For this CWP Staff Spotlight, we sat down with Program Director for Teaching Artist Training & Internships Patti Chilsen and asked her to talk about how she came to do the work that she does, its impact on her and those around her, and what it means to teach for social justice.
When did you first know you were a teacher?
Maybe I started to know when we “played school” as children and I often chose to be the instructor. I took another step closer to knowing while at Viterbo College taking an education course and yet another step while living in Denver working as a teacher assistant at Denver Academy for the middle school. Somehow I knew it when I went to select a Master’s Program because I chose the National Theater Conservatory, since it offered a teaching certificate with the degree. But truly I knew once I became a teaching artist at Lincoln Center Institute, working with students of all ages and teaching educators.
Why teach the teachers?
We can’t teach children well if we aren’t taught how to teach them well. That sounds twisty turny topsy turvey, but it’s so true. And I will quote Michele Kotler, Executive Director of CWP here in saying that the last thing these children in under-resourced communities – who already have enough unfair obstacles put upon them – deserve is teachers who don’t know how to be strong and helpful educators. And because I know that I have a style that not only can help make things clear, but that highlights how much fun teaching can be. It’s a hugely important role, and it isn’t a drudge.
Why teach them through pedagogy focused on social justice training?
That really goes back to my relationship with Dr. Maxine Greene and my own desire to make change for the better in this world. Maxine always taught us that good teaching is about providing space for your students’ voices to be heard, being a good listener and helping them to recognize all the wisdom they hold inside. Of course we studied works of art as vehicles for these explorations, but the concept was about breaking the norms that silence certain sectors of our population, and prompting the students to speak, to explore, to contribute, to create, to notice and to dialogue in critique, welcoming multiple perspectives and revealing how important the varied voices are in a democracy.
Ta-Nehesi Coates in his Atlantic Monthly article “A Case for Reparations” reminds us that we have an imbalance from the inception of the construct of this country that needs correcting. And Frederick Douglass is credited with asking us to recall that “no one is free when others are oppressed”. We do what little we can in the world to try to correct the injustices. My father was a legislator and he taught us by example that you have to be instrumental in creating the world you want to see.
Why do you love facilitating?
Because it isn’t about me. I am always being challenged in such an important way by the beautiful, creative, intelligent people in the room. They are there to teach me, to remind me never to get too lazy, to always be asking questions. That goes back to Dr. Greene too. But mostly because it is an honor to watch the magic that happens as we model these techniques and strategies and to then envision that these educators will carry that forward into the world. It makes me feel like my drop in the bucket has ripples that will help heal in the world. I’m not alone and I’m building a community.