As part of the Teaching Artist Project (TAP) training, I have been assigned to an internship at PS 171 in Astoria, Queens, assisting two lead Teaching Artists (TAs) over the course of their poetry and theatre residency with 2nd and 3rd graders. I am having so much fun and it is such a fantastic learning experience!
As interns we first start by observing classes for the first few weeks and, as we move forward through the residency, are slowly integrated into lessons. This leads up to the final weeks where we get to lead a full lesson on our own with the support of the two main TAs. As I sit here working on my lesson plan that is to be taught in the coming weeks, I am reflecting on how much I have grown as an arts educator already. At the beginning of our TAP training, creating a lesson plan and teaching a whole class on my own seemed incredibly daunting. And now, only a few short months down the line, I couldn’t be more excited or feel more confident that it’s going to be wonderful.
Recently, I got to lead a small part of a lesson for the first time. After class, I immediately asked one of the main TAs if she had any thoughts on how I did. She complemented my work and said something to me that really resonated and summed up a lot of what we do: “We’re all just winging it!’’
I took this to mean that there are guidelines for good practice, but there is no perfect way. Only your unique perspective and approach. When we enter the classroom, we are each of us artists performing this “show” for the first time. And only this once will it ever be taught this way, under these particular circumstances, to these particular kids. Next week it's already a whole new show! New day, new lesson, ever growing children.
You write plans, you prepare, you build your skills, you learn, you adapt for the next time you might teach this content, but there will always be those things you can’t be prepared for or that will go a different way than you thought. The same lead TA who spoke about ''winging it" expertly addressed such a moment when during an exercise where students were asked to write a poem about their life, a student started crying saying, “I hate my life!”. Rather than shut down his thoughts or get flustered in the face of an angry and upset child, she gently suggested that he write about an imaginary life instead, one that made him happy. He brightened up and wrote a lovely poem about his life in Legoland. On a larger scale, I've seen the TAs drop entire sections of their planned lesson and move forward with an entirely new activity that they just made up on the spot so as to adjust to the classroom mood.
What seems to me to matter most is putting in the time and the work beforehand so that you are able to adapt on the fly, go with the flow, and/or in improvisational terms say “Yes, and...”. I get to assist two classes in a row at the same school with the same TAs and some of the most insightful moments of my internship have been the conversations between these two lessons on how we can modify or improve for the next class coming up. What’s more though, is the shared positive attitude of accepting the work with the previous group as it was, knowing that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson.
With TAP, we’ve been building these skills and expanding our toolkit of knowledge, vocabulary, experiences and resources, so that we can be these kinds of confident and creative arts educators. We’ve been learning how to scaffold lessons, incorporate a diversity of artistic mediums, address multiple intelligences, create safe spaces, and call upon our unique expertise as artists to step up to challenges. I could not be more excited to lead a class on my own in the coming weeks. I’ve been putting in the time. I’ve been doing the work. I am being taught well by the professionals I get to work with through TAP. I trust my instincts, I trust my art, I trust myself and my abilities. There is only one thing left to do. Just wing it!