Friday, June 20, 2014

Teaching Artist

Wow. I just attended a 3-day intensive workshop for teaching artists organized by a new group, the New Orleans Teaching Artist Institute. Basically, this was the first opportunity for artists from many disciplines to get together and learn techniques necessary to enhance (or begin) their teaching practice. From how to write a compelling lesson plan to classroom management techniques to opportunities for arts integration (imagine learning geography through playacting!), this workshop covered a lot.

And what's more, the workshop's leaders employed techniques formulated for multiple learning intelligences and adult audiences. We didn't just sit and listen to lectures; we were encouraged to participate, get up and use our bodies to demonstrate (human bar graph, anyone?), be active learners. With each new interactive presentation, I found myself thinking, where did they learn to do that?

Personally, I loved every minute (yes, even the parts where I had to be a machine part making a funny noise). Not only did I get to meet and be immersed with a group of 40 or 50 other artists, I learned a ton about teaching that had always seemed magical to me. I had several epiphanies: teaching is an art form, that there are myriad ways to teach (and to learn), teaching may not be right for me.

Yep, that's right. Now, I'm not sure why, but I've always had and still have this resistance to the idea of being a teacher. Artist? Check. Teacher? Uh... Especially when I see teachers who are incredible doing what it seems they are meant to be doing. Could I ever be that great? Do I have that degree of passion for sharing? For students? And if not, should I be teaching?

However, when the president of the Arts Council spoke about advocacy, I had that lightning bolt hit me: THAT'S IT! I identified with the need for developing community and systematic support for teaching artists. Suddenly, where before I felt awkward and uncertain, I thought, this is where my talents lie. Advocacy. Community. Organization. Communication.

Even my resume seemed a little less scattered when I look at it that way: I have tons of experience with organizing and leading collaborative projects, as well as in communication, but not much teaching, and when classroom opportunities presented themselves, I rarely took them. Why?

Maybe it's like being in the theater, which I did throughout high school and college--yet never took any classes or declared it my major. I wanted to be involved, but backstage. Designing costumes. Applying makeup. Organizing actors. Imagining how the whole thing would come together.

So I learned something, but not what I expected to. Here's the image in my head, a throughline that I see in each of the projects I've been involved in: imagine a spider's web. At the center, a person or small group who keeps the overall concept in focus, knows where each thread leads, and who is at which spot on those threads. Moving outward, the core committee or team focusing on their own section of the whole, and then the volunteers or members who are helping to support or feed the work or to whom the work is directed. All of these people are interconnected, and communication is what ties the whole thing together, running in all directions. I think I'd like to be at the center, helping to ensure the project as a whole stays on track, offering support and connections to the rest of the team. Does that make sense?

Which isn't to say I wouldn't take a job teaching. Who knows? Maybe actually doing it would change my mind completely.

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