Guest Blog: Why Become a Teaching Artist?

By: Karla Huntsman, Smith Center teaching artist

After moving to Las Vegas, I received an email advertising auditions as a teaching artist for one of The Smith Center’s Education Outreach Programs, the Southern Nevada Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts, an affiliate of the international  Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts.

This would be working with 3 to 5-year-olds in drama, music and movement, to provide professional development for teachers in using arts-based teaching strategies to teach both curriculum and life skills.

I had long since understood the value of the arts both in education and in society. I wholeheartedly nodded my head when I recently read an article by Dee Dickinson of John Hopkins University, citing 15 benefits of the arts. Five of the 15 benefits he cited were:

  1. Arts are languages that all people speak, which cut across racial, cultural, social, education and economic barriers.
  2. They integrate mind, body and spirit.
  3. They offer the avenue to “flow states” and peak experiences.
  4. They improve academic achievement, enhancing test scores, attitudes, social skills and critical and creative thinking.
  5. They provide the means for every student to learn.

I had experienced these benefits both as a performing artist and as a theater teacher over dozens of years of work with students. I had seen students on the verge of suicide who decided life was worth living after simply being involved in a play. I had seen students who were told they would never graduate from high school go on to receiving Ph.D.’s. I had seen shy, awkward retiring students come to peace within themselves and dare to be part of the social fabric of their worlds, as a result of being part of a theater experience.

I understood very well the value of the arts to the populations I had previously taught.

But 3 to 5-year-olds? What gains could they make through the arts? Would I even like teaching to this population?

I felt compelled to audition for the program, was accepted, and went through the training.

The program consists of partnering twice a week for seven weeks with an early childhood educator, and linking arts-based teaching strategies with curricular goals.

For example, sequencing in a dance might be connected to sequencing in math. Teaching the various types of voice (high, low, fast, slow, loud, quiet) might be connected with the math concept of comparison. Acting out “Mrs. Wishy-Washy” would aid in comprehension.

I realized very quickly that these preschoolers were benefitting both academically as well as socially and emotionally. There was great satisfaction in this.

In addition, I have been given a surprising but profound and personal gift through working with this program.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said that “the soul is healed by being with children.” I have found this to be true.

Being with the very young children in this program has brought a unique vibrance and joy to my life. It has taught me to be fully present, to be playful, to experience joy in the simplest of experiences.

I can’t be with these children without feeling uplifted and hopeful about the world and its future.

In addition, dancing like an elephant and roaring with my arm tucked to my chin, hopping, skipping, and jumping to a rousing tune, receiving rambunctious hellos and hugs, and constant laughter — all of this contributes to accessing that core of myself which has to be in a creative state for work as a performing artist.

I am dedicated to the arts for all people and dedicated to teaching these young people. The arts for me provide a life force which strengthens and invigorates every part of life. I am deeply grateful to be part of this tremendous program.

Learn more:

To learn more about teaching artists at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, visit www.thesmithcenter.com/education/teaching-artists/.

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