You Want Drama in Your Life: On being a freelance speech & drama trainer


Author's Note

A career as a freelance speech & drama trainer is one that lets you merge your passion for the performing arts in theatre and teaching. Not only does such a career path provides you with the freedom of choosing who you want to work for, you also get to determine the number of hours you want to put in.

Getting started as a speech & drama trainer

It's a relatively small industry with few key players in the market. Most people don't get jobs through the traditional resume submission and interview but are employed through recommendations from friends who are already in the industry. A trainer usually teaches with more than one company for their own survival.

This is perhaps one of the few jobs where your qualification does not really matter until recently when there were policy changes* by the ministry and statutory boards to tighten up on the type of people entering the industry. Most people enter the industry with their experience alone: as theatre and arts practitioners.

Certainly, having a nicely minted qualification stating that you were trained in theatre looks great but what really matters is how you deliver content in the classroom to achieve the objectives of the programme. Companies need people who can deliver the goods in the classroom and those who can't, get weeded out very quickly.

This is very different compared to public schools where educators who would have otherwise been out of a job if they were freelancers, due to their lack of ability to deliver in the classroom, still get to remain teaching as long as they don't cross certain lines.

*Trainers are now required to be registered and approved by Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE). If you are not approved, you won't be able to teach in MOE schools. As of 2016, you will be required to be a certified Arts & Education trainer by the National Arts Council.

The job: speech & drama training

Different companies take on different approaches to inform you about jobs but most will send you a text message to check on your availability. Once the list of confirmed trainers are in, you will be called in for a briefing or the company might just send you an email brief about the programme.

Depending on the company, some may require you to go to the office to collect the notes while others may have someone from the company bring the set of notes to the location. You will usually need to report at least 30 minutes earlier before the start of your first lesson to meet the other trainers, collect notes and/or to receive further instructions.

Each time you get a class, a full session will be between 6 to 10 weeks. Most companies would prefer the same trainer to commit the entire duration of the programme. Otherwise, you end up on the sidelines waiting for your opportunity to be a substitute.

Once you begin to teach, you start to realise that teaching drama could be fun or a big headache. Different trainers have different preference for the levels they want to teach. Some prefer preschoolers, some prefer lower primary and there are even preferences for the different academic banding.

At the end of the day, what's most important is that you deliver what is expected of you by the company. That's what keeps you in the job.

There are no promotions in this job although there is one known company that has developed a career progression for their speech & drama trainers. Generally, trainers who are extremely good and well experienced also get opportunities to train drama clubs to send students for competitions.

When you get such opportunities, don't pass up on it because that also forms part of your portfolio. The more wins, the better it is for you and your pockets!

Pros and cons of being a freelance speech & drama trainer

As with all jobs, there are always things that one needs to look out for.

  1. You get paid by the hour (a pretty good sum if you're damn experienced!). Income is irregular, so on certain months you might not bring home much at all.
  2. As a freelance trainer, there are no benefits for you. No CPF, no medical or dental benefits, no unpaid or sick or compassionate leave. If you are sick, you better find someone to replace you, drag yourself to work or hope that the company can find someone to replace you.
  3. Just like public school educators, you are also an educator. Where public school educators do not have the capacity to teach that subject, that's where you come in to meet that learning gap. So, don't bullshit your content. Have integrity.
  4. Because you usually take up a few classes in a day, your classes might end up at the ends of the island. Travelling time and cost needs to be factored in. You don't want to end up rushing between locations in a cab because that's just not financially smart.
  5. If you're planning to travel on a holiday, you don't have to wait for the school holidays. You can just book and fly to your destination and you can also choose to be away for as long as you like because there is no such thing as leave.
  6. Reference to point 2, 4 and 5, you not only learn how to take better care of yourself, you also learn how to manage your finances better!
  7. There is hardly ever a day that you don't look forward to going to work. At least for some, most trainers certainly don't have this problem unless they aren't prepared.
  8. To survive long in this industry, you need to constantly work on self-improvement and you are solely responsible for it. Sign up for courses and learn new skills, because knowledge and experience are crucial towards helping you gain the upper hand over others in receiving jobs.
  9. Every time you are in the classroom, it turns into a playground or a war zone. Which one it becomes, you, as the general, will decide and determine.

    Your tolerance for noise and the ability to manage your students' creative outburst could be used as a leverage to turn the classroom into a playground where students get to learn from one another. But if you have a low tolerance for noise and are not able to manage your students, you might end up in a war zone where you are constantly trying to raise your voice to get them to listen and follow your instructions.

Concluding thoughts

Being in this career, you do become the envy of public school teachers for your flexible working hours, lack of reporting authority and for enjoying your work too much. You will also start to realise that most will begin to ask you how to become a freelance speech & drama trainer. Not surprisingly, there are actually quite a number of ex-teachers in the industry.

If you're thinking of making that career change, ask yourself if you love teaching, kids and drama because it really does take a love of those three to not just survive, but to really enjoy and excel in this industry.