The term drama is derived from the Greek word meaning “action”. What a wonderful way to describe the act of teaching! Perhaps this description is even more apt when alluding to the teaching of drama itself. Any teacher will tell you that no two days are alike, and that life with students is as unpredictable as the weather! Imagine the chaos of creativity that is evident when teaching with resources like plays, movies, radio and theatre.
It is onto this wonderful platform of art, colour and, indeed drama, that we step when meeting Low Kah Weng, affectionately known by his students as “Milo”; a Chinese teacher in the dramatic arts in Malaysia.
It all began for Milo when he realised that he had a special interest in creative works and performing arts in high school. At that time he had scant knowledge of theatre and drama so his initial plan was to venture into TV production. In pursuit of this goal he enrolled in the Malaysian Institute of Arts (MIA). During his varsity days he spent time with many peers and seniors who were actively involved in theatre work. These friends and class mates piqued his interest in this field even further and together they explored this exciting world experiencing everything from varsity performances, campus activities, auditions, training to camps.
It was at this stage that he became involved in guiding and teaching juniors. Through all these encounters, his understanding and love for theatre and drama grew and flourished. “It became an integral part of me that I found hard to let go”, he says now with fond regards of those memories. “More importantly, I enjoyed my studies and still love what I’m doing.”
His choice was not always an easy one, and this path has not been without its difficulties. Like most parents, Milo’s mother and father had wanted him to choose a more conventional career. Initially they were not supportive of his choice. Due to his modest upbringing, his parents were also concerned about the financial stability and viability of a future in the performing arts. “What made it more difficult to deal with was the fact that my parents didn’t really understand what it was that I actually wanted to do.”
I managed to convince them to allow me a three year grace period to explore this passion. If I failed, I agreed to change to a more stable and traditional type of job. “It mattered so much to me to do something that I was passionate about and thankfully – the rest is history!”
His work requires his schedule to align with that of his students. This makes for a rather different routine. He works from Monday to Saturday. Typically the work day starts in the afternoon at about 1pm, when school children complete their classes for the day. “My mornings are spent sleeping and resting,” he says with a deliciously decadent giggle.
Each lesson is approximately two hours long, and he teaches at two to three different schools every day. Most of the schools that he teaches at are secondary schools, particularly independent Chinese schools. His evenings are spent working on various freelance projects or in the preparation of training material for upcoming performances.
He also works on other production-related projects like script-writing and the development of screen plays. As if that were not enough, he ends his day by reading his students’ reports on their reflective thoughts. His day ends between midnight and 1am in the morning! Not for the faint hearted!
This might interest you: Are Teachers Micromanaging Students Too Much?
A typical lesson with Milo
His classes commence with warm-up exercises that can be as light as breathing or as intensive as muscle stretching and flexing. He has different modules which come in a variety of packages; allowing students to select subject matter that relates to their respective areas of interest or development. The available modules include voice projection, breathing techniques, observation and imitation skills and body movement. His course material also extends to production work like script writing.
Watching a class in session is an uplifting and often hilarious experience as students experiment with postures, their voices, and poses in their efforts to enact different roles. Sometimes it isn’t clear who is enjoying or learning the most from the classes as Milo admits that he is often inspired by his students. They constantly remind him of his passion for the performing arts, and he is kept on his toes by the young energy flowing through these sessions. “I really enjoy building relationships with my students.
The student-teacher interaction is very important to me, not only within the classroom situation but also beyond that.” His relationship with his students transcends that of teacher and often extends to one of councillor and confidant, especially when they are in need of his support and guidance. “The interaction that we share is genuine and real. It’s comforting to just being there for my students, and to see how much they have learned and grown both in terms of their performance skills, but also as individuals.” Arguably this is the most rewarding aspect of any teacher’s job.
The challenges of teaching drama
“I love what I’m doing”, says Milo.
Drama is not the only thing that is dynamic in Milo’s life. Unfortunately at times, both the income stream and schedule can be rather inconsistent. There are times of high stress that occur in conjunction with heavy workloads. This normally happens with the take on of school engagements, projects and performances. It is during these busy times that he is concerned about the quality of his classes. Tight deadlines often infuse more drama into the situation!
Milo also shares with us an incident when parents called and scolded him for roping in their children into the performing arts. In most cases parents don’t really understand what theatre is about, and how it can enhance and add value to the lives of their children. Parents often associate the theatre with undesirable behaviours. Think of the movie Dead Poets’ Society and how the friction between the father and son over the son’s passion for acting resulted in tragedy.
Thankfully there was a happier ending to this situation!
In the midst of all this however, Milo sees constructive changes that take place in his students’ lives. “I have students who were labelled as incompetent by their respective schools. These are often youths who skipped classes, behaved rudely or loitered about aimlessly without the appearance of any real purpose in their lives.” After their involvement in the performing arts, he is so often encouraged by the progressive transformation evident in these students.
They become actively involved in performances, and even write and act in their own screen-plays that showcase their hitherto unheard inner voices and thoughts. Many of these students represented their schools in theatre competitions and won the recognition and hearts of many.
“I am so proud of my students. It is the most inspiring phenomenon for me to see how theatre can make such a positive difference in their lives – as it has in mine!” Milo declares proudly.
Follow Milo’s day as a drama teacher by clicking on the video below: