A group of people on stage in motion
A group of people on stage in motion

Dear Paul: Acting or teaching, which one should I Pursue?

Paul Kiernan

However, if we have fewer and fewer good, dedicated teachers, we are going to notice it. We are going to feel it as time goes by.

Dear Paul,

I like acting a lot and think it would be a fun job, but it doesn’t seem secure. Is it easier to be a teacher of acting because it’s more stable? Does it take the same amount of time to become a teacher as it does an actor? I think it would be better to just be a teacher and do acting on the side; what’s your thought?

In the Wings

women performing greyscale

Dear Wings,

Both occupations require a lot of dedication and sacrifice … a lot. Both are rather noble, but good teachers are very necessary for the whole of the population. If we don’t have good actors, the world will not collapse. As we have seen again and again with some of the “famous” actors who are making bank with very limited skills.

However, if we have fewer and fewer good, dedicated teachers, we are going to notice it. We are going to feel it as time goes by. It seems insane to me that a teacher doesn’t make as much money as a movie star or a pro athlete, or the CEO of some Fortune 500 company. What a teacher provides is practically priceless. When you look at how poorly paid most teachers are, and what they have to deal with to make our children better adults, it is soul-crushing. They have to spend their meager salaries on supplies for their classrooms; they have to be instructors, collaborators, emotional supporters, and so much more. And on top of that, whatever bad habits kids are picking up at home, teachers often get blamed for it. Teachers are also asked to deal with impossible situations and create miraculous outcomes with little to no help from society or the government.

Without teachers, this question couldn’t be asked, and certainly, this answer couldn’t be written. The silly idea that teachers have it easy because they get three months off needs to stop. Teachers work year-round, perhaps not in the classroom, but they are constantly working to improve their teaching skills, preparing for the coming year, and doing all they can to give our kids the best education and, thus, the best chances to succeed in life. Teachers are everyday miracles, and they should be respected and compensated as such.

As for being one or the other, well, as the others have said, you can do both. But, ask yourself, if you’re dividing your attention, are you giving what is truly required of teaching? I’m not saying you can’t I’m simply saying think about it. Having self-satisfaction is that as important as serving the students you’re looking to educate? Will they benefit from divided attention? Will you feel complete if you’re bouncing back and forth between the two?

Look, a lot of actors have day jobs; I have recently acquired one. Am I divided? Sometimes. But I’m not a teacher. That requires and demands another level of attention and care. Now, if you want to be a drama teacher or an acting teacher, great, you could do that. However, that comes with its own set of troubles. Some acting teachers cannot see the good in their students because they see themselves as being in competition with them. A good acting teacher’s goal is to make themselves obsolete. Teaching an actor is teaching them to no longer need you. Most actors cannot handle that kind of self-imposed obsolescence. But to be a truly good teacher of acting, you need to have the goal of your student surpassing you and never needing you. Maybe never even acknowledge that you helped them in any way. That can be a tough thing to handle if you don’t have complete confidence in yourself or if you went right from school into teaching and haven’t worked enough in the professional world.

Both occupations involve different sets of wants and needs. It’s a good idea to truly figure out what you want and what you need before you make this choice. Remember, with teaching; it’s not just you that’s involved; you have the hearts and minds of students to think about. Students that are coming to you with open eyes and hearts and asking you to make them the focus, make them the most important thing, and make their survival and their success in life vitally important. As you can probably tell, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some truly great teachers.

To be clear, I’m not saying don’t do both. I’m saying think about what you want to get out of each career and what you’re willing and able to give back to each career. What are you willing and able to sacrifice for each career because each one demands? From what I know of good teachers yes, they find their lives and careers very fulfilling.

 coffee mug with Keep Calm and Carry On Teaching on it

Now, to address the other part of your question: teaching is similar to acting.

I have heard this kind of statement before, and for some reason, it drives me insane. I’ve heard servers say, well, it’s like an acting gig. You have to be a different person with each table you approach. People who say that really don’t have any idea what acting is about.

How are they similar? Because you speak in front of people in both jobs? Because you say words in front of people? Well, that means every single job in the world can be similar to acting. Actually, you know what is just like an acting job? An acting job. Saying teaching is like acting because you speak in front of people is like saying working at the post office is like playing pro baseball. I swing packages up onto trucks; it’s like swinging a bat. People who say they are actors and that their day job is just like acting are saying that to compensate. Acting is a very specific set of tools and skills, and only employing those skills and tools can be defined as acting. Acting is not lying, nor is it waiting tables, teaching history, being a copywriter, or any other job that isn’t acting.

So, I have to say, I’m not sure where you got this idea, but teaching is not at all like acting, and acting is not at all like teaching, even if you’re teaching acting. They are two separate skill sets, and they both need their own set of tools and should be respected individually.

I hope that helps.