By: Jonathan McDougall
Teachers must do what they can to engage and captivate their students, while actors must do what they can to engage and captivate the audience. In my years working as a teacher, I’ve used a variety of theatrics to help keep students engaged and focused, which has led me to wonder what teachers could learn from professional actors with regards to presenting material in an engaging and entertaining way.s
Fortunately, I was able to get some sound advice from award-winning actor and director Elizabeth Mestnik, who founded and teaches at her own acting studio in Los Angeles. Mestnik mentioned that both professions require passion, however she warns that merely loving what you are doing will not be enough to succeed. Just as teachers require training to obtain their certificate, actors require training to do their job well. “You can love to act in plays and have a passion for it, but unless you know how to create a character, break down a script etc. you won’t be very good at it.”she explains. She points out that there are brilliant actors who, despite being able to deliver some amazing performances, are not able to break the process down and explain it so that others can understand it.
Mestnik believes that effective teachers should be emotionally invested in the process. “Be excited about what you are doing –and show it!”she exclaims. While most teachers are interested in their subjects, she elaborates, they don’t always know how to show it. If an actor is closed off and protected, she can’t convey an emotion to her students. Likewise, teachers need to be fearless and not worry about looking foolish. Mestnik also strongly supports kinesthetic learning, engaging both the mind and the body when communicating. She advises having the students move whenever possible, as this movement will create more energy for the topic at hand.
As any teacher knows, not all subject material is created equal. Even otherwise interesting subjects can have dry, technical, or detailed data that students need to learn, but are not necessarily interested in. For these types of situations, Mestnik believes that sometimes simply caring about the students, coupled with a solid understanding of the material, can make a big difference. If a teacher is excited when a student “gets it”, she explains, other students can become motivated to “get it”as well.
Jonathan McDougall is a freelance writer currently working with the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, writing education related articles.