It is not always easy to teach improv! Especially when the students want to act out, not follow along, not focus with the class, or worse yet, when they pull focus from the class!
A few years ago, I had the great fortune to be teaching at Fork Union Military Academy. As you might suspect, it is an all boys high school, and it is located in VA. I had never been in the situation to teach such a school. After the first lesson, I explained to the boys that we work together, and never but never throw team members under the bus! By this I mean, we don’t insult, chide, or mock fellow students. In improv, it is going to be necessary to be or act silly, and that tends to make people feel vulnerable. Thus it is not a time to laugh at a person, but to laugh with and show support. Sure, that’s a tough concept to grasp, but generally speaking, most do.
Remember, this is an all boys boarding school. Their entire mindset is one of survival, to fit in and act cool. To insult, chide, and mock is everyday behavior for boys, which can be true for many men in an all male setting. This is not something I can say I understand, well, being a girl and all.
Non the less, it was part of the lesson to teach teamwork and respect for others. The end result on that first day was frustration. As I drove the long 60 minutes home, there was plenty of time to reflect and plan for the following weeks lesson. Nothing like a good car ride to clear the mind, and by the time I pulled into the drive way I had an answer.
The following week I started the class and explained that there would be no “throwing each other under the bus”! If this behavior occurred, the student doing the “throwing” would have to do 10 push ups. If it continued they would have to do 20 push ups! If it happened a third time it would be 30 push ups and “Mama” would sit on their back! In this case, I’m “Mama”! And if someone did do push ups and another student laughed at the person doing push ups they too did push ups!
That day only Malcome did push ups. He did a round of 10 push ups, and then around of 20. The second time he had to do push ups, Drake joined in saying “if he has to do them and we’re a team then I have to do them too”! Then Jake joined in, then Jonathan, soon all the boys in class did push ups with Malcome. I would have welled up with tears right then and there to see such team spirit, save for the fact that it was a boys school after all.
It never got to the point of “Mama” sitting on anyone’s back thankfully. The idea was scarier then the presumed pleasure derived from insulting or mocking a peer. They got the message, and taught me an unexpected lesson of team unity as well.