Defining Roles in Arts Education Delivery: A Healthy Discomfort
On my first day of my Ed.M program in arts education I was asked to reflect on a simple series of questions:
Do you consider yourself an educator? Why or why not?
Do you consider yourself an artist? Why or why not?
I’ve gone through a few 'Nervous Nelly' phases in my life, one of which coincided with my starting graduate school. These questions threw my 'Nervous Nelly' into an existential panic. It seemed crucial that I find a satisfying “yes” to both questions. If I couldn’t, well, clearly I was some sort of fraud.
At the time, that exercise seemed like a really big deal. Today, I can’t even remember how I answered the questions. My ultimate takeaway came later, when I compared my classmates’ reflections to my own.
I was one of a diverse group—classroom teachers, musicians, museum educators, arts administrators, etc. We had different skills, backgrounds, and inclinations that would lead us to go on to play different roles in the arts education ecosystem when our program was over. Whether we agreed on a definition of “artist” didn’t matter. What mattered was that we honor the broad and deep skill sets in the room and support and complement their differences.
My personal “artist-and-or-educator” identity crisis was an experience with healthy discomfort. I hope the broader arts education community can find the same in the recent white paper put out by the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SAEDAE).
Roles of Certified Arts Educators, Certified Non-Arts Educators, and Providers of Supplemental Arts Instruction attempts to unpack the “shared delivery” model of arts instruction that many arts education initiatives, including Arts for All, state as their ultimate goal.
It describes strengths and limitations of the three key partners involved in teaching the arts in public schools—named as certified arts educators, certified non-arts educators, and providers of supplemental arts instruction.
The paper has provoked anxiety in some communities. I understand why. Roles and responsibilities are entwined with our sense of identity, and imply a degree of hierarchy. My 'Nervous Nelly' episode would not had happened if I hadn’t had the subconscious idea that earning the label of both “artist” and “educator” were more valuable than having only one or the other.
That idea wasn’t rooted in reality, but in my own anxiety. The same can be said for the concept that any one of the three key partners SEADAE describes has more weight than the others. Describing each group’s strengths and weaknesses does not suggest that one is more important than the other two. It suggests they are different and that each brings unique assets to the table.
Examining and understanding those differences is not easy, but it is very important. We often say the people making decisions in public education—superintendents and principals, for example—need to be better informed about arts education, particularly in this time of limited resources. They can’t make informed decisions if they don’t understand what the people who “share” the delivery of arts instruction” actually do—where they excel, where they need support, and how they impact students.
SEADAE deserves credit for trying to address this topic in its own way, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
I think the paper has some flaws—for example, some of the strengths listed for certified arts educators are idealized, particularly given that certain states, including California, don’t have separate teacher credentials for dance and theater. By stating that artists wishing to provide “systematic, standards-based instruction to students should pursue their teaching license,” the paper also implies, somewhat oddly, that artists working in schools do not need to concern themselves with the Visual and Performing Arts Standards.
Just as I didn’t have to agree with my graduate school classmates on what “artist” means, I don’t have to agree with all of the ideas SEADAE put forth. As Arts for All has learned again and again, and, other blog posts have pointed out, there is no “one size fits all” approach to arts education; by extension, there is no “one size fits all” understanding of shared delivery.
Individual communities will develop their own understanding of how specialists, generalists and community arts providers best work together, provided they are invited to have a conversation about it. “Roles” provides that invitation. Arts for All intends to accept it.