One of the absolute best
parts of my life being a teaching artist is the travel that comes with it. I’ve worked in twenty five different countries so far and Sara and I are adding at least three new ones in ’10.
So far we are booked in January for Morocco and Abu Dhabi and then in March we’re headed for South Korea. These visits are always eye opening and exciting. Scroll down to the bottom of this blog and click on the travel tag if you want to read about some of the places we’ve been. People ask us how we get the gigs overseas and whether or not we speak all these foreign languages.
Well here’s what we do in a nutshell: Sara and I have built our careers on teaching literacy and comprehension skills using poetry and performance as a tool towards that end. This is where we differ from a lot of poets who work with kids. Our goal is not to create more poets – at least not directly. Our goal is to create better communicators, readers and writers. Quite frankly – I’m sure a lot of readers out there would agree that the world already has plenty of poets. We use poetry as an implement to teach all the writing standards as well as lessons across the curriculum. Now if our students decide they want to become poets fine and good – but we count our real successes amongst the kids who would rather be on the soccer field or taking headshots at zombies who learn expressing themselves in a bit more detail or understand the Bill of Rights a little deeper. We get kids to write better in all their subjects and teachers like that.
So, how did we end up working overseas so much? First, you have to have something to teach. We’ve written a couple professional books - a professional book is a book written for teachers to help them in their profession. Now even though the books are written and available – school systems, administrators and teachers still like to the authors visit their schools to teach the lessons within them. There are two types of visits – PD (Professional Development) where we speak exclusively to teachers and administrators explaining the research and theory backing our lessons and then there are workshop days spent actually teaching the lessons to living breathing students, sometimes with just the classroom teacher present – sometimes with a group of teachers watching the model lesson. There are links to the books somewhere on this blog…
We also have the added bonus of books published for kids. Lots of schools bring in authors to talk with their students and we have the added capability to help enhance the curriculum when we arrive for these visits. Published work is the foot in the door.
In order to be successful we need to keep ourselves abreast of the latest pedagogy and we do so when presenting our ideas at teacher’s conferences. While attending these conferences we take the opportunity to sit in on sessions and keynotes – to listen and meet the folks behind all the research we use to back the ideas in our books. I like to consider myself an emissary for the classroom teachers who can only go to one maybe two conferences a year. Sometimes the best idea comes from a colleague over dinner – one needs to put oneself in the position to be part of these conversations. I am attending a dozen or so of these each year and I try to bring back all the best ideas and share them (giving credit to the originator when due) with the educators I work with.
Here’s a quick aside – I once had a performance poet send me an e-mail telling me how much an arts council liked the proposal sent in using the exercises from my book Outspoken. This poet was accepted into a visiting artist program using those exercises – I doubt that any credit was given to the actual developer of the lessons – but that’s one of the hazards of the profession. I am very careful to cite the source of all my lessons if I am not the originator because I know the hard work that goes into crafting them.
It is my job to be current – ideas change and evolve. I would be doing a disservice to the people I work with if I didn’t keep up with the latest studies. We are constantly updating our presentations adding new ideas. Think of everything that has changed in the last twenty years - the idea of a blog would have been unfathomable not to mention brain based learning theory or comprehension strategies. A good teaching artist keeps up with the research and then they hide it in their work like a vitamin in a glob of peanut butter.
Anyway – Sara and I presented at one of these conferences being held overseas in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. Now – the conference was for English speaking schools in Southeast Asia. See, there are English language schools all over the world. They cater to the families of folks working for multinational corporations, American Embassies, and locals looking to send their kids to the US for college. The schools are full English immersion and they are literally all over the world. These are the schools we teach in when we go abroad and that first conference half a dozen years ago is what set us on our way. We were now part of the circuit of writers who are willing to go anywhere. And the rest has been history.
International Schools in Kazakhstan, Jakarta, Bahrain, Croatia, Shanghai, Istanbul, Singapore, Bangkok, Bali, Cairo to name a few have been gracious enough to host us and we look forward to visiting many more in the coming months and years. So – just in case you are reading this from some far flung academic outpost (or even not so far flung) – Ya need a couple poets?