Becoming a Teaching Artist | Carol Ng-He

Entering my fifth year as a teaching artist, I have come to find that this role has many more dimensions than I initially thought when I first started.  Recent conversations with colleagues whom I have known at different times, have inspired me to reflect on the forms of work a teaching artist can do.  Ultimately, it appears that there seem to have been a number of entry points for me into this profession.

First encounter
My first encounter of the work of teaching artists came after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was Silk Road Rising (formerly known as Silk Road Theater Project).  I was invited to play Pipa for the exhibition opening of “The Art of Chinese Shadow Puppets” in the winter of 2007 at Columbia College Chicago’s library, organized by the Center for Asian Art and Media.  While the event served as a celebration of the Chinese New Year, the music also brought me and Silk Road Rising together.  At the time, the organization was undergoing a new development of an arts-integrated educational initiative, called “Myths to Drama” for the Chicago Public Schools.  The Ancient China unit included in the program curricula allowed me to unite the threads of my musical past and my recent training and love for art education.

Teaching through collaborating
Throughout the years at Silk Road Rising as well as other institutions I’ve learned that, for me, becoming a teaching artist means collaboration – with the students, and more importantly, with other educators co-facilitating projects in the classroom. Like in an orchestra, as a musician there are times I play solo, other times I play chorus, or echo, or silence.  In my case, this collaboration technique has become a way to demonstrate to the students how we would like them to work with each other; we work harmonically, but not necessarily equally in the length of time.

Teaching through writing
The more I collaborate with different groups and communities, the more I value documentation as a way of professional development. I’ve found the importance of constantly reflecting and reassessing my own work. I choose writing, as I believe that written words can create ripple effects to the furthest places.  Additionally, by reflecting and exchanging ideas in the form of writing and in sharing my own and others’ work on blogs and prints, I become more conscious with my intentions, methodologies, progress, students’ responses, and my own position in relation to the subject and context which I am delivering to my students.  It is a process of self-evaluation, but also a mechanism of betterment for my own teaching.  Writing gives me a space of solitude and reflection.  

Teaching through administrating
When not in the classroom, I spend my time on planning, organizing and administrating. Working with a wide range of people through my jobs at college and museum, I serve as a resource provider, allocator and distributor for my students, interns, volunteers, teachers and funders, and other art and cultural enthusiasts.  I see my work as an art administrator a practice of building relationships between individuals and communities. Education can really take forms at multiple levels.

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