Friday, May 14, 2010

Why I teach...

Yesterday was just one of those days. I hadn't slept much the night before because of copious lesson planning. I had to wake up extra early to review student videos and refresh myself on the choreography I'd be teaching that afternoon. I spent more time that I had planned searching for my camera because it was my turn to document classroom work. I spent my morning at PS 27 in Red Hook teaching creative writing to fourth grade. On my way back to Sheepshead Bay's PS 209 for my typical Thursday, working with fifth and second grade, the F train decided to act crazy, and the trip took a full hour longer than usual, completely ruining my plans for a nap/ lunch at my apartment before the afternoon. My second grade students (to whom I affectionately refer as the 'problem children' on good days) had spent their first hour of the program playing outside, and when they came to me at 4:30p, adrenaline was pumping, and my hopes of teaching the next piece of their dance were quickly replaced with the desperate need to keep them from hurting themselves and each other. Needless to say, it was not their finest hour. And honestly, it wasn't mine either. Walking home that evening, physically and emotionally exhausted I found myself asking, "Why on earth did I sign up for this?"

Honestly, I sort of fell into teaching. It wasn't something I had always dreamed of doing. Teaching was actually one of the very few professions I DIDN'T consider when I was a high school student. I come from a family of teachers, and grew up meeting former students of my grandmother who swore she changed their lives. I distinctly remember the pride and elation my family experienced at my father's well-earned Teacher of the Year recognition. It was very clear to me that the teachers in my family had done great things and hugely impacted the lives of countless students, but I wasn't terribly interested in any of that for myself. My sister and some cousins readily heeded the calling of our incredibly prominent "teacher genes", but I resisted. I had found my calling in art, and my tunnel vision pushed aside any thoughts of side-careers. 

I wrestled with my conscience about the apparently self-serving nature of this choice- after witnessing the profound impact that my family members (mostly teachers and nurses) had on the lives of others, I was concerned that I wouldn't be fulfilled if I wasn't making the world a better place. Upon the announcement of my official decision pursue an education and career in acting, my internal struggle became more intense. After moving to NYC, studying acting and starting my career, my nagging concern turned into an agonizing distraction; at the end of the day, I needed to know that some small corner of the world was better off from my contributions. 

I first looked into the world of theatre as a tool for social change, which opened doors to opportunities in multiple art fields, which eventually lead me down the path of arts for kids and ultimately to the world of arts-in-education. Five years ago, I didn't even know what a teaching artist was, but I'm so happy I stumbled down this path! Some of my happiest moments in recent memory have been watching students surpass their own expectations of themselves while flourishing in the arts. I find myself in a place where I can pursue my arts career AND enrich the minds of the kids I work with, and that's a pretty cool thing.

Myself with a Brooklyn student creating a poem inspired by another student's artwork. 

Doing a dramatic technique workshop with a group of high school actors (I'm on the left- I sort of blend in with this age group). 

Some Brooklyn students through Community Word Project responding to art created by other students.

Making art with my kindergarten students at the YWCA's afterschool program.