue to ask me this – why teach? Why not become a full-time actor instead? Why spend most of my waking hours in class training people how to act?

But teaching is, in fact, a lot like performing. Just as how every performer must prepare diligently, to stimulate themselves and their audience for each show, every teacher must do the same for their classroom.

Having trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, I have come to realize how ‘method acting’ is perhaps one of the most misunderstood forms of acting. I do not claim to have all the answers, but to me, it is capable of stirring the most truthful of performances. As the only teacher in Asia experienced in teaching Lee Strasberg’s Method of Acting, I use the methodology in hope of helping my students become more confident and consistent actors.

Growing up, my teachers have stressed upon me time and again the need to pride the work before the ego. They have given me the tenets and guidelines to producing work that I can be proud of – rules that I abide by as much as possible in my professional work today. These include reminding myself that the work is more important than what I feel about it, that I must have the courage to find out the truth about myself, and promising that I will learn to trust and believe in my artistic instincts. Today, before starting every class or rehearsal, I give my students a sheet of paper I dub the ‘Actor’s Contract’, listing these tenets. It is so very important for every student or actor to walk in with an open mind, ready to give and ready to work. These 12 years, while I have met a fair bunch of extremely talented individuals, I have also come to realize that it is only the ones who work, that will ever catch on to something.

Perhaps this speaks of our education system today (not just in Singapore, but all around the world). It is the climate of tests and exams that have conditioned us to grow up with an irrational fear of failure. We are afraid to fail because it is mortifying, and rejection is painful. To know that we are not yet good enough, hurts. We hide our true thoughts and feelings, refuse to speak up in class and vote to go last during a presentation or showcase.

This, however, is dangerous. We are subconsciously subscribing to a herd mentality where we begin under-estimating our own abilities and suppress our inner life to avoid failure. This can and will seep in to other parts of our lives outside the classroom. I think that it is of paramount importance for teachers to create an environment within the classroom safe enough so that students feel comfortable failing. In order to keep learning new things, students must be encouraged to take risks. It is in this spirit of experimentation that we find the foundations of any compelling work in acting.

As teachers, we have a sacred responsibility to rekindle the flame in every student, to bring out their inner child again. It is crucial for us to be aware of the environment that we create in the classroom. Are we giving constructive feedback or are we mocking their mistakes? Are we pitting students against each other or helping each person understand their own strengths and weaknesses? When faced with someone more knowledgeable, do we feel threatened or we do allow ourselves to learn from our students? These are questions that I think every teacher must personally confront when they embark on the profession.

Lastly, on top of all the roles they have to play, teachers have the exact same problems, fears and insecurities as everyone else. They get tired like everyone else. They need love and attention like everyone else. So this Teachers’ Day, spare a thought for the ones who have evolved us. And may all the teachers in the world never lose that passion to light another spark in the room.

With Hope Towards The Future,
Kamil Haque

Actor’s Calling is a series of articles written personally by Kamil Haque, founder of the Haque Centre for Acting & Creativity. In this series, Kamil hopes to share his personal journey. He explores his vision for the school, growth as an actor and experiences as a teacher. The series also seeks to dispel some of the common misunderstandings about Actors and Method Acting.

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