Piecing it Together | Kim Jordan

I’ve been a teaching artist since 1999. I’ve taught performance poetry and theatre in classrooms, camps, one-off workshops and residencies, and teacher professional development workshops. I’ve judged competitions, coached youth teams, facilitated at conferences, created, collaborated, and toured. I worked in the education department of a large performing arts center, taught college as an adjunct, and led workshops as a freelance teaching artist to any school that would have me. Teaching Artist has been my identity for fourteen years while I waited tables, wrote graduate school papers, scraped rent together, practiced marketing myself, created websites for my work, and kept my car healthy for state-wide treks to schools. I’ve been piecing my living together for 14 years. On the eve of age 40, I’m tired

I love my work and I would love some stability. So when I saw that the youth advocacy organization that I volunteer with was hiring an education director, I decided it was my dream job.  I would be leading workshops on bullying prevention and social justice in schools, creating curriculum, and working with marginalized youth. Yes, please.

The position was not arts-specific. In fact, this organization did not have the word “arts” anywhere in its mission statement. But I work with school administrators, teachers, and youth in third through twelfth grades, teaching them creative ways to approach core curricula and social skills. I started my own theatre project for bullying prevention, conflict resolution, and social justice.  My graduate thesis explored participatory theatre for bullying prevention and specific state mandates for schools’ approaches to bullying. I know this stuff.

Being a freelance, professional teaching artist means I am Lead Artist, Educator, Program Director, Director of Education and Community Outreach, Director of Marketing and Publicity, and Development Director.  I take workshops for continual professional development. I meet with colleagues in my field to discuss best practices in Educational Theatre and Applied Theatre. I design programming based on state educational standards to meet essential objectives, and my workshops enhance social skills. I am a skilled improviser; I read the needs of my classroom audience and alter my teaching style accordingly. I harness the power of theatre and poetry to build community and change a school’s climate for the better. I consistently receive positive feedback from teachers, students, and principals.

So although this Director of Education position did not specifically require an arts integration skillset, I felt my expertise would be an asset. I couldn’t think of anyone in the area more qualified for this position than me. So I submitted my cover letter and resume, and waited.

I began to dream about the job. What would it mean for my identity as a teaching artist if I no longer used the arts to teach? It would be a relief, I decided. This job would be reliable, consistent, full-time – with benefits! – and I would go to an office when I wasn’t on the road. I could continue to do work I believed in, but would not have to freelance. It felt exactly perfect. I prepared to leave my teaching artist identity behind.

I made it to the second interview, as one of the top two candidates for the position. It is difficult to explain the intricacies of teaching artistry to those unfamiliar with the work.  One of the interview questions I was asked by the hiring committee referred to my approachability with both middle and high school students.

That’s what I do for a living, I thought. I meet each group of students where they are and earn their buy-in by creating a safe space for them to take creative risks.

Another question required me to discuss a workplace conflict I experienced, and how I handled it. As I racked my brain thinking of a workplace conflict in my professional life, I realized I never worked in a traditional workplace. I talked about one of my college students who used various tactics to railroad a class ice-breaker that clearly pushed his buttons, and the methods I used to work through the conflict. I thought the interview went well. But throughout the interview, in the back of my mind, I worried that my fourteen years as a teaching artist may be no match for another candidate vying for this position who has traditional work experience.

I didn’t get the job. I know the person who did land the Director of Education position, and this person will be great for the organization. Still, I wish it were me. I could (and have, and will continue to) apply for full-time arts and social justice education positions in Boston or New York, but I love my Vermont community and I want to stay here. The catch-22 is that there aren’t many jobs for my skillset where I live, and the current economy means that I am competing for grants with dozens of other non-profits.

Theatre and performance poetry teaching artist seeks full-time employment in the education department of a social justice organization working with marginalized populations. I love my identity as a teaching artist, but I wonder where I fit. Do my skills transfer to any full-time job out there? Or am I destined to piece it together in lieu of returning to school to acquire more degrees – teaching certification, PhD, something? On my less optimistic days, I want to exorcise my entrepreneurial spirit. Teaching artistry requires multiple, marketable, real-world skills, but what else are they good for in real-world employment?

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Kim Jordan is an actress, director, theatre practitioner, and performance poet based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the founder and program director of Theatre-in-Action, an applied theatre residency project that fuses drama with bullying prevention, conflict resolution, and social justice in Vermont schools and communities. Kim has written and directed middle- and high school plays, launched and coached the Vermont Youth Poetry Slam, been a member and coach of Vermont National Poetry Slam Teams, and is an in-demand arts integration specialist with Vermont performing arts centers and school districts. You can learn more about Theatre-in-Action at www.theatreinaction.org

Also by Kim Jordan in ALT/space:
Anatomy of Week Three in a Theatre and Bullying Prevention Residency
On Small Victories
Theatre-in-Action for LGBT Youth

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