In just over a month, the school year will end. Everything worked for thus far will pass on as students go to the next grade, and teachers will prepare to do it all again next year. It brought to mind this fable, adapted from Aesop:
There once was a farmer who had three sons. He cared for his sons very much. They were very lazy. The farmer knew his time was near, and he called his sons to him. “I taught you all I can. I hope you listened. In my vineyards and fields, I have buried a treasure for you,” he said, “But I cannot remember where.” Before he could tell them, he passed on.
The sons were anxious to find the treasure, and so they dug up the fields and vineyards. They found nothing. “Since we have dug,” said one, “Let’s plow.” So they plowed the fields, and still they found no treasure. “Since we have plowed,” said the second, “Let’s plant.” They planted. “Now we should harvest,” said the third, when a season had passed.
They went to sell their harvest at market, and made a good profit. Looking at the money they made, they said to one another, “There was treasure in the vineyard after all.”
I have a lot of different ways I tell this story. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is serious, and sometimes it is suspenseful — will they find the treasure or not? But when stripped down to “the bones” of the story, I am left to wonder if the teacher-artist is the farmer or the sons. The same for the students. Each year, we craft our lessons, we plant the seeds of meaning and knowledge, and we hope they remember what we showed them so that they might have a good harvest.
In one sense, teaching (whether as a teacher or an artist) becomes like the sons working: each season there is something new to do, and it all will turn over in time. But in another way, we are like the farmer: teaching the basics, but having to trust that the real treasures we know about will be found later.
I’ve done my share of digging this year, and discovered that my teaching and artistic work can support one another, if I let them. Being a teacher gives me daily opportunities to share my love of language, my passion for working with young people, and my knowledge of linguistics, literature, and drama. The identities of “teacher,” “storyteller,” and “teaching artist,” create a struggle for me — a cognitive dissonance. But out of the dissonance emerge questions which allow me to keep digging and exploring. One question I come back to: if I’m a teacher, and an artist, do I really need to call myself a teaching artist? Or is the answer implied? Where does one identity end, and the other begin?
Or, as I have outlined in these posts, is the question of teacher versus teaching artist really neglecting the deeper questions we could be asking about how we can all serve our students and make education better for everyone?
If ever a time in my career comes that I am not a classroom teacher and instead make my living only from performances, residencies, and workshops, I have no doubt that my time in the classroom will have been worth it. I will put the teaching into teaching artist — in the forefront, and as a core foundation of my work.
Until then, I am happy to continue to teach as I am, as best I can. As I have said here, I hope to teach with courage, creativity, and imagination. Each year, my students and I will reap our harvests, and whatever value is there will be carried with them to the next year. As for me, I will keep digging, and dig again each year.
I will dig within myself to more deeply connect with my artistic practices, and I will dig within to find the resources I need to teach in a way that nourishes and shares my artistic strengths with my students. I will call upon my students to dig with me, turning hard soil into the places where meaning can be found in the passing of the seasons. I can only hope that along the way they also find a treasure I didn’t know was buried: that they too have a love of the arts that can draw them deeper into their learning, deeper into discovery, and more courageously into the world.