Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Dear Teaching Artists:

Please give to ATA.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Dancer or the Dance?

A recent article in Education Week trumpets "Schools Integrate Dance into Core Academics".

Hurrah...I think.

I mean, yet again, we are presented with a shining example of Teaching Artists working extremely hard to prove the art's worth and value as a tool to augment a failing educational system’s “core” curriculum.

But Arts Integration works! 


If we can change nothing else, I propose we at least change the term “arts integration” to ARTIST INTEGRATION.

Let's give credit where credit is due.

Is it the art, or the ARTIST that makes the difference?

Is it the DANCER or the Dance?

Is it our art-form that increases levels of student engagement and makes for a better learning environment, or is it us?

Maybe these Teaching Artists are just good teachers?

Perhaps our habits of mind, and the fact that art is a form of communication, make some of us really effective in the classroom?

If the thing formerly known as arts integration is effective, then perhaps  students in teacher training programs should be studying how Teaching Artists operate? We could model best practices.

Also: US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urges states to cut expensive masters degree bonus programs from the budget. According to an Associated Press article  “Duncan told the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday that master's degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn't work.” At the same event, billionaire Bill Gates said "My own state of Washington has an average salary bump of nearly $11,000 for a master's degree - and more than half of our teachers get it. That's more than $300 million every year that doesn't help kids.”

OMG. I thought they wanted us to enter the world of higher education. I'm so confused!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Like I said last time, I think that Teaching Artists will enjoy the high professional status of plumbers only after we can manage to do two big things:

First, I think that we have to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of accountability in our work. That means we have to have a group of representatives draft a set of core standards and a list of professional competencies that we can all hew to and hate on.

Sure, we’ll bicker, but they will be there, our high standards, uniting us and broadcasting our professional identity as Teaching Artists from sea to shining sea.

And they shall know us  by our jargon.

We have so many terrific starting points for this national conversation. We just need a union, some snazzy letterhead, and an interview with the Wizard.

Secondly, we have to create effective and affordable Teaching Artist training programs that are separate and distinct from the MA programs that train and certify regular classroom teachers.

These Teaching Artist training programs should definitely be in universities, or wherever, I don't care, just as long as they don't cost emerging TAs an arm and a leg, and graduates can get a paper at the end that qualifies them to teach in a public school and earn an actual salary.

Public education is where arts education belongs.

Third, I know I said two, but this is my holiday appeal, so, THIRDLY, we have to get serious and coalesce into something that looks like an actual profession.  The research says we aren't managing to make a collective living in this field we care so passionately about.

According to the previewed results of the Teaching Artist Research Project, the average TA made $17,000 last year.


Stop laughing.

It's true, and it's just ridiculous.

Why are we training people to be Teaching Artists through these MA programs if there are no decent jobs for them? How are emerging TAs supposed to be able to pay off their massive student loans while earning $17,000 per year?

We need to do some community organizing. Studs Terkel didn't hate unions, and that's good enough for me. Capitalism, you might have noticed?

So, if we are going to survive, I think we should pool our resources and get what all the other professions have: plush national and regional offices with overpaid administrators, and lobbyists whose sole job is to make darn sure that Teaching Artists get what we need to get and stay middle class. I am referring to the holy grail of American middle class existence: A living wage, a pension plan and affordable health care. Face it, this may be the last period in American history that these things are in any way attainable and I think we need to move fast as a group, or we’re toast. 

This holiday season, and until our Bastille Day arrives, please, join something nascent that has the feel of a movement. Join and give your time, expertise, and cash for the collective good of Teaching Artists everywhere. It's for your own good.

You’ve got so many choices:

Chicago Teaching Artists Collective is in the middle. At least, they were earlier in the decade. Chicago, are you there?

Please, give to ATA this holiday season.

Give an amount that's significant and meaningful to you.

Next Time on ATA Blog: "It's A Trap" In which I express the creeping feeling that our love for arts integration means we'll always be second-class educators.

Also: Let's Push Things Forward - The Streets

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I am a professional Teaching Artist. I work in a variety of contexts. Like most veteran TAs, I've taught all over: universities, public schools, private schools, classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, gymnasiums, basketball courts, mobile “temporary” classrooms, hallways, stairwells, lobbies, amphitheaters, black-box theaters, outdoor theaters, dance studios, art galleries, offices, prisons, women’s shelters, community centers, storefronts, churches, church basements, regular basements, parking lots, sidewalks and in the street, among other places. 
I still don't know how this thing works.
I have facilitated classes for everyone from infants to seniors. I've taught in English and Spanglish, and something that felt like charades. I dutifully went to school, and I have an MFA that cost too much money. Over the past few years, perusing Craigslist, I’ve seen TA jobs that offered anywhere from $10 per workshop, to $15 per workshop, to $20 per workshop and less. Over the last ten years, I’ve had gigs that paid me something like the following range of fees: zero dollars, $30 per workshop, $45 per workshop, $80 per workshop, $150 per workshop, $175 per workshop and hundreds of dollars per day, all to do what I consider to be, basically, the same kind of intellectual and physical labor.  
I have been a volunteer, begrudgingly, and only for people, and causes, and organizations that I really trust, care about, and admire. I rationalize this by reminding myself that people rarely ask a plumber to volunteer. We have too much respect for a plumber's training and expertise, and expect to pay for it. I would like to think I’m in a profession that as valuable and respected, but I’m pretty sure I’m not because plumbers usually get paid up front.
I think that Teaching Artists will achieve the status of plumbers only after we can manage to do two big things. 
I'll talk about those tomorrow, or like, whenever I can get to it.
In the meantime, give a donation to ATA before the end of the year, please. Give an amount that's significant and meaningful to you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Art is Again the Answer

Someone, I think it was me, recently asked this question:

Is the professional artist with no advanced degree, certification or background in education really qualified to teach?

The short answer  is “Yes, of course@^**&%What? Are you kidding?" 

Yes, yes and, for the last time, yes, artists with no advanced degrees in education are totally qualified to teach. Some of us, right out of the box. 

Here’s one reason why:


Seriously, Ken Robinson is not the first person in the history of the world to point out that creative play is the skill set of the future. John Dewey, who is long dead, goes on and on about imaginative play; noting that, especially in early childhood, play is a “purposeful activity” that has “an end in the sense of a directing idea.” Sure, he makes it sound boring, but if you can manage to get to the end of a passage, you'll realize that Dewey's absolutely on our side.

“In their intrinsic meaning, play and industry are by no means so antithetical to one another as is often assumed...Both involve ends consciously entertained and the selection and adaptations of materials and processes designed to effect the desired ends.” 

See? After much comparing and contrasting and an ironically dreary passage about drudgery, Dewey offers another gem of the ocean:

“Education has no more serious responsibility than making adequate provision for enjoyment of recreative leisure; not only for the sake of immediate health, but still more if possible for the sake of its lasting effect upon habits of mind. Art is again the answer to this demand.”

I don't know about you, but I feel validated.

Get to work!

Also: Cathleen P. Black went to private schools and sent her children to private schools. She has no advanced degree in education, no certifications and, virtually, no experience in public education at all. Ms. Black is going to be the new chancellor of New York City Schools.

Laugh it up.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Enough About Me

For the past two years or so, ATA blog has been, for me, a sort of diary. Sometimes I get serious and write about the hows and whys and ways in which we teach and my favorite books. Often, I just post links to my favorite music videos and complain about how hard it is to make a dollar and a dream.   The issues I write about arise from my experience as a community-oriented teaching artist, and from my strong belief that art is probably the answer, no matter the question. This blog is advocacy, but it’s also kind of an ongoing art project.

I usually begin by acknowledging the truth, which is hardly ever easy, at least in the beginning. The current reality, for many of us, is that we have full artistic lives, we teach part-time, we probably have inadequate training as teachers (at least in the beginning), and we are, generally, poorly compensated.[1]

We arrive in the classroom through many different doorways, some of us by necessity, some of us because we feel we are called to teach.[2]

We do our work in a variety of contexts—schools, church basements—and, although many of us have advanced degrees in education or art, many of us don’t. Many of us learned, or are learning, how to teach on the job. In a supposedly professional field, this reality raises big questions:

Is the professional artist with no advanced degree, certification or background in education really qualified to teach?

What are the qualities of effective teaching and what basic skills, competencies and understandings should a professional teaching artist possess?

This blog addresses these questions over and over and over again because the terrain keeps presenting new challenges. As Dale Davis, ATA's Executive Director often requests, please contribute to ATA, and email your thoughts, comments and links to things that TAs might use. Your input helps make ATA a resource for teaching artists who, "qualified" or not, are out there doing the work.

Go Teach!

Also: The Trammps - Disco Inferno

[1] Teaching Artist Research Project http://www.nea.gov/research/Workforce-Forum/PDF/Rabkin.pdf

[2] Teaching Artists and their Work http://www.teachingartists.com/Association%20of%20Teaching%20Artists%20Survey%20Results.pdf

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What You Said

Dale Davis, Executive Director of the Association of Teaching Artists, reports that Teaching Artists from all fifty states and the District of Columbia responded to ATA's latest survey. The results of Teaching Artists and Their Work (PDF) add valuable insights to the ongoing conversation about Teaching Artists; providing information, resources and data for advocates, administrators and TAs. The responses are available for download, and may be discussed, at your leisure, on ATA's Facebook page, or wherever TAs hang out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I am sort of interviewing Teaching Artists in my spare time, to find out what they think about our craft and our professional identity as TAs. Here is the start of an interview I conducted over lunch with Anthem Salgado, a leading Bay Area Teaching Artist. It has been lightly edited, because sometimes we stopped interviewing to talk about food and whatnot.


Q: How long have you been a TA?
A: On and off for about…oh my gosh, well if you count like the very first workshop I ever gave, I dunno, eleven years?
Q: How long have you considered yourself a professional teaching artist then? Is that different?
A: Well, it’s still on and off. I started getting paid gigs...even back then it's inconsistent. Probably the most consistent, when I started getting consistent work, was maybe five or six years ago? Even then that wasn't all the time consistent. It was just more regular than it ever had been up to that point.
Q: Is there a kind of a line between being a kind of sometime teaching artist and a professional, like “now, I’m a professional?”
A: (Nods) Like, yeah. “Now, I'm doing this pretty frequently…designing classes, you know, I’m having a style that I'm working towards, I have a methodology, a philosophy?” Yeah, then maybe that would be about five years ago I would have started conjuring those ideas more deeply.
Q: What makes a professional teaching artist?
A: I think…(laughs) well, uh, it's such a huge question. There are so many ways to answer it. I think number one is there's gotta be training.... I think training is a big part of it, because I feel like, even when I started giving workshops it took me a while to figure out how to do them properly…to develop your sort of like teacher persona. And that's something that you get with experience and training. I think you gotta have, like any organization or any person doing anything, you gotta have a commitment to certain values, which drives the whole project forward. And those are the kinds of…when you really check in with your values that's how you find out how you're going to teach certain skills, why you're teaching certain skills, what benefit you see your students getting. And those all come from what you value.
Like, I value the narrative…empowering people. So for me, I'm really interested in teaching people basic storytelling skills. And a lot of people ask me technical questions about theater or acting, but I think ultimately, and I say this all the time, you can get technical skills all kinds of different places. But my personal emphasis as a teaching artist, for performance, is I want people to really get to a place where they can connect as humans with themselves, with the audience, with their fellow scene partners. And when we have that human connection, then they can do all the more technical study after that. But for me, because I know that's what I value as a person, that's what I emphasize in my teaching, you know…for example. (laughs)

Thus ended the lunch. Thanks to Anthem for being so generous as to share. I will post more interviews, or something else, soon, or at some point.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Short Bursts of Light

Yes, I know I said I was done here, but I've missed keeping this journal, and have therefore decided I'm going to post whenever I feel like it, because why not?

I am new to San Francisco, and the world is still spinning, so last night I hopped on BART, which is what they call public transportation in this town, and headed to Berkeley to hang out with the other Teaching Artists at an event sponsored by Teaching Artists Organized (TAO).

I'm so glad I attended, for TAO is just what it says; a super-organized group of TAs led by Executive Director Sabrina Klein and an executive committee of teaching artists and administrators.

Researcher Nick Rabkin, who is in town for the National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference, presented the results of the Teaching Artist Research Project (PDF) and I live-tweeted the event on Twitter. You can read my brief notes here. I warn you, there was quite a spread, and it's hard to Tweet while eating crackers.

Off to the races!