Today is my last official day as a Greenfield Teaching Artist Fellow. The last two years have hummed, hemmed and hawed past in a flurry of lesson plans, meetings, and performances and now it’s time to say goodbye to my two year ride as a Fellow.
I sincerely hope that this Fellowship continues and that many programs like it arise and thrive. I have plenty of reservations about the way education is being handled in this country and would like to put in a good word for learning by doing. Throughout this entire Fellowship, I have been teaching. First, with a mentor and then on my own, but always with a network of support from my fellow teaching artists. As a recovering perfectionist, I needed to throw myself into a trial and error environment. And there was plenty of error. But now I’m better at what I do and I have a sense of just how hard I will have to work to keep improving. I’m far from a seasoned veteran, but I now have a healthy collection of tried and true versus tried and tripped methods of igniting creativity in my students. After all, teaching artists are all about learning by doing. It’s not just how we learn, it’s how we teach. We don’t show students how to do theatre, we help them do it. We encourage mistakes because fearing them cripples creativity. Just do it and learn.
It wouldn’t have made sense for me to enter this field any other way. I have the Fellowship and the education staff at the Philadelphia Theatre Company to thank for so much of my personal growth in the past two years. Because of my teaching artist family, I know that I am not and never will be alone in my endeavors.
Earlier this month, the five Greenfield Fellows reflected on our experiences over the past two years by writing and performing a modest play for a group of our summer camp students. It was a difficult project. Juggling five artists’ schedules is no picnic and it’s a miracle that we wound up with a cohesive product. Besides, most of us had focused on teaching together during the Fellowship and this was the first time we were collaborating on the playmaking side of things. You can’t be a teaching artist if you don’t embrace the art and boy did we have a time wrangling our reflections into something performable. But we did it. We used our art form to express what we had learned over the past two years, from our students, from our mentors, and from each other. For me, it was the final stepping stone of the Fellowship. The five of us took a bow together and now we will go our separate ways.
But I will always carry the final refrain of that performance piece with me. In the last movement of the show, one fellow spoke passionately and rhythmically about how far she has come in the past two years and about how much she has learned from her students. Really, she was speaking for all of us. Sure, we consider ourselves teachers, but it’s really us who do the most learning. And the lesson that our students teach us is the same lesson that we strive to impart to them: “Speak up.”
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again. Teaching artists empower others to speak up through art making. I want to thank my students and my fellow Fellows for empowering me to do the same. I’m not sure what opportunities will come next, but I won’t miss them by being silent.
(P.S. If you want to watch something kind of adorable and awkward, check out this video of the Fellows from the very beginning of our journey. We’ve come so far!)