This past week, the National Opinion Research Council (NORC) at the University of Chicago published a 3-year study titled “Teaching Artists and the Future of Education.” Being a teaching artist (TA) myself, I was interviewed for the study here in Cambridge by a NORC field researcher. And although I am obviously a fierce advocate for arts in education, I was quoted in a section of the report titled “Some Skeptics.” Take a look:
Building instructional partnerships like these is not for everyone. A Boston music TA thought, “The partnership model is fraught. Logistically, merging two different organizations with different cultures is too difficult … I used to be the music teacher at a school that brought in TAs from a youth arts organization. Who’s the TAs’ boss? The program manager? The principal? From the school’s perspective, the moment you set foot in that building you work for nobody else but the principal. This makes complete sense to me. How can you have adults in the building not respecting the command structure and answering to somebody else? But their paycheck comes from somebody else. It can work if the teacher stays in the room and does the classroom management piece. Then the kids know there’s someone in the room that knows the score.”
Of course, my first thought was, “Quoted out of context! Not representative of my views! Call my lawyer!” When I calmed down and remembered that my lawyer was out-of-town-slash-doesn’t-exist (I am a teaching artist, after all), I was forced to acknowledge that the above verbiage, crusty as it may sound, does indeed represent my views.
Frankly, I find it dismaying how many schools hire me or my colleagues for a handful of hours a week, then claim to have a music “program.” (Trust me, they don’t.) Is it the school’s fault they don’t have funding for full-time music/dance/art teacher positions and that the idea of a classical Greek education has been all but sacrificed on the altar of standardized test scores? Not at all. Is having a teaching artist better than nothing? A lot.
What we really need is to shore up our tax base and fund our schools so that they can hire full-time fine arts teachers, folks who are embedded in the school institution, know its culture and norms and have deep, longstanding relationships with students, families and colleagues.
So how can we work together toward that goal? Leave a reply below and let me know your thoughts.