Practicing What I Teach

Practice is the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it, as in the phrase “practice makes perfect”. Sports teams practice to prepare for actual games. Playing a musical instrument well takes a lot of practice. It is a method of learning and of acquiring experience.

I’m gearing up to teach a residency for middle school girls about writing and performing your own work and it’s making me nauseous.   Truth is, every time I plan for a new class I get waves of queasy anxiety.  Teaching kids is hard work, and I know what’s coming…weeks of sizing up, boundary testing and trust building.  Being a Teaching Artist requires a serious level of truth, vulnerability and fearlessness, and I’m feeling woefully out of practice.

I’ve been a Teaching Artist since 1990, (but back then I didn’t know it because that was before we settled on the term).  I moved from the east coast to Seattle and was piecing together theatre teaching gigs and feeling professionally alone.  Over time I found like-minded peers, and many from that talented crew became the founding faculty of Arts Corps.

Artists and musicians have been sharing what they know with their communities since the beginning of time, but it’s only been in the last decade that we’ve set apart what we do and delineated the field of Teaching Artistry.  Arts Corps and the Teaching Artist profession have grown in tandem.  In 2000 we hatched our fledgling organization and in 2003 Eric Booth asked me to define a Teaching Artist for the first issue of the Teaching Artist Journal.  I said something about how we are practicing artists whose teaching is part of that practice… that we are role models for lifestyle, discipline and skill …passing on ways of thinking, seeing and being…that we are facilitators for creativity which makes us social activists.  I still believe all of this to be true, and it’s the “practicing artists whose teaching is part of that practice” part that I’m hung up on right now as I plan my upcoming quarter.

My time at Arts Corps has always been split between teaching and administrating, but last year the only teaching I did was with adults, which, for me, is never as daunting as teaching kids (especially middle school girls).  The only theatre work I did last year was performing in one weekend of short new plays, unless “acting” like an Education Director counts. And about my writing…I haven’t written anything I’ve really liked since the last time I was teaching youth.  I find that interesting, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Upon serious reflection, if I’m going be a credible creative role model for a bunch of dramatic tweens, I’ve got to get back in training physically and mentally.  I’m committed to prepping for my teaching marathon that starts at the end of January. I’m not ashamed to tell ya, I bought a gym membership a few days ago. My resolution to myself is to get back to practicing what I teach.  Just to get my feet wet, I wrote this haiku.

Sore from Zumba class
Teen girls are counting on you.
Be brave. Write daily.

2 thoughts on “Practicing What I Teach

  1. I really like this attitude. I agree it is imperative that we suit up and show up as our best and prove the the young ‘uns there is hope for this creative endeavor. And that practicing art and creative habits of mind are a viable way to move through the world.

  2. Tina, your blog is such an eloquent expression of what it feels like to be inside the work in the right way. Living it, inviting it to challenge you. Not “doing a gig” as much as “wrestling with a muscled-up angel of opportunity.” I endlessly repeat: 80% of what you teach is who you are, and Tina, you are one inspiring, authentic 80% whose life-example is going to teach a lot.

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