Finding Myself in the Classroom

“I don’t feel like myself this week. It’s like I’m someone else, and I don’t like that person.”

Now before you diagnose me with schizophrenia, let me explain.

This is what I said to our education director last week as I was describing some of the challenges I was encountering while teaching a 5th grade Building Community Through Drama residency. My perception of my facilitation in the classroom last week was that I was serious and impatient. I also wasn’t having as much fun as I could be having because I was feeling so unsure of myself.

I’ve talked to some of the other teaching artists at Metro, and they all seem to agree that the physical environment, class structure and whether or not you have developed the curriculum are all factors that affect one’s teaching style. While this was not the first residency I’ve taught, most of my teaching artist experience has included a theatre studio of some sort, teaching classes that the young people have chosen to sign up for, and curriculum that I have had a part in designing. But in an in-school residency, I’m in someone else’s classroom, teaching curriculum that is already established (and for good reason- these are strong lessons), and though the activities are fun, we are breaking the students’ school day routine. Inevitably, it’s going to take longer than I’m used to for the young people to buy into the work and trust me, the teaching artist.  And that, in turn, has been affecting my teaching style.

I’m not actually a different person in these residencies –I just don’t know what my style is in that environment yet. I know who I am as a teaching artist in other class structures, but now I need to figure out how to bring more of who I am into my time in this one.

While I’ve been assured that all of this uncertainty I’m feeling is completely valid and normal, it’s also downright uncomfortable. I don’t want to feel like a different person when I’m in a classroom. I want to be me. I want to be that energized, playful, fun teaching artist that I know I am. And here’s where the big lesson of the week comes in: the only way to gain that confidence, the only way to find my in-school teaching artist groove, is to do more of it. The way to get more comfortable, is to put myself in more situations that make me uncomfortable.

Well that hardly seems fair.

But discomfort often means that some sort of growth is happening. Discomfort is good. It reminds us that we’re human. And if you’re anything like me (read: a perfectionist), these reminders of human fallibility are so necessary. I was uncomfortable this week because I was learning. Not just a new curriculum- but more about my teaching artist self. Even with the undercurrent of uncertainty and self-doubt that bubbled up (and sometimes over) this week, it was still a success. And you know how I know that? Because I learned something.

Is your teaching style affected by your environment? How?

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3 thoughts on “Finding Myself in the Classroom

  1. Your reflections on this topic are so interesting to read and I want weigh in by saying that you are completely right that he only way to gain that confidence, the only way to find my in-school teaching artist groove, is to do more of it. I speak as someone who has done some of my educational drama classroom sessions several hundred times. It is the repeated presentations that have made me know that what I am doing is good and will be well-received by the students–even if they look askance at me at the start. I think that they best way to gain this positive presupposition about the students you will work with is to keep on keeping on! Success breeds success and confidence. (Some of my best teaching artist work habits emerged from classroom events that went dreadfully wrong!) I read somewhere that it takes something like 10,000 repetitions of an activity to become an “expert” at it. You are most certainly on your way!

  2. A few years ago someone who had worked with me in a variety of places noted that when I was in a classroom doing arts integration work I ‘put on’ being a teacher. That I lost the personality, humor and passion for the arts that I bring when working more artistically. When you teach these in class residencies you are an organized, knowledgable, competent teacher who uses theatre to teach a subject but you’re not passionate and fun the way you are in other settings they told me. They were right, the reason I wasn’t having fun and the kids weren’t having as much fun was because I was afraid to play the same way I did in classes outside of schools. I was acting like a teacher who used the arts to teach as opposed to being a teaching artist. I began to play more, to think about how arts integration is about a balance between the art and the learning, not simply using the arts in service of learning. As I continue teaching, now often partnering with teachers, I note that the difference between observing a teacher lead an arts integration lesson and in myself leading one as a teaching artist is often really about how much as a teaching artist I can play, I can have fun with the kids and how passionately I teach the arts part which fuels how passionately the students engage with the arts and the learning in my lessons. It’s a balance we all walk between being a teacher and an artists, and a balance I still continually struggle to find!

    • You are so articulate, Bethany! This is exactly the tip of the iceberg that I’m discovering this year in my fellowship. Yes, the arts are of great value to support other subjects, but we can’t forget about the art for art’s sake part. It’s a balance, just as you said, and it’s the journey to finding it that makes it fun, right? =)

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