Community-Word Trains 35 Artists to Become Teaching Artists


In this ongoing series, Katie Rainey, reports from inside the Teaching Artist Training and Internship Program. A graduate of the program, Katie shares her insight into the workshops, seminars and personal experience with classroom internships.

On Saturday, October 25th, 2014, Community-Word Project’s 25-week Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP) started with 35 new trainees. The artists in the class, the largest class in the history of the program, represent artistic backgrounds in creative writing, music, theatre, dance, visual arts and media arts.

Fifteen years ago, Michele Kotler, Founder and Executive Director of Community-Word Project, started TATIP because she saw a lack of qualified Teaching Artists in New York’s public schools. She believed that both the students and the teaching community deserved well-trained Teaching Artists. A professionalized group who could make not only their work transparent, but their artistic process as well.

This is the fundamental idea behind TATIP and the subject of the first workshop: Creative Elements.

An artist’s creative elements are the building blocks of what he or she creates and why. It is crucial to any arts curriculum. Teaching Artists must identify their creative elements and translate them into coursework. Students are taught that art does not just appear, but is crafted, constructed and deliberately created.

What are these magical creative elements? They vary between artist and medium. One of TATIP’s facilitators, Renee Watson, shared a few of her creative elements that she used to write her poem “Where I’m From”. The poem’s central themes deal with childhood, neighborhood, struggle and resilience. These are also some of Renee’s creative elements, along with personification, narrative and sensory details. 

“I would say that the way in which Patti [Chilsen] and Renee [Watson] modeled how to teach, by teaching us in a variety of styles, was so helpful because everyone learns differently. It was done so seamlessly that everything they did would go unnoticed if it weren’t for their clear and precise manner of breaking it all down for us. I can see how using these techniques will teach kids without them fully realizing how they are learning; they’ll just be learning!” – Marie Farrell, Theatre Artist

The newest TATIP trainees were asked to identify some of their own creative elements and create an “artistic map” of what those look like.

“I thought it was very unique and so vital for Patti and Renee to have us start with examining our own creative elements in order to get in touch with what we intuitively bring into the classroom. I love the approach that the most important element we bring to our students is ourselves as human beings.” – Stephanie Jones, Creative Writing

The day ended with facilitators and trainees in deep reflection on the workshop and why it is important for artists to explore and share their creative elements. 

“TATIP has reinforced to me that bringing my artist-self into the classroom is just as important as bringing my teacher-self. After just one workshop, I already feel more attuned to who I am as a human and artist and how I can use my creative elements to better help students find and embrace their own artistry.” – Laura Epperson, Theatre Artist

The next workshop will cover Lesson Plans & Learning Objectives. Stay tuned!