When an Actor becomes a Teacher
I work in Salzgitter with ‘Sophia gUG’, an N.G.O. We provide Integration courses (for women) and Nachhilfe, mostly for refugee families. Before moving to Germany in 2018, I was a professional theatre and film artist in India. I worked for the most part in Auroville, an International community in India.
I started as a Federal volunteer in Sophia. How I became an English teacher here is quite a story.
During my time here as a volunteer, a couple of students wanted help with English. It was quite unusual since students usually seek help in German. I was asked to help these students. I suggested that we read ‘Harry Potter’ together.
We sat around and read chapters from the book and had conversations about it, in English (I would suggest grammatical corrections during the conversations). We did not do any classes on grammar; instead they were developing an instinct for it (the grammar). We did writing exercises together where we analysed the characters and interpreted the chapters. They gradually sounded more confident and comfortable with English. Their grades improved.
Now, I am heading five different groups for English. Each group is reading a different book or play. Since I am an actor, we play the scenes together (Which sometimes involves physical activities), trying to understand the situations and the emotional journeys, the characters experience. This helps in connecting to the characters and their interconnected journeys despite the language barrier.
For me, the most enjoyable aspect about reading a book together is the personal stories, the random conversations that kick in, between the lines. Reading a book together is like taking a walk together. After a while you get comfortable and synchronised with your reading companions since you are facing similar mental landscapes and experiences. It breaks walls and builds trust. It is only natural to take breaks in between those walks and have a chat. These chats are invested on memories and experiences. The will to share memories and experiences pushes the language to flow through; the shyness and insecurity about a foreign language disappears briefly in those moments of pure involvement. The students navigate the landscapes and wordplays of English more passionately as they share their stories.
Playing with the language makes the students feel relaxed; there is space for mistakes to happen. It is a process of discovering better ways to communicate. The students are in a more receptive state to receive information when they are in a relaxed state of body and mind. Physical movements enable physical memory, helping the mind relate to actions with words and vice versa. Emotional memories also come into play as we explore our emotions with the language. The students relate to the language through emotions, actions and feel it. The student is empathising with the language.
For me, Education is an ongoing process of discovery that is far from perfect. There are always better ways of communicating with one another, as long as we are open to learn and to act on the opportunities we have. Sharing information and knowledge using Theatre enables life to flow through a language, an essential necessity to connect with a language.
There are obviously challenges involved when it comes to human interactions, in a world where insecurity and fear is dominant. Unconscious behaviours around the world affects all of us, leaving us feeling alone and distant. To have real conversations with students, where they are really listened to, is essential. It makes things lighter. These experiments with teaching and communicating somehow got me to this point with my students. It is heart-warming to witness and be part of a process where students find their own voices as they explore a language. I see a good opportunity in using English and Theatre as a medium to feel, connect and express solidarity with one another. For me, this is a space where the idea of schooling breaks down to the essentials of being human and relatable.