This last August marked the start of my 5th year leading students through the process of creating original operas in their classrooms. The summer had brought about my first unsolicited opera-making job offer, and I was starting to feel that my level of expertise doing this kind of thing could be called, well, an expertise. Five years in, I was ready to re-name my pile of gigs as a Teaching Artist as my career in Teaching Artistry. The problem was, I couldn’t envision how this pile of pieced together jobs could possibly become a full career. And then I went to Oslo.
For three days I was surrounded by 100+ Teaching Artists from around the world who had gone significantly out of their way to get themselves to that room in Norway, and attend the First International Teaching Artist Conference. The simple act of sitting myself down among the other attendees made them colleagues, and in that moment I understood that I already was a member of this profession. There it was around me–an actual factual profession, complete with career paths (circuitous and rocky as they may be), history, countless genius mentors, and a bucketload of potential for future growth. Not one person in the room saw this work as a gig–our arrival in Norway had already proven that. Every single person there knew it was their career, and life’s work.
If I had gleaned nothing more from my time in Oslo than the ability to see myself as a professional Teaching Artist, the trip would have been worth it for that lesson alone. When I think of Teaching Artistry as a Gig, the teaching days become a series of isolated events, sometimes failures and sometimes grand, where in each class I operate alone, moving from one room to the next with a bag of tricks that can’t quite pay the bills. When I call Teaching Artistry my Career, the teaching days become carefully woven strands of a greater story, one that is being written collectively in all corners of the world, and seeks to better lives one moment of creation at a time.
We may not all be paid like it, hired like it, or treated like it, but the truest form of Teaching Artistry is not a gig. And if you have your ear to the ground in the places we work, it won’t take you long to see why.