Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wot, me worried?

I reckon I’m a fairly experienced teacher and workshop leader. I’ve been teaching in one form or another since 1978 (computer science to undergraduates). I started running theatre workshops in 1984 and since 1997 I’ve been leading choirs and teaching singing workshops.

Like all good teachers I spend a major part of my time preparing workshop and rehearsal sessions, sourcing material, learning songs, etc. I try to make sure that I am as prepared as I possibly can be, but I also know that I can improvise when necessary. So I go into a workshop feeling pretty confident and reasonably sure I know what I’m doing. How then to account for the lack of sleep the night before and the anxiety dreams?

The other week I ran a singing workshop in London for an hour on a Wednesday evening at 6pm. It’s about a 1 ¼ hour train journey from where I live, plus maybe half an hour on the underground. I left in plenty of time in case there were any rail problems (in the end I arrived over 1 ½ hours early!). I didn’t have to make an early start, only needing to be at the train station by 3pm.

The night before I had a very restless night, tossing and turning, waking up every now and then to check the clock. I also had an anxiety dream:

I had arrived at the venue in plenty of time, so decided to go and have a coffee. I was feeling extremely relaxed and laid-back and was enjoying just chilling and drinking coffee. I glanced at my watch to find it was 6.20pm – the workshop was supposed to start at 6pm! I rushed to the workshop room and found it empty except for one young man sitting at a desk doing his homework. Then I saw the organiser and apologised for being late. He said not to worry as there were two long queues of people waiting outside to come in!

On the surface I had no anxieties about the workshop at all, and yet deep-down I was clearly worried that I would not arrive on time and that nobody would turn up.

I met a colleague after the workshop and she mentioned that she too gets hardly any sleep before a workshop, even though she is very experienced and always well-prepared. That means that many of us may be running our workshops on just a few hours sleep. Imagine how much better they might be if we got a good night’s sleep beforehand!

Despite the lack of sleep, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Being somewhat anxious before a workshop (or rehearsal or gig) means that we care about it and are keen to get it right. Much better that than being complacent and thinking it will be a breeze. I truly believe that it’s the sign of a good teacher to remain worried about doing a good job, even though you may have done it many times before. The day I stop being nervous just before a concert is the day I should give up the job!

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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