What it Takes to be an On-Set Teacher
For the teacher with a creative soul who is searching for a different environment in which to enrich his or her skill, educating child actors in an on-set teaching situation is a viable, unique alternative.
"You really get to teach," said on-set teacher Sally Rusk in an interview with OLE. "You get to work with students one-on-one or in small groups so you learn your students’ strength, weaknesses and learning styles so you can get some great interactions going."
On-set teaching affords the opportunity to work closer with a smaller group of students or even one-on-one. It also gives the teacher the chance to formulate more customized, creative lesson plans tailored more to how each child actor tends to learn best.
The atmosphere offers a close-up look into the world of a young actor on the set and the role of a teacher from a different perspective, suiting different educational needs. The school days are far from typical and the scenery and people can be constantly changing, depending on set location and client. There are no classroom four walls or rigid schedules and policies, but high academic standards must be maintained and best teaching practices must be implemented.
Here are a few things you may not realize about what it takes to be an on-set teacher:
• Standard academic subjects, such as Science, Math and English, are what the on-set teacher usually teaches to students in grades K-12. Rarely do on-set teachers teach non-academic subjects or fine arts, but sometimes there is a need for them to teach more specialized subjects.
• The on-set teacher should be credentialed and qualified to teach several academic subjects. The skill to teach a foreign language offers an advantage in the field as well.
In accordance with state laws and actors' union regulations, the on-set teacher should be certified to teach at least one K-12 subject.
• When it comes to personality, the most sought-after on-set teachers are those who have flexible schedules and personalities. It is also helpful for these educators to be able to go with the flow and endure an atmosphere than can be hectic, yet interesting.
Sally Rusk added: "I have been on TV shows, on feature films in studios and on locations in and out of the country. My classrooms have been very nice school trailers, a small tent on a glacier in Greenland, the top of the Reading Pagoda, a deck overlooking a Costa Rica rainforest, and on boxes in an abandoned factory. You never know where you will be teaching."
The scenery can be challenging, inspirational or require a little innovation.
"If you are lucky you get to visit some unusual locations and get to plan some amazing field trips for your students," Rusk said. "That may be just a walk around set, a guided tour around the block, or a hike across the glacier with the Stunt Coordinator."
And, amid what is sometimes a chaotic, bustling atmosphere, the on-set teacher must be equipped to ensure that the learning process is adhered to in class while interruptive circumstances can easily arise, including the classroom spot.
• Being able to improvise easily to fit the circumstance is a valuable trait in an on-set teacher.
"You have to think on your feet," Rusk told OLE. "It’s a challenge, but it’s also what I love. You never know what you will be teaching or how long your session will be with your student. Some students come prepared with lessons and work from their schools and others do not. Sometimes you have time to prep a lesson, but many times you have to get creative on the fly."
• The schedule flexibility of the on-set teacher educating child actors is beneficial to the teacher, as they are employed as independent contractors and, as such, have the opportunity to accept or decline projects that do not meet their interests or availability.
• The on-set teacher should be available for work during usual school hours, but most of the teaching work takes place between takes in production. There is some work during the summer for teachers who teach full-time at a public or private school, but, for the most part, work at the studios is during typical school weekday daytime hours, or a bit longer. The teacher should be available for usually nine-hour days or longer, depending on how the production schedule goes.
• Teaching assignments come in full-day and hourly assignments. A full day comprises the nine hours with breaks; and hourly project work requires the teacher to be there for certain blocks of time — about three or fewer. The full-day teachers get a daily rate, while the block work is paid for hourly.
• There are different projects that afford the on-set teacher different environments in which to teach. One of those environments is a national tour. Availability for travel of up to nine months at a clip is key for the touring teacher assignment.
The touring teacher must be certified in at least one of the 50 states in the U.S.
That's what it takes to be an on-set teacher. It's not for everyone, Rusk told OLE, but it's a great fit for a teacher who wants a unique experience, can offer flexibility and has a desire to work more closely with individual students and innovative teaching methods under a wide range of circumstances.
A common misconception is that on-set teaching is the same as the role of what is dubbed a studio teacher in California. The two are quite different in that studio teachers are required, in addition to teaching certifications, to have training similar to that of a social worker. Studio teachers in California are, by law, required to be child advocates as well.
Do you think you have what it takes to be an on-set teacher?
Start by completing our application form here.
Please send your résumé, a cover letter, and a completed registration form to our executive offices in New York:
On Location Education
400 Columbus Avenue, Suite 7S
Valhalla, NY 10595
I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries. ~ Frank Capra
Balance is important for performers of any age. It is essential to have an identity & interests outside of the entertainment industry.