By Justin Daniel, Teaching Artist and member of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable Teaching Artists Affairs Committee.
Teaching Artists are the ultimate multi-taskers! Not only do we bring our artistry into classrooms around the country, we are also our own advocates, agents, researchers, and administrative assistants. While giving ourselves a well-earned pat on the back, let’s admit this often leads to an unbalanced, sometimes chaotic work-life.
We reached out to teaching artists currently in the field, and have compiled ten ways to bring more stability and sustainability to your teaching artist practice. If you think something is missing from this list, we encourage you to respond in the comments and add to the dialogue!
Finding an organized system that aggregates your various employers, keeps you on-task and on-time, and allows you to access your various pay-rates and income sources is essential for a stable work-life. For those of you digitally minded, web apps such as Evernote (for staying organized), Invoice2Go (for payments), and Mint (for finances) are a fantastic start.
2. THE ART OF SAYING “NO”
This may seem counterintuitive, since many of us equate stability with meeting financial goals. However, it’s incredibly important to consider the value of your time. If an organization is taking up too much of your time (and not properly compensating you for it), it may be time to reconsider your options.
3. SET A TEACHING / ARTIST RATIO
Every Teaching Artist’s work/art balance is different, but be mindful of what you need to feel successful. For some, the goal may be to devote 50% to their teaching and 50% to their art-making, for others it’s heavily weighted towards one or the other. Whatever it is, check in with yourself periodically to assess whether you are meeting your ideal balance, or if it’s time to adjust.
4. FIND THE JOY IN TEACHING
Is this one obvious? Perhaps, but ask yourself if you are finding joy when you are trudging through a blizzard to get to a school three boroughs away (a common NYC predicament!). Some suggest keeping a journal of funny/sweet classroom experiences to remind themselves of the magical moments. Regardless, what we do should ultimately be a positive and joyful experience (at least most of the time!).
5. FIND AND UTILIZE OUR COMMUNITY
Take advantage of the larger teaching artist community wherever you are based. From the Roundtable events, to educational conferences, to more informal get-togethers, find a way to share your experiences and gain insight from others.
6. THINK AHEAD
Strive to book your teaching artist work as far ahead as possible. While every organization is different, the more advance notice you get, the better chance you have at organizing the logistics and feeling wholly prepared.
7. BE PASSIONATE FOR YOUR ARTS ORGANIZATIONS
Most organizations have distinct mission statements. Make sure the mission statement aligns with your core values, and ensure that the mission is reflected in the operations of the organization. If the mission doesn’t align with reality, perhaps this isn’t the organization for you.
8. KEEP IT FRESH
Don’t get stagnant in your teaching practice. Continue to mine for new methods, new points of view, and new activities to innovate your teaching artistry and to keep yourself inspired.
9. BUT… DON’T CONSTANTLY REINVENT THE WHEEL
While we continue to expand as teaching artists, it’s also important to trust in the methods that have taken you this far. Always keep your prior lesson plans saved (I use Evernote for this) so you can quickly pull activities for the future, yet be willing to set ones aside that no longer feel fresh or inspiring.
10. ASK FOR HELP
Most arts organization have dedicated administrations who are passionate about enabling their teaching artist to fully succeed. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes, reach out to the organization for guidance and perspective. They can help you see the forest from the trees.
Click here to find out more about Roundtable events.
Justin Daniel, Teaching Artist