Teaching: on the front line

May 28, 2004

What is your experience of teaching? Mandy Garner asks teachers how they manage

Name:  Val Taylor

Age: 49

Job: Lecturer in drama at the University of East Anglia

Salary: At the top of lecturer B scale (up to £34,838)

Qualifications: I returned to education as a mature student, graduating in drama and theatre studies from Royal Holloway College, University of London, in 1984. I trained as a theatre director at Columbia University, New York, on a Fulbright scholarship, working on and off-Broadway on directing assignments, including a musical with Mark Hamill (of Star Wars fame) as a 19th-century vaudeville star.

Practical training/ experience/background: As an undergraduate, I worked on Shakespeare productions at the BBC and the Donmar Warehouse and Piccadilly Theatres with Jonathan Miller. I've been directing theatre ever since, on the London Fringe, in Europe, the US and, more recently, in Norwich.

Hours spent teaching: At UEA, I spearhead undergraduate and postgraduate studies in scriptwriting for theatre, film, TV and radio. I am also working on joint projects with ITV/ Anglia and the regional film agency Screen East. This takes up most of my time, but I teach acting and directing, take my turn at directing assessed productions and teach academic classes.

Teaching hours vary wildly: if I'm directing, it eats up the working day, and often evenings and weekends.

Hours on red tape/teaching bugbear: For the past three years at UEA, the drama sector - which is very small - has been under the gun in terms of income-generation. We're a top-rated department, but practical drama is an expensive subject. In February, UEA stated its intention to axe the drama programmes. It has been a headlong process since then working to devise a strategy for the subject: working parties, spreadsheets, course outlines, "third-stream activities".

Hours on research: Much of my research is practice-based, so time on the ITV/Anglia and Screen East projects contributes, but it's hard to find research time during semesters.

Worst teaching moment? I've forgotten it, thank God.

Best teaching moment? Working with township children at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa, in 2002.

Funniest teaching moment? Several years ago, I was sitting in the sunshine by the campus lake marking when I looked down to see one of the ducks munching an exam script. I got the script back in (mostly) one piece, but there were some soggy bits. Duck spit didn't improve the essays.

Outside interests: I'm writing a short film with a terrific animator and a few other things. I love early music and jazz, an odd combination; walking and my garden.

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