Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Where are you from?
I'm from a small retirement town on the South Coast of England called Bexhill. It is a windy town full of elderly people and raving seagulls.
Where are you going?
I'm staying firmly put in Bulgaria for now, a place that has much to teach me and a place where I am building a community of great people.
How many Summers do you wonder this land?
Three! I look forwards to many more.
What do you do?
I am an English teacher with a difference. I use drama and theater games to help people develop not only to speak English with more confidence, but also to develop their listening, communication, co-operation and creative skills. These are all extremely valuable skill sets that can change our lives in a huge way.
Where did your love for teaching come from?
As a kid I was taught that some people have 'it' , and some people don't have 'it'. That basically some people have a natural talent for something and the rest of us just don't have a chance. As I grew older I realized that this is a myth. We all have the capacity to learn new things, no matter what our IQ or age. It is simply about taking risks, trying new (sometimes scary) things, and developing our self-awareness and ability to reflect.
Teaching and learning a second language has helped me to break through my own limits and I find it rewarding to support others through this process.
What inspires you?
The moments when I see students stop 'thinking' and self-judging, where I see them completely absorbed in their task, focused and communicating with those around them, working together. This is so inspiring!
When I see the people I am working with are enjoying themselves, having a good time. As adults we often tend to separate learning as being something 'serious' , and it is, but humor is such a powerful tool for helping us overcome our mistakes and deal with our insecurities. It's a vital part of how I work.
What qualities does improvised theatre develop in you?
A lots of the games I use in my classes were developed from the legacy of Eva Boyd and Viola Spoilin, the latter of whom went on to found Second City School of Improvised theatre in Chicago, now a world famous institution. She developed the majority of the games through her extensive work with immigrant children and orphans, many of who did not share a native language. The games became primarily about communication and connection, as she observed that the best results always come when we work together fluidly. She recognized that language is not just words but contains a whole spectrum of different forms of communication, from the way we move, our small gestures and actions, to the intonation and pitch of the sounds we are making when we forms words.
Improvised theater has helped me develop my ability to be in the moment, to listen, to focus, to create something from nothing, to manage conflict and difficult situations, to express myself clearer, to co-operate better with others, and many other things to boot!
What is the focus of your work?
In a time when we are becoming increasingly isolated from others - when the web has become the main mode of communication, we need to reconnect with our bodies and remember how to be active participants in our lives, rather than just passive observers. I heard a story recently of a child whose mother thought he had a serious condition and took him to a specialist. It turned out that the child had been watching so much online media that he could speak and understand English better than he could understand his mother's language of Bulgarian. This was simply because he had become more exposed to English than Bulgarian. This was why he struggled to communicate with his mother.
I meet children and adults who have been exposed to a lot of English through media, but do not know yet how to use their knowledge to meet their personal goals, whether it be through business or for work, to grow their community, or to visit new places. Today, it is easy for us to become isolated in our own little worlds and it takes a push for us to break out and develop into the more confident, outgoing people that can instigate positive change in our lives.
So this is my goal in my work - to connect people and help them grow through English.
Who are your role models?
As mentioned before - Eva Boyd and Viola Spoilin, as well as other visionary teachers such as Keith Johnstone. I am also interested in the theories of language acquisition as pioneered in different methodologies such as 'The natural method' by Stephen Krashen and Tracey Terrell, as well as the Suggestopedic approach developed in Bulgaria by psychologist Georgi Lovanov. These methods look at deeper things like behavioral patterns and the more subconscious forms of learning, and aim to transfer them to learning a second language. Very interesting!
Do you prefer to teach or perform improv?
To me they weave into each other and I get as much pleasure from watching as I do from participating. I think it's healthy to take on both roles - to be student and teacher, that way you get to keep balance and it keeps things fresh and interesting.
We all know how difficult it is to keep the attention of people in general, and kids. How do you manage this?
Keep moving, give people who I am working with clear roles and boundaries, give the group something to work towards. Give students the opportunity to input their own content into the lesson, so it can become personal and engaging for them.
What do you wish for next year, and for your students?
To keep developing and start working with regular adult groups using roleplay and improv. To have the first generation of children in the school to put on their first improv show in English!