IN BRIEF Passion plus experience equals a lesson to remember.
A burly, smiling man welcomes you into the auditorium. This warm and engaging host is Matthew Roberts, the writer and performer of TEACH, a 50-minute reality check of the embattled world of UK education, infused with research, poetry and inspiration. Matthew takes us on a passionate and deeply personal journey through the highs and lows of his 16 years of teaching experience, at times starkly illustrating the price he has paid for doing a job he loves.
He wisely structures the show into chapters, using as chapter opening points statistical quotes from a research book entitled “How To Survive In Teaching”, the pointed title of which underlines the stress and pressure teachers have to find a way to endure each day, as well as supporting his own experience sounding more widely representative. Under threat from all sides, colleagues, the system, pupils, it’s a wonder anyone actually teaches in the UK. But Roberts highlights the motivator that keeps many fuelled long after they have run out of other resources – belief in the power of teaching to improve young lives and the desire to build a better, more well-educated and informed society.
During the show, the audience are presented with an interactive vote three times – should Roberts stay or leave teaching? This is a changing tally and cleverly asks the audience to make the difficult decision he himself must have faced on a regular basis.
Roberts takes us through his journey from that first teacher who inspired him with her vision, through teaching in China, to returning to teach in the UK and the many sacrifices he had to make along the way – money, a relationship, family events, his own wellbeing. He talks about how a pupil “just trying” was enough to spark his teaching drive, of his deep concern for those in his remit, of harassment from staff and pupils, violence and murder, and of witnessing “a bottomless pit of need”. His daily struggle to reconcile his values and ethics against the cost- and corner-cutting of his colleagues is both alarming and affecting.
Roberts is an engaging and sincere presence, who interacts with us directly, not only through the three votes we have to make during the show, but also in his earnest reminder that each of us is a teacher, by the things we do and the way we do them. People learn from others’ behaviour and so he implores us to be the best teachers we can be in life; a good lesson to take away from any show.
His passion shines through in every word of this tightly-constructed and directed (by Helen Tennison) show, and it finds traction in his audience, who respond to the show as warmly and enthusiastically as he has presented it. It’s a must-see, not only for teachers, but for anyone who wants our society to be better. TEACH is an essential lesson in humanity. See it and learn.
TEACH plays at The Space at the Surgeon’s Hall, 4.05pm daily to Aug 24 (not 11). Tickets and information here
Note: All Edinburgh shows were seen in preview and therefore it didn’t feel appropriate or fair to star-rate them