My Teaching History – Jim Thompson

I’d held a fascination in teaching from an early age. A lot of my older relatives are, or were, teachers. There was a lot of high regard held for the profession in my house as young kid.

When it came to me looking at my career options at school, I had put down ‘Teaching’ as one of them and was informed that perhaps, if I was lucky and got good grades, I “might” be good enough to become one.  Not exactly encouraging.

The thing is, I did have some great teachers when I was in High School. My favourite was, without a shadow of a doubt, Mr Peter Smith. He was the deputy head and taught Russian.

That’s right. Russian.

It was probably due to his infectious enthusiasm for the subject that led him to having a bigger class than Spanish and German put together.  What was even more exciting was the fact that he would bring things in; hats, books… bottles of vodka.  And he would often use humour as a way of teaching something that would make it stick in your head.

One thing about Russian (and yes, I could go out there and get by without having to speak much English) is that inflection is quite key. For example you could ask someone for a light OR you could tell someone you need to go to bed, just from your inflection.  Mr Peter Smith even took us all on an exchange to St Petersburg and got absolutely paralytic before us all going into the Ballet. The fact that the verb ‘to drink’ in Russian is ‘пить’ (peet), and his Ruskie counterpart called him Mr Pete for the rest of the trip was quite amusing for us and he never let us let him forget it. He was openly able to take the piss out of himself and we loved him for that.

That is something I passed on when I started teaching.

It all happened quite by chance. I was happily trying to get work as an actor, whilst working the Accounts Department of Saatchi & Saatchi in London, when I got asked if I was free to cover some Drama lessons for Harlow Ballet. This was quite a big thing as Harlow Ballet was, and still is, run by Michael Branwell.  He was also on the board of Equity, which is the Actors Union and hugely influential in the industry.

It was only supposed to be 4 Saturday’s while the usual tutor was off on a tour. Only they never came back. 

Now, let’s just get this clear, I had no experience of teaching. I had only just a year previously finished my 3 year Higher National Diploma course.  But like any decent actor, I had a bloody good memory and recalled what we did when I did my training. Only my students were 8 to 13 year olds, so I had to dumb it down and make it more fun. They hadn’t really chosen to be there, it was a Saturday afternoon class that parents paid for them to do while they went off and did the shopping.

I completely winged the first 4 weeks but I had an absolute ball. Playing silly games and getting involved in improvisations with the kids. I always have and always will get involved in doing the very thing I teach. I’ve found leading my example is a great way of gaining trust and instilling confidence in people. In children, teenagers and adults. Everyone is essentially the same. To teach someone is to give them the confidence to use the information you’re impairing upon them.  Whether you do that through tests (nah, not for me) or by practical guidance, at the heart of it you give someone a pearl of wisdom and see if they understand it through recall.

I found that within those 4, very important, weeks I was not only getting these kids to learn things but I absolutely loved sharing my knowledge.

I had to stop teaching at Harlow Ballet after a few years as it was clashing with my acting. For two years on the trot, I was performing panto and teaching at the same time. A matinee as Prince Charming at the Harlow Playhouse led to me rushing upstairs to teach 90 minutes of drama – in full costume, and then finishing just as we were given the half hour call to get ready for the evening performance. The kids were gutted, as was I, but there was not easy way to make it all work.

I then went off and did some professional work in and around Grays and Borehamwood. By then I had a very understanding boss while working as a Credit Controller for an insurance company in Harlow, I was able to go to auditions and jobs as and when they came up. I was an alien in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy movie, I have worked with most of the puppeteers responsible for lots of Kids TV puppets and I was also doing a lot of immersive theatre. I got one job acting in a theatre show called ‘Teechers’ and playing one of the parts was an actress who was getting a lot of TV work at the time. She came up to me at the end of the run and asked if I would be able to cover some drama classes for her parents Performing Arts school in Hornchurch. The money was decent and I was able to arrange my day job around this new teaching post. I was teaching at the highest level here. These kids were actively working in the industry and some have gone on to have very successful careers.

I taught there for a few years before moving on and teaching in Harlow, Benfleet and Billericay, through the contacts I had made. I was teaching ages from 4 years old all the way up to 60 years young. Each age bringing its own challenges but I would always explain why I was teaching them things and how it would help them. One of my proudest achievements was enabling an asthmatic science assistant from GSK to perform in front of a paying audience, a 90 minute show, with no script.  You can see sections of this show on my Youtube channel – Thompson Promotions UK.  She performed with 3 other seasoned performers and you will struggle to tell me which one was the scientist. 

Eventually, in 2014, found myself teaching the very same course I had attended myself (albeit in a different college). I’d come full circle. My Oftsed inspection gave me an ‘Outstanding’ grade on my teaching abilities.  I was definitely feeling a bit smug about that.  My lessons were planned to the minute, my reports were in depth and I explained clearly throughout all of my classes what we were going to cover, how we would cover it and what I would expect from my students at the end of each session.

Personally, I had found my groove, my comfort zone, and with my students hitting a 60% Distinction rate I knew I had achieved what I had set out to do all those years ago in my Career Options session in that small County High School in Northumberland. 

But life has a way of throwing curve balls at you. I had to finish being a college tutor after just two years.  Money can be an evil temptress. I was lured away with a cushy contract writing, producing and performing shows week after week. I even set up a staff training program at my new place of employment, which is still used today (so I’m told).

But teaching, the passing on of information, the ignition of a passion, is still what gives me my ultimate fix… well, that and the applause of an audience when I am in a show myself.

It’s for that reason I have started putting small bits of acting and speaking lessons online, on my Youtube channel. It’s also why I have been working with Sarah Holmes over the last 2 and bit years on Communicate with Confidence to help people gain that surefootedness while standing in a room of peers. Giving people the power to stand on their own two feet and show themselves off to the world is a wonderful feeling. Seeing their smile warms my soul.

So, as me and Sarah would advise… do I have a conclusion to my talk?

Yes, it’s pretty simple.

I want to teach you.  Do you want to learn?

I’d held a fascination in teaching from an early age. A lot of my older relatives are, or were, teachers. There was a lot of high regard held for the profession in my house as young kid.

When it came to me looking at my career options at school, I had put down ‘Teaching’ as one of them and was informed that perhaps, if I was lucky and got good grades, I “might” be good enough to become one.  Not exactly encouraging.

The thing is, I did have some great teachers when I was in High School. My favourite was, without a shadow of a doubt, Mr Peter Smith. He was the deputy head and taught Russian.

That’s right. Russian.

It was probably due to his infectious enthusiasm for the subject that led him to having a bigger class than Spanish and German put together.  What was even more exciting was the fact that he would bring things in; hats, books… bottles of vodka.  And he would often use humour as a way of teaching something that would make it stick in your head.

One thing about Russian (and yes, I could go out there and get by without having to speak much English) is that inflection is quite key. For example you could ask someone for a light OR you could tell someone you need to go to bed, just from your inflection.  Mr Peter Smith even took us all on an exchange to St Petersburg and got absolutely paralytic before us all going into the Ballet. The fact that the verb ‘to drink’ in Russian is ‘пить’ (peet), and his Ruskie counterpart called him Mr Pete for the rest of the trip was quite amusing for us and he never let us let him forget it. He was openly able to take the piss out of himself and we loved him for that.

That is something I passed on when I started teaching.

It all happened quite by chance. I was happily trying to get work as an actor, whilst working the Accounts Department of Saatchi & Saatchi in London, when I got asked if I was free to cover some Drama lessons for Harlow Ballet. This was quite a big thing as Harlow Ballet was, and still is, run by Michael Branwell.  He was also on the board of Equity, which is the Actors Union and hugely influential in the industry.

It was only supposed to be 4 Saturday’s while the usual tutor was off on a tour. Only they never came back. 

Now, let’s just get this clear, I had no experience of teaching. I had only just a year previously finished my 3 year Higher National Diploma course.  But like any decent actor, I had a bloody good memory and recalled what we did when I did my training. Only my students were 8 to 13 year olds, so I had to dumb it down and make it more fun. They hadn’t really chosen to be there, it was a Saturday afternoon class that parents paid for them to do while they went off and did the shopping.

I completely winged the first 4 weeks but I had an absolute ball. Playing silly games and getting involved in improvisations with the kids. I always have and always will get involved in doing the very thing I teach. I’ve found leading my example is a great way of gaining trust and instilling confidence in people. In children, teenagers and adults. Everyone is essentially the same. To teach someone is to give them the confidence to use the information you’re impairing upon them.  Whether you do that through tests (nah, not for me) or by practical guidance, at the heart of it you give someone a pearl of wisdom and see if they understand it through recall.

I found that within those 4, very important, weeks I was not only getting these kids to learn things but I absolutely loved sharing my knowledge.

I had to stop teaching at Harlow Ballet after a few years as it was clashing with my acting. For two years on the trot, I was performing panto and teaching at the same time. A matinee as Prince Charming at the Harlow Playhouse led to me rushing upstairs to teach 90 minutes of drama – in full costume, and then finishing just as we were given the half hour call to get ready for the evening performance. The kids were gutted, as was I, but there was not easy way to make it all work.

I then went off and did some professional work in and around Grays and Borehamwood. By then I had a very understanding boss while working as a Credit Controller for an insurance company in Harlow, I was able to go to auditions and jobs as and when they came up. I was an alien in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy movie, I have worked with most of the puppeteers responsible for lots of Kids TV puppets and I was also doing a lot of immersive theatre. I got one job acting in a theatre show called ‘Teechers’ and playing one of the parts was an actress who was getting a lot of TV work at the time. She came up to me at the end of the run and asked if I would be able to cover some drama classes for her parents Performing Arts school in Hornchurch. The money was decent and I was able to arrange my day job around this new teaching post. I was teaching at the highest level here. These kids were actively working in the industry and some have gone on to have very successful careers.

I taught there for a few years before moving on and teaching in Harlow, Benfleet and Billericay, through the contacts I had made. I was teaching ages from 4 years old all the way up to 60 years young. Each age bringing its own challenges but I would always explain why I was teaching them things and how it would help them. One of my proudest achievements was enabling an asthmatic science assistant from GSK to perform in front of a paying audience, a 90 minute show, with no script.  You can see sections of this show on my Youtube channel – Thompson Promotions UK.  She performed with 3 other seasoned performers and you will struggle to tell me which one was the scientist. 

Eventually, in 2014, found myself teaching the very same course I had attended myself (albeit in a different college). I’d come full circle. My Oftsed inspection gave me an ‘Outstanding’ grade on my teaching abilities.  I was definitely feeling a bit smug about that.  My lessons were planned to the minute, my reports were in depth and I explained clearly throughout all of my classes what we were going to cover, how we would cover it and what I would expect from my students at the end of each session.

Personally, I had found my groove, my comfort zone, and with my students hitting a 60% Distinction rate I knew I had achieved what I had set out to do all those years ago in my Career Options session in that small County High School in Northumberland. 

But life has a way of throwing curve balls at you. I had to finish being a college tutor after just two years.  Money can be an evil temptress. I was lured away with a cushy contract writing, producing and performing shows week after week. I even set up a staff training program at my new place of employment, which is still used today (so I’m told).

But teaching, the passing on of information, the ignition of a passion, is still what gives me my ultimate fix… well, that and the applause of an audience when I am in a show myself.

It’s for that reason I have started putting small bits of acting and speaking lessons online, on my Youtube channel. It’s also why I have been working with Sarah Holmes over the last 2 and bit years on Communicate with Confidence to help people gain that surefootedness while standing in a room of peers. Giving people the power to stand on their own two feet and show themselves off to the world is a wonderful feeling. Seeing their smile warms my soul.

So, as me and Sarah would advise… do I have a conclusion to my talk?

Yes, it’s pretty simple.

I want to teach you.  Do you want to learn?

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