Advice to Spring 2021 TAP Class


From Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
17 February 1903, Paris:

“There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.”

Community-Word Project’s Teaching Artist Project (TAP) recently completed it’s 23rd year of training Teaching Artists. To mark this occasion, the TAP mentors wrote, in poetic form, advice to these arts educators from the Spring ’21 Class:


You, as creator,
As perpetual learner,
Trust your gut and breathe

Check in with your creative process
Teach from where you have learned, Think
about the classroom as an ocean
and each student is a wave that will
come forward and retreat, Honor
this beautiful ocean and think of all the ways
you can invite the waves
to come forward and to be
a tide together

Don’t forget to practice what you
teach and make space for your own
artistry, Take care of you as an artist
This will ripple
into how you take care of the
emerging artists you teach
have quiet time
Take care of yourself.



Pay attention. Who
is not in the room? Bring them
in. They belong too.
Notice the spaces in between
Listen to the silence
Be firm in structure and be
prepared to throw it all away

Seek that balance between providing guidelines
and templates for a poem
(some students benefit from the structure),
and trust your students’ innate creativity
to do magical things
when given the open space.

Ask your students what they want to learn.
Ask your students what they want to teach.
Carve and pay yourself time to prepare a lesson
that you’d want to be a student for.
Review each lesson before you submit–
is this social justice in practice?
Am I getting complacent?

Be ok being uncomfortable
Ask yourself “why do I feel this now?”
Acknowledge your privileges,
we all have a few that have been lurking but unseen
It’s ok being different from your students
Celebrate your differences!
It’s what makes us beautiful
It’s what makes us grow



Honor the teaching artist’s power to reach imagination.
Respect this power and share it with your students.
Hold the thinking that it is easier to open
a young person up through arts
then to bring this student back to neutral.

This is part of the real work of doing what we do.
Making sure our students are safe in their vulnerability.
Which students are being vulnerable, but we call them resistant?
Which students need support being vulnerable, but we call them bored?
Resistance is feeling. Making sure you are secure
in your Teaching Artist vulnerability.

Listen for the feelings.
Make the boredom welcome here.
Make boundaries. Let your students test them.

Humility in
class and the office / Center
stories, not profits

Learn everyone’s names.
Divide the lesson in two–it always takes more time.
Make the lesson about the side comment.
Build the support you need in your own life
so you can show up to your classroom.

Ask for help with this when you don’t know what it looks like.
Ask for better pay when you need it.
Feel the necessity of this.
Give your unpaid time when you can afford it
in community with others who go above and beyond
that economy every day.
Feel the grace of this.



Take the time to celebrate
students’ poems
that may not be classically
“the best,” and watch those students
become more engaged,
more alive,
more trusting
of their own voices.
Speak to the child inside you

Find a new way to teach and
a new way to learn.
Can’t believe I ever thought about teaching alone.
We are never alone.
Why pretend?

It will change weekly
You will change weekly
Respond to now.
Break the spell of “have to”

Be tender with each other.


Check out the Spring’21 class Anthology to learn more about the cadre of recent alums.