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Teaching on a film set: ‘I’ve found myself in all sorts of bizarre locations’

Nov 6, 2017 by

Judith Phillips has taught child actors for a decade. She reveals the joys and challenges of squeezing in lessons between costume fittings and scene takes

A still from the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’d been a teacher for about 20 years when I confided in a colleague that I no longer enjoyed teaching in inner-city schools. Not long after, the lead tutor on the Harry Potter films called me to ask if I wanted to teach some of the children acting in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Since then, I’ve tutored young children working on the final Harry Potter films, on Assassin’s Creed, Jurassic World and The King’s Speech.

For Harry Potter, children would come into my classroom wearing their Hogwarts uniforms. Costumes can make lessons tricky because they’re often quite valuable and intricately designed. Even if a child just has one single piece of costume on, we’re not allowed to use things like ink, felt or glue in case it gets on the costume. Knowing this, I try to timetable any messier lessons for first thing in the day, before costume fittings.

There is no average day. I could be on call from as early as 8am, but I might not see my pupil until 3pm. Each lesson has to be a minimum of 30 minutes to count towards the weekly total, so if my pupil gets called away after just 20 minutes, we have to scrap the lesson from our records. Time is money on the filmset, so when you get a knock on the door saying they need your pupil on set, it’s not a case of finishing up what you’re working on – it’s put your pen down and go.

The maximum amount of time we can teach each pupil for is a maximum of five hours a day. It’s a rolling total, so you try to teach 15 hours by the end of the five day week, but you must have taught each pupil for 60 hours by the end of your four week block. It’s the difference between having a class of 30 children from 9am – 3pm and having a class of four children for a 12 hour day.

We can’t cover all of the subjects taught in schools because we don’t have the facilities, so we focus on maths, literacy and science. The work itself comes from the school, so I liaise closely with class teachers via email. My aim is that when a child returns to school, they won’t be sitting in the classroom thinking: “I have no idea what my teacher is talking about.”

Source: Teaching on a film set: ‘I’ve found myself in all sorts of bizarre locations’ | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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