Well-designed and differentiated curriculum allows students to more meaningfully connect with content, but designing it can be cumbersome. That’s why at Kiddom, we’re excited to give teachers a sneak peek at what we’ve been working on: curated playlists.
Why curate playlists?
One of the hardest things about planning a blended learning class is finding the right instructional materials. As teachers, we develop and own our teaching style. It’s hard to give up your “teacher identity” by accepting videos or resources created by someone else. Some teachers (admittedly, like us) have spent countless hours recording and editing themselves. While that may feel truer to your teaching practice, it’s difficult to sustain given the time (and resource) constraints of school. The alternative, finding the right resource aligned to your students’ needs, can be equally time consuming. We can’t tell you how many hours of educational videos and songs we’ve watched to find the best fit for our classes.
So why bother if it’s so difficult? Well, one generalized lesson per day to address the “average” student doesn’t do enough to meet the diverse needs of every student in the classroom. It’s also difficult to support soft skills like self-management and curiosity when you’re teaching one lesson to the entire class. This is why we’re thoughtfully curating curriculum resources for you. We encourage you to be familiar with the resources we’ve gathered, but we hope to earn your trust in the quality resources we pulled together to meet your students’ unique needs. We’re dedicated to helping you find more time to connect with and inspire students.
To get all of our curated playlists, click here. Then copy and paste the assignments directly into Kiddom’s Planner.
How do we evaluate our playlists?
Our playlists are peer-reviewed and checked for rigor, flow, and alignment.
FLOW: How well do the topics move from one lesson to the next?
RIGOR: Are the tasks at an appropriate grade level to be accessible and still provide a challenge. Do the tasks require conceptual understanding and application of content?
STANDARDS ALIGNMENT: Are the assessments and standards clearly aligned? Does the content align to multiple standards? How well does the content span across grade levels and across content?
How do we select resources?
Each group of resources, which we’re calling a playlist, is thoughtfully curated to include the best options for learning and practicing a new skill. When selecting resources for playlists, we’re looking for content that meets the criteria for Universal Design for Learning (UDL), “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” We look for lessons that provide multiple means of representation such as audio, visual, and text support. We seek activities to practice those skills that provide multiple means of engagement by optimizing relevance through real life application. Finally, we designed culminating assessments to support planning and strategy development, optimize individual choice and autonomy, use multiple media for communication, and develop self-assessment and reflection.
As a free platform, we first seek the best free resources so that they’re universally accessible. But we also incorporate resources from providers based on teacher request. We also include resources that have limited free practices or a free trial version.
Create your own playlist:
We’d love your feedback on our playlists. Are they useful? Are they effective? How would you use them? Did you make one you’d like to add?
Today, we released a redesigned student experience on Kiddom to help 21st century learners access and submit work, track their own progress, and solicit feedback from teachers in real-time, from one place.
Over the past century, education technology has often left students out of the equation. That’s unfortunate, because students today move fast and are incredibly tech-savvy. At Kiddom, we believe students shouldn’t have to wait until progress reports are printed to learn where they stand in class or on specific skills. Students shouldn’t have to wait to see their teachers in person to pose clarifying questions or solicit feedback on an assignment. And from what we’ve gathered, teachers are constantly looking for ways to empower students to take control of their learning. With our redesigned student experience, the possibilities of student ownership are endless.
Timeline — Everything in One Place
When students login and click into their class, they’ll be greeted by their Timeline. Timeline allows students to view assignments (past, present, and upcoming) from one place. This not only includes teacher-created assignments, but also all the Khan Academy videos, CK-12 exercises, CommonLit readings, and other resources their teacher might’ve assigned for differentiation purposes via Kiddom’s Library of resources.
Submitting Work and Soliciting Feedback Made Easy
When students click on an assignment from their Timeline, they’ll be able to see any instructions or attachments their teacher may have included, as well as the standards or skills has appended to the assignment. Students may upload and submit their own work and also engage in a discussion with their teacher regarding the assignment.
Reports — Monitor Progress and Self-Advocate
When students can actively monitor their progress in class, they’re more likely to advocate for themselves. With our redesigned Reports, students can track their overall class progress, as well as progress on individual standards and skills — all in real-time. This means they finally have the data they need, when they need it.
We’re Just Getting Started
The new student experience has been long overdue. And while we’re incredibly excited about the positive impact it will make in classrooms around the world, there’s still a lot more work to be done. Over the next several months and into the next school year, we’re going to focus on adding community features to accelerate our vision of building a collaborative education platform. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the new student experience with a comment or chat with us directly using the in-app chat tool. Happy teaching and learning!
Editor’s note: We’re still testing the new Kiddom student experience. If your students signed up before Friday, April 21, 2017, they may not experience the new Kiddom just yet. We plan to conclude testing on Friday, April 28, 2017, at which time all students will be on the redesigned student experience. For more information, contact our support team.
“Teaching is not what it used to be,” says a 40-year veteran teacher at my building. I’ve been around for 10 years, but I can agree, things have changed a lot in the past decade. It’s hard to articulate exactly what the change is or where it’s coming from. However, I think most teachers can agree that things are increasingly more… stressful.
Passing in the hallway, an appropriate greeting consists of a grunt or at best, “It’s Friday.” Conversations in the staff lounge center around the uncertainties and anxiety facing our teaching profession from the greater political cultural climate. A recent survey cited 51% of teachers feel significant stress at work several times a week. While technology and innovation have considerable benefits, the new skills and information we are expected to personally process and then apply to our instruction, has teachers feeling like hamsters on a wheel. Not to mention the data on us! Teacher performance is being continually monitored and tracked by standardized testing.
As I sit at my back table, administering a reading test, I look up and see the little girl sitting in front of me. Except, I see her, seeing me. Hunched shoulders. Furrowed brows. Clenched jaw. My body communicates what my brain can’t fully comprehend. I am stressed. Much to my surprise and horror… her body language was matching mine. She was mirroring me.
This realization hit me hard. I noticed students all around exhibiting stress signals. Hiding under tables. Making excuses to leave the classroom and wander the halls. Destroying classroom supplies. These behaviors were symptoms of emotional turmoil, and it was standing in the way of students achieving their academic potential.
Now, I know that many of these issues are complex and multilayered. I am by no means blaming teachers for all behavioral problems. However, the first step to an emotionally regulated classroom is to be emotionally regulated yourself.
YOU are the intervention
The good news is, even if your brain is not yet convinced, you can begin with your body.
Here are three tips to get started.
1. Set an intention for the day for yourself and your classroom
Before you get out of bed, think about how you want to show up today. Words like strong, healthy, at ease, organized, peaceful. Imagine what it looks like and feels like. Now imagine the one thing that would make your classroom great today. This intention could be, “students working well together in pairs” or “excitement for a new project.” Visualize these intentions then write them down. I have found that writing an intention down and visualizing the outcome takes less than a minute. However, most days, this fortune actually comes to fruition. A worthy time investment.
2. Take a breathing break
Teachers never stop. Heck, we usually don’t even slow down. I have seen teachers eating their lunch while walking down the hallway! During your prep, your lunch, transitions between classes… intentionally take 5–10 breaths. Inhale for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts. I even like to close my eyes and bring back my intention from the morning.
3. Unwind your nervous system
Good ol’ fight or flight. Your body doesn’t know if you are running away from a hungry predator or if you are preparing to be observed by your principal. All it knows, is it’s time to send in the stress hormones! Your frontal cortex can’t talk its way out of this response. “Body, I am not being chased by a predator, it’s just my annual observation.” However, there are key trigger points in the body that activate when the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This means, if we can release the body, the brain will believe that everything is okay.
Inhale breath and when you exhale stick out your tongue. For added effect add a nice long “hah” sound. I even like to massage the opening that is created next to my ears while my jaw is open.
Rub your hands together to create heat and place them on your eyes. And/or gently smooth out the brow line from center to outer eye, say to yourself “soft eyes”. (Yes, unfurrow that teacher brow.)
Interlace fingers behind your back for a chest expansion and take three slow deep breaths. Teachers spend a great deal of time hunched over students, and simply opening the shoulders can be a total mood changer.
Lunge back with right foot and left foot forward in a bent knee lunge, take a few breaths, then switch sides. Your hip flexors and psoas are your flight muscles, so release them!
I began to realize that same little girl, mirroring my furrowed brow and hunched shoulders, began to mirror my deep breathing. When doing a backbend stretch during a transition she commented, “It feels good to stretch, doesn’t it?” Yes. It does.
This isn’t the magic bullet. However, when we release the tension and anxiety held in the body, we are able to be present.The present moment has no stress. This intervention for your body is an important first step for creating a peaceful classroom for your students.
As I began this body work, I noticed other things around me begin to shift. I realized that being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing. I changed my focus and redefined what was important.
This process led me back to my students. How can I bring this mind-body awareness into my instruction? I began working with 1000-petals, an organization training educators in Mindful Movement, to integrate these strategies via Social Emotional Learning standards and Academic Learning Standards. The results were amazing. Follow this blog series to learn more about creating a positive, emotionally regulated classroom through mindful movement.
Stephanie Kennelly is a third grade teacher in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. Contact her here for comments and questions.
This week, Betsy DeVos cleared another hurdle towards becoming the next education secretary of the United States. Ms. DeVos is a vocal supporter of school choice, most notably vouchers. She advocates for parents to be able to choose the best schools for their children, whether they’re traditional public schools, charters, or private schools. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten called Ms. DeVos “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” Opponents of school choice point to evidence that programs like school vouchers may be fueling re-segregation in American schools. This topic elicits emotional responses from all stakeholders, from parents to policy makers and everyone in between. Heated debate aside, I believe we’re getting distracted by a plan that’s meant to sound grand but is actually going to be very tough to implement. Our focus should instead be on a much larger problem.
The majority of our students live in areas where school choice doesn’t authentically exist. The availability of vouchers would mostly impact urban schools because rural areas don’t attract enough attention to establish charters — sometimes, there aren’t enough students in these areas to fill even one school. In addition, President Trump’s $20 billion plan to pay for vouchers does notcover the cost of his school choice program — it requires states to collectively provide an additional $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice. So in essence, this is a lofty plan that’s very hard to swallow. The problem is, this is literally the only thing we’re arguing over in this debate about Ms. DeVos. Why aren’t we bringing up the elephant in the room? Why aren’t we talking about the structural changes all schools need to make in order to teach 21st century skills and improve student outcomes? I’m talking about competency-based education.
Over 150 years ago, public education was a revolutionary idea. Driven by the economic imperative of the industrial revolution, schools prepared young people for citizenship in a democratic society. Students navigated school grouped by age and acquired knowledge by moving from one specialized class to another. If that all sounds familiar, it’s because schools still generallyfunction as they did over 150 years ago. However, the teacher’s role has grown vastly more complex over the years and as a result, today’s teachers are buried under an avalanche of responsibilities without added supports. No wonder teacher morale is low and burnout rates aren’t dropping.
Whoever our next Secretary of Education is, they need to advocate for all of our children and our teachers, because we can talk about parents all day, but it’s the students that are attending schools interacting with teachers, not parents. I’ve taught high school at both a traditional public high school and a charter high school. I believe how a child is taught matters more than whether they attend a traditional public, charter, or private school.
The next education secretary must make a push for districts to overhaul their schools to promote personalized learning, grounded in competency-based education (also known as standards-based grading). In this model, students demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills that are aligned to standards (and no, it doesn’t have to be the Common Core). When an individual student demonstrates mastery, they move on. If they don’t, the teacher is there to determine the intervention or remediation that’s required. Top-down, compliance-based schools grounded in dated pedagogy do not promote student voice and choice.
During one of my years as a high school math teacher, I was teaching Algebra to a seventeen year old who also happened to be enrolled in an after-school community college English class. That means his math skills required work, but he was well beyond his peers in ELA. He spent the next year accumulating his math and science credits while pushing ahead in other subjects. It’s 2017 folks: why are children still navigating school grouped by age, as if they’re some kind of consumer good?
The next education secretary must fight to rework how educators learn to design curriculum, so that it’s tailored to meet individual strengths, interests, and experiences. Teachers today can’t meet individual needs sustainably if they’re still constrained by limited access to quality tools, or mandated use of ineffective tools. It’s shameful that in America, teachers can graduate from a master’s program in education or receive a teaching credential, and still never have gained familiarity with a single education technology tool.
At Kiddom, we’re big proponents of the standards-based grading practice and mindset. Our platform is ideal for teachers that write curriculum grounded competency-based education, but we don’t force teachers to embrace it. We offer educators support resources and professional development for the practice, but many teachers are just not there yet. We’re just a small team offering teachers and learners a platform: we don’t write education policy and we certainly don’t dictate how schools should operate (nor will we). If educators want systematic change to benefit all students, we as individuals must get behind something we can all agree on.
So if Ms. DeVos does indeed become the next U.S. Secretary of Education, I hope we come together, from “both sides of the aisle” to advocate for competency-based education. It’s a practice that will fundamentally impact all teachers and learners for the better.
I have been working in schools for eight years as a teacher, department lead, and instructional coach. I am by no means a veteran of the field. Despite this, by and large, I have been left alone to independently seek resources to improve my practice or received coaching that was ineffective and misaligned to the realities of my classroom.
I’ve always felt this disconnect, but it hit me even more concretely this week in a professional development session for instructional coaches. We were asked to describe the best mentor we’ve had as educators — what were the qualities that allowed us to learn from them, the structures they used to teach us, and the lessons we learned from them? As I scanned my memories of the last eight years, the officially assigned coaches or mentors did not come immediately to mind. Instead, it has been peers, books, online forums, and my students that filled my head with lessons and pushed me to improve.
As I reflected more deeply, going year by year, I realized how much of my lack of professional development stemmed from greater issues in public education: lack of financial resources, inexperienced teachers and administrators trained by alternative certification programs, high staff turnover and burnout, and the heavy focus on standardized tests.
In my first year teaching, I was assigned a mandatory mentor to meet with biweekly. She rarely observed my classes or asked for lesson plans as a source of data to develop my personalized goals; she usually asked me how I was feeling about my own practice. Much like a doctor asking a patient to diagnose themselves, she left it to me, a twenty-one year old novice, to pick a focus area for my learning. I gave the answers that “felt” right, but I was never confident I was seeking the right resources. Most of our sessions focused on classroom management, but since she hadn’t seen my students’ behavior or my delivery, her feedback consisted of things I had already found in books like The First Days of School or Teach like a Champion: stand at the door and greet students, circulate around the room a lot, don’t put your back to the class while writing on the board, etc. It was disconnected from what was actually going on in my classroom and my planning, and it flat out didn’t work to make me better or help my students. I usually left those sessions feeling more exhausted and confused than before we met. I want to go back and coach myself like Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghost of PD future. “Stop focusing on behavior. Look at your lesson plans. Script your questions ahead of time. Pick more engaging content. Get to know the kids better. Really listen to what they’re saying in class.”
In my second year, it was assumed by administration that as I had survived my first year, I was competent enough to be left alone. The principal (who had taught for only four years before being fast tracked into administration through the Leadership Academy) came once mid-year, observed for fifteen minutes, and left. We never had a post-observation meeting. At the end of the year, I was asked to sign off on five “Satisfactory” observations for my file towards tenure. I survived that year, and learned via trial by fire. I came out feeling grizzled, and wondered if teaching was for me. I had no idea if I was doing a good job, and though I had strong relationships with my students and their academic results seemed solid, I felt unmoored in my career. I thought about leaving teaching, but stayed because I loved my students and the community I worked in.
Fortunately, in my third year, a group of veterans formed an informal peer observation group. The plan was to pick a partner, observe them every other week, then meet in the off-weeks to debrief and give suggestions and discuss. This was the most important group I have ever been a part of professionally. Throughout the year, I was paired with teachers across grade level and content area with varying levels of experience and teaching styles. Through spending time in their classrooms, I learned an infinite number of lessons — everything from how to use the physical space in my classroom more creatively to how to infuse engaging multimedia into the most mundane lessons. I am eternally grateful to the teachers who voluntarily gave up lunch breaks to meet with me, who welcomed me into their classrooms, and allowed me to question their methods with a generosity of spirit that made me the educator I am today. Their lesson plans, their teacher voices, and their passion for the true work of teaching lives in every class I have ever taught or PD session I have led.
After my third year, I moved to a brand new school as a founding team member. The school had not been planned well from its inception, and amidst the chaos of figuring out new systems for everything from collecting attendance to choosing curriculum, our administration had less than zero time for coaching. The only instances that an observer ever came to my class were reactive, in both negative and positive ways. If there were conflicts between certain students, a visitor might come for a little bit and stay in the room, but the focus was never on instruction, only physical and emotional safety. Conversely, I would frequently invite the whole school community into my class to see presentations, debates, or readers’ theater my students were sharing to celebrate success. Rarely did anyone, especially from administration, take me up on my offer. I was so disappointed I couldn’t foster the same “open-door” policy among the new staff that had become so important to me at my old school. Once or twice, the principal popped in and complimented my classroom management, but the content or structure of my lessons was not a point of discussion. Still, I could only judge from my students’ reflections and my own research that I was learning to become a better teacher. Again, I didn’t receive any formal feedback for an entire school year.
Finally, the following year, I got a coach. She was an experienced, passionate, and purposeful educator who asked me early in the year, “What do you want to work on? What should I look for when I observe?” She came to my class, stayed for entire periods, took detailed notes, and videotaped my lessons. This Cinderella with a ragged unit plan got a fairy godmother full of probing questions and content knowledge. She let me drive my goals — I wanted to learn how to question better, how to flip my classroom so I could be a facilitator and my students would be accountable for accessing the knowledge they sought. This coach pushed me to consider how to increase the number of minutes students were speaking to each other in class, and we researched techniques and strategies together. We watched taped footage of my class together, attended external PD workshops together, and re-wrote curriculum together. I had never felt more effective or energized; I knew my decisions in planning were grounded in evidence-based strategies, my students were performing at extremely high levels in both standardized tests and project-based assessments. I was able to use the innovation and pilot strategies we had come up with to teach others in my department. It was exactly the teaching utopia I had dreamed of. And then, because of nasty political decision-making at the administrative level, my fairy godmother left to work at another school. I was devastated, but I didn’t blame her. I knew the coaching she had given me was rare, and I was still craving her expertise and constant challenges to improve.
In my last year at this school, I experienced a slow decline in my emotional engagement in the work of teaching, despite having extremely high test scores and a greater leadership role in the school. I was observed the most I had ever been in my career, but it was the least helpful time I’ve spent in meetings. While my previous coach had tracked things like percentage of student vs. teacher talk, rigor of questioning, and text complexity in her observations, my new coach was checking items off on a list, exactly the same as he had in every other class he visited: Were rules posted? Was there common formatting on worksheets? Did I have a behavior tracker on the wall? And most importantly, was there a standardized test question embedded in every lesson? The deep, personal inquiry into student learning was replaced with questions of compliance and testing. I pushed back in feedback meetings, and was reminded repeatedly that our students would only graduate if they passed the state exam. I wanted to shoot higher than the state test. I wanted my students doing college-level work, thinking beyond a simple multiple choice test question. I wanted them to question me, the texts, and each other. I wanted them to argue, reflect, and create authentic artifacts of their learning. But the resistance I faced was strong, and it drove me out of the classroom.
Today, I work to mentor new teachers-in-training, and much of my drive for coaching is rooted in a desire for them (and most importantly, their students) to have what I did not. This year, I’m challenging myself to plan my coaching with the three major things that worked for me in mind: personalized development goals grounded in classroom observations and student data, opportunities for peer-to-peer observation and feedback, and use of coaching time to seek new resources and work side by side with a mentor, rather than receiving top-down feedback. I hope to be transparent about these goals with my team, so that when fatigue hits in March, they’ll hold me accountable to what I said I would do, and refocus me as the facilitator of a community of adult learners.
I challenge you, educators of all types: do what you can to support your colleagues’ growth to help prevent burnout and turnover.
New teachers: find a veteran and hang out in their classroom while they teach. Ask them questions about their practice and take risks to try some of their techniques.
Veterans: instead of chatting with them in the teacher’s lounge, open your classroom door to the fresh-faced teachers joining your staff this year. Show them how you balance all of the hats you wear as a teacher. Create a community of teachers who support and learn from each other.
Administrators and coaches: ask questions of the teachers you coach. What do they see as their biggest challenge? Where do they want to grow? Work alongside your teachers to develop a culture of inquiry and learning. Seek feedback from them all along the way, instead of just providing yours.
Let’s make this school year one that fosters development for all, so our children can reap the benefits.
I was a teaching artist for 15 years before I made the leap to full-time administrative work. A lot of factors contributed to this decision: I quit acting (feeling I needed to establish myself as something more than a performer), my wife lost her job, and I wanted to develop new skills. At that time, my colleague Michael Wiggins, newly crowned Director of Education at Urban Arts Partnership (UAP), was focused on increasing the pedagogical acumen of the organization. He hired me as an Instructional Coach for Fresh Prep (a groundbreaking program using Hip-Hop music and culturally responsive pedagogy to support previously failing New York City students as they work to pass the Social Studies and ELA Regents Exams). So I left acting in November of 2013.
My first task at UAP was to write a process-drama curriculum that supplemented the program’s academically oriented Hip-Hop music; this was right up my alley, as I love designing engaging lessons for students. The wonderful thing was that writing this curriculum wasn’t too far off from the teaching artist work I’d been doing; the only difference was that I myself wouldn’t be teaching every lesson. It seemed like an easy transition into full-time, gainful employment. And, as I pushed to finish the first edition of Global History lessons for Fresh Prep, not once did I miss performing, particularly because while I was writing I was also able to observe our TAs in classrooms and lead professional development workshops for teachers and administrators. I was working in a field directly related to my passions, without having to worry about finding the next gig. Well, kind of…
What I learned — the hard way — is that my full-time salary, paid regularly every two weeks, was not enough to successfully subsist. Taxes were exorbitant, and I had to be in the office five days a week, so it was difficult to pick up extra work; I realized that although teaching artists live from paycheck to paycheck, if scheduled strategically, TAs can make more money than their administrative counterparts. As a teaching artist, I could cobble together various residencies to make a decent income. I didn’t receive paid vacation, but on the other hand I was not beholden to be anywhere. I could work a three-day week, focusing on something else the other four. I could go to a bar at noon on a Tuesday (which I often did, before my kids were born). This full-time job was actually putting me in the hole. I had to find a way to make more money.
As an actor, I always had a backup plan; with this in mind, I made sure that I stayed on the teaching artist rosters at several organizations. I was able to work weeknights, on Saturdays, and could even teach the occasional early-morning class before heading into the office at 10. I was hustling just as much as I had before my full-time gig, and yet I knew I needed to continue working as an administrator. Why? Because I felt people had more respect for an organization’s administrators than its teaching artists. Sensing an opportunity to grow as an educator, I had to spend less time in the classroom and more time behind a desk; it was frustrating, but I believed it would be beneficial in the long run. And, because I was a good Instructional Coach, I was quickly promoted to run UAP’s Professional Development Program. This seemed like a great move, mostly because I happen to love working with teachers and informing their practices; in fact, it is what I love most about being an adjunct instructor at NYU.
Did I forget to write that? I’m also a university professor on the side. In 2010, when I was still acting and freelancing as a TA, I was asked to teach a college course, and over the years I have been offered several more.
In my first position at UAP, I juggled teaching multiple courses, writing curriculum, and working hands-on with Fresh Prep teams in schools. However, in my new role as Professional Development Manager, my primary focus became coordinating schedules; I was rarely able to observe team members, because all the workshops happened either at the same time (in four different boroughs) or during school hours, when I needed to be on-call for our TAs and partner organizations. This was a highly administrative job, and it did not allow me to teach as much as I liked. I was becoming the admin guy.
Did I miss performing? Not really. But I did miss being in the room with a group of students, creating magic. The days of “make a circle” and “clap once if you can hear me,” or “tell me how that made you feel,” were gone. I was beginning to long for those precious moments when I’d have to ask students to stop throwing markers, fighting, or, you know, licking each other. I was now a program manager who knew how to make one sick spreadsheet, use Salesforce, and transfer attendance records for the accountant to report. I was sinking into a sea of systems, trying to claw my way toward the light just above the breaks.
Soon after making this move, UAP received an Arts in Education — Model Development and Dissemination grant from the U.S. Department of Education to adapt Fresh Prep for middle schools; this new initiative was called Fresh Ed, and I was asked to come on as the Project Director. I would have to build the program from scratch: write new lessons, coordinate schedules, manage a multimillion-dollar budget, and create digital content. I was also elected to serve on the Board of Directors for Arts in Education Roundtable. Then came the news that a session I submitted had been accepted at SXSWedu. I would be facilitating a workshop in Austin, Texas, focused on teaching history through Hip-Hop. My hard work was being noticed and rewarded. I was beginning to see how I could live my life as a full-time arts educator.
Still, something was missing and I couldn’t really put my finger on it.
I don’t regret my decision to become a full-time administrator, but I sometimes wonder if it was the right choice. When I quit acting, I was a working actor, and as crazy as it seems, I really miss the need to look for more work. It kept me hungry. It drove me to be a better performer, educator, dad, and husband. On top of that, I long for the days of less predictability, when I could go home to visit family, have a beer with friends (even strangers), sit down to read a novel, work out, take a nap, and of course worry about money. Yes, there is some security in being a salaried employee, but there is nothing like working a gig and just getting paid for it. Every penny seems earned. As a freelancer, there was an immediate sense of value attached to every acting job or classroom residency. I honestly miss traveling from school to school, going from audition to audition, and living paycheck to paycheck.
On the other hand, I love the work we create and implement at UAP. I love empowering other teaching artists, and I love collaborating with people from different fields, on local and national levels. UAP was once again accepted to SXSWedu; this time I’ll moderate an earth-shattering panel: Can Hip Hop Save Us? Beyond SXSW, we’ve been able to showcase our work at NY Tech Meetup, NYC DOE District 75, NYC DOE iZone, Google Education Think Tank, Google Geek Street Fair, NYU, and more. And, in spite of all that, as an administrator I maintain a pretty consistent schedule. I am not flying to Iowa for a small part in a movie or traveling to DC for 3 months to work on a new play. I may travel for events, but those trips are planned months in advance and they’re always brief. For the most part, I see my family every day.
But I have to ask myself: am I happy? Is this what I set out to do after earning my MFA in Acting from Brandeis? I always knew teaching would be a constant (even when I was at Morehouse College, exploring different majors, I was a Benjamin E. Mays Teaching Scholar), but I had also assumed that I would continue to perform in some capacity.
Two years ago, my wife worked as a costume designer for MTV, so I stayed home with my kids and played all summer. I auditioned, I got work on a few TV shows, and I read a lot of books. I was relatively content, and my wife liked knowing her job was only 3 months long. We didn’t necessarily know how we would pay for food or rent when her job ended, but we were happy. And shouldn’t life be about happiness? That said, would we still be happy if/when acting jobs dried up and the relentless schedule of TV designers became a long-term reality for my wife? I guess we’ll never know.
Over the years, I have been able to build a strong reputation in the field of arts education; my passion for performing may have waned, but my passion for education has remained.