Songs for the Struggling Artist

How to Keep Veteran Teaching Artists in the Field
November 19, 2012, 9:31 pm
Filed under: business, education | Tags: ,

I’ve been a teaching artist for something like 15 years. It’s a funny job. And most people do it for about three years and then move on to something else. Many teaching artists I’ve come across over the years take a gig or two, every so often, while they do other things. But there are also those of us who cobble it all together, stitching together teaching from various arts organizations to put together something like a living.
So this one’s mostly for them: The Vets

I was at a workshop in which the facilitator told us about these studies about keeping veteran teaching artists in the field. This made me laugh. A lot. They’re studying how to keep teaching artists in the field? Why don’t they just ask us?

How to Keep Veteran Teaching Artists in the Field

1) Value us. Value our experience. Almost everywhere I go, administrators/education directors seem to value the energetic young person more than the seasoned, questioning vet. The newly hired do not question your judgment. They do not fight for their rights. They are obliging and energetic. As a vet, with opinions and standards and experience, I sense how much of a pain in the ass you think I am, how much you wish I’d stop questioning, how much you’d rather deal with the happy recent recruit to the field. I see how much more work you give her/him.
2) Give us a raise for sticking around. Let us know with dollars that our experience is valuable. And listen – I know you don’t have the money for this. I know you’re up against budget cuts and so on. But could you maybe bump it up in small increments? A dollar for every year we’re with you? If I’d gotten a dollar for every year I was a Teaching Artist, I would have had a $15 dollar an hour raise by the end and it would probably have been relatively painless administratively to get that through. There are so few of us vets.
3) Honor our suggestions. Honor our requests. Ask for our advice. Look for opportunities to include us in decision-making. Give us a measure of control about where you send us.
4) Guarantees of work would be tremendous. The unpredictability of the field becomes a lot more stressful as we get older. For veterans, something like a retainer might be really assuring.
5) Make us employees. Let us join in on your health insurance. Is there a 401k? Bring us in. Promote us.
6) Pay attention to our art. Find opportunities for us to bring our actual art into teaching.
7) Tell us you value our years in the field. It really does help when you say it. (And mean it.)
8) Pay us to teach the newbies some special skills
9) Remember where we live. The travel becomes more and more enervating as we grow older. If you have to send us an hour away from our homes, pay us a travel stipend.
10) Our schedules are extremely complicated and balancing them is one of the most stressful parts of the job. Almost no one understands the crazy Jenga puzzle of a working Teaching Artist’s schedule. It would be amazing if someone could hire us to teach Mondays and then whether or not they have a residency for us, they pay us for Mondays. Total pipe dream, that one – but wow, would it help!


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