Fellows: on the front line

June 27, 2003

Pat Leon asks a winner of this year's National Teaching Fellowship Awards how he manages

Name: Allan Owens

Age: 46

Job: Senior lecturer in drama and theatre studies at Chester College of Higher Education.

Salary: £34,191

Qualifications: MA (Keele); BA (Sheffield); Fellow of Royal Society of Arts; PGCE (Sheffield); ADB Ed. Doing PhD part time (Warwick).

Experience: I have taught for 24 years. My first degree was in literature and politics, but drama allowed me to talk about the issues that fire and drive me. Through Chester projects I teach in Japan and Finland and have taught in Austria, Portugal, Italy, the US and the Czech Republic. My most fascinating period was using drama with teachers in Palestine before the intifada in 2000. I still run workshops on the Palestinian-Israeli situation. Drama cuts across the boundaries of age, ability and culture. I have worked with prisoners, senior citizens, club stewards, factory workers, postal workers, young people, police, nurses, doctors, consultant psychiatrists, clergy, historians, adults with learning difficulties and care workers. Outside traditional theatre and drama environments, I have created "active learning spaces" in prisons, residential homes, outdoor pursuit centres, nurseries, barns, castles, hospitals, pubs, churches, hotels, police stations, sports centres, boats and even a tractor factory.

Hours spent teaching: In theory, 440 hours a year. Some weeks it's ten, others it's 30.

Hours on red tape: I "relinquished" my programme-leader role last year and the drudgery dropped.

Hours on research: About 20 hours a week, mainly on the PhD.

Teaching bugbear: The shift to short modules has restricted what we can achieve with students in subjects such as drama. Ironically, I sometimes teach our Socrates students on longer or more intense courses in their home institutions in Europe than I teach my own students at Chester.

How would you solve it? Introduce courses of varying length according to the needs of students and the subject. Devise criteria to establish parity and transferability that are based less on compressed size and shape.

Teaching pleasures: I love that bitter-sweet moment when students are coming to the end of a module, course or project and they sense how much they have achieved, but that their group is about to disperse. It reminds me that achievement and loss are closely connected.

Tips: Check out that what you are proposing to do with the group is what they thought they were going to do. Allow their agenda into the room alongside yours.

Outside interests: My parents live in the Yorkshire Dales and I love walking there or on the Clwydians or in Snowdonia. I'm a black belt in atemi jujitsu.

Career highpoints: Being awarded a National Teaching Fellowship this year.

If I had an image to capture "teaching on the front line" it would be the slogan "Knowledge is Power" scrawled across a Palestinian school wall in the Gaza Strip as an Israeli soldier checked my passport, searched my bag and, in response to the reason I gave for being there, asked: "What do you mean - 'drama in education'?"

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