Before I begin, the above title isn’t strictly true; I wasn’t a teacher for a day, I was “Volunteer 001” for three days and “Student” for the fourth – these being the labels printed onto the lanyard I wore during the days I helped out at my primary school, assisting with the end of year school play. Being in charge of the lighting desk is a task I’ve done before and is a very enjoyable one, especially as it gives me the responsibility of illuminating the scenery and putting the spotlight onto the ten and eleven-year-olds who stand on the same stage that I stood upon several years ago when I myself was a performer in such a production.
Still being in full-time education myself I don’t have a wealth of experience teaching children of primary school age, but having spent last week in the company of some of the keenest, most enthusiastic year 5s and 6s imaginable I’m happy beyond measure that I’ve come through the experience wanting to do it all again. Nothing quite beats having six eager faces staring up at you as you demonstrate an action or dance; faces which contort into focussed, furrowed brows as they copy your movement – transforming into beams of achievement which stretch to broad grins as they do it right for the first, second, third and fourth times before producing a dazzling grin when the triple-sidewards-shuffle has at last been perfected.
The highlight of going back into my old stomping ground (well, walking politely and considerately upon ground as I’ve never been much of a rebel) came about when the effects an overcrowded, overheated school hall-cum-theatre combined with the restlessness of the kids I was doing vocal coaching with to make me to show some initiative and take matters into my own hands. “Everyone, follow me!”, I hailed over the heads of infants still eating their lunch “But where are we going?”, “Outside, into the playground. We all need some fresh air. You’ll sing better”, “But it’s raining”, “That won’t stop us”. So out we went – the youngsters running and screaming at the novelty of not being on lock-down inside during “wet play”. Sheltering under a multicoloured awning, the six singers – two girls and four boys – sang. A capella. And I sang with them. And I felt the most alive I’ve felt in a while.
If you’ve seen the show Billy Elliot you’ll know that the only way young Billy can describe the feeling he gets when he dances is as “electricity”. Well that’s the way I feel when I sing; but to sing with six eleven-year-olds who don’t question the fact that they’re spending their lunch hour raising their voices against the wind and rain of drizzly northern England and don’t have any inhibitions about singing in front of themselves, each other or strangers isn’t something you get to experience every day. It was a challenge, it was hard work and it left me shattered at day’s end but it was worth it to bring up the lights on the night of the performance and watch these same kids belt out the melody for all they were worth in front of an audience of parents, siblings and teachers was remarkable and heart-warming and oddly nostalgic for me.
So there was I, sat at my little lighting booth, waving my arms to indicate the direction of sway for the final song and doing the actions – with them every step of the way. I was so proud of their confidence and perseverance and it was a privilege to be a part of their closing days of primary school. It confirmed to me that performing arts are such an important and irreplaceable part of school life, allowing as they do for the creative juices to flow in all who are involved and for children to widen their minds and think outside of the academic box. So in future, if anyone asks me to “do the lights”, I hope for their own sake they’ll have read this post before inquiring – because for me, “doing the lights” is so much more than flicking a few switches.