by Joan Weber
Teaching Artists could lay a claim to caring more about arts education than just about anyone else. We have given up hope of high salaries with great benefits in the interest of educating young people in and through the arts. Many of us have learned our craft experientially. because, until very recently, there were very few training programs for our field. All the while, we have continued to grow as artists, knowing that we demand excellence of ourselves in both our art form and teaching. We are improving our practice through action research, arts integration and documented outcomes. We are professionals. Let’s be like other professionals and ask our bosses for a raise. While we’re there, let’s ask for a larger workforce to meet the real demand for arts education in our communities.
We deserve a living wage that includes enough money to pay taxes and have health insurance. What we do has incredible value to the education of children around the world. It’s time to show policy-makers that value by introducing ourselves to them. We don’t generally have that opportunity. After demonstrating the value of arts education through testimony about our practices, we just ask for more money. That’s really it. What’s beautiful is that the better we do for ourselves, the better we do for kids.
Arts Education Month is in March. During that time, let’s make a commitment as Teaching Artists to Testify for Arts Education in March 2011. This is an important time in the budgetary process for school systems. Decisions made during this time will dictate school budgets for the next year. If arts education partnerships are not in the budgets at this time, it’s harder to “find” the money for a teaching artist later. The Board of Education determines the budget for the entire school system. If they require all schools to have budgets for arts education programs, then that
becomes policy for the system. If not, each principal decides on how to allocate discretionary budget lines, including artists or transportation.
Teaching Artists have direct evidence about the benefits of arts education. We must gather our lesson plans, compile our anecdotes, line up our slides and write speeches about how our programs have affected students’ lives. We must tell the board members our stories and convince them to spend more money to create more stories like that. Let’s tell them why we are Teaching Artists.
While we are with the Board of Education, we must also advocate for arts specialists in every school building. The truth is that arts specialists make it possible for us to have the impact that we do. Teaching artists are complements to specialists, not replacements. We must always make that clear to policymakers.
Join Teaching Artists and other arts education advocates across the country in a new social community at www.testifyforartsed.ning.com. Our goal it to build a grassroots movement of people that want to make sure that kids in our communities have arts education. It requires everyone’s help. Teaching Artists must be at the table of school reform, arts education standards and school system budget decisions. Showing up and testifying is a great start. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story or ask questions.