Filed under: education | Tags: arts in education, Migrant Worker, Strawberries, teaching artist
When I first started teaching, I was thrilled to learn that what I did had its own title. I was so proud to call myself a Teaching Artist. If you’d met me at a party in that period and asked me what I did, I would have happily declared “I’m a teaching artist!” And when you didn’t know what that was, I would cheerfully launch into my standard explanation of “That means I go into schools and teach workshops and residencies in art, which in my case is theatre.” I gave this speech to one friend back in Virginia who said, “Ah, yes. You’re doing God’s work.” And I swelled with pride. So noble. So righteous.
That was 15 years ago. In the intervening years, quite a bit has changed. The landscape for Arts Education in New York City has changed. Teaching Artists’ positions within Arts In Education have changed and so have I.
I didn’t know much when I started all those years ago. I learned it all on the job. Being a Teaching Artist taught me many things and there was a constant dialogue between my art and the classroom. Teaching taught me how I wanted to direct and directing taught me new ways to teach. For years, that was a very rich exchange.
I have been fighting the devaluation of my skills and experience in the field for a long time now, pleading for credit for the contributions of me and my peers. I recently realized that it was a losing battle. I realized that the title of a teaching artist has been so greatly diminished that it has come to be more like a kind of migrant worker of Arts Education. Like, “Let’s get some teaching artists in here to pick these strawberries.” Or “Oh, these teaching artists, they won’t come to anything unless you pay them.” (Actual quote overheard by arts administrator from actual other arts administrator.) More and more, we get treated like petulant children who won’t do what we’re told, who must be corralled and organized.
It used to be that we were Artists first – acknowledged and valued for our Artistic skill outside the realm of the classroom. We were hired as consultants, expected to handle whatever came our way with our own expertise, our own artistic practice, our own aesthetics. Now that we’re (working-at-will) employees, we’re brought in once a year to get reprimanded and instructed in paperwork and then sent on our way to represent the organization in a specially marketed light. And I don’t get paid enough for that nonsense.
So, I’m hanging up my teaching artist shoes. This does not mean I won’t teach anymore. I’ll be happy to teach a Master Class or a workshop and/or residency as your Guest Artist but I’d like to give up my title as a Teaching Artist. It has ceased to be meaningful to me so I’d rather be called something else, thank you very much. Call me a Curriculum Consultant, a Mentor, an Artist, a Teacher, an Actor, a Writer, a Director – any of these are all right with me. But you can get someone else to pick your strawberries. I’d rather not be called a Teaching Artist anymore.
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