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Another Arts Teachers’ Story: Rebecca Wright

July 11, 2012

Featuring one teacher’s journey as an educator

This is the 16th in a series of blog posts telling arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.

Rebecca Wright just completed her 27th year in public education with the last 26 in Ellsworth, RSU 24. She is unique not because she teaches grades 9-12 at Ellsworth High School (EHS) but that she teaches Theatre, Vocal Music, and Dance and each year her student load varies due to her content expertise. On a trimester system at EHS next year she will teach 7 sections of public speaking, a new requirement for Freshmen. Her primary classes are in Introductory Theatre, Dance, and Vocal Music and Advanced sections in all those areas as well. Rebecca also teaches two different sections of Stagecraft; Costumes and Sets, and Concert Choir. The team Rebecca works with is awaiting final approval for instituting a Visual/Performing Arts Academy. Rebecca is a teacher leader with the first phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative.

What do you like best about being an arts educator?

It is ever changing and it is what students can be passionate about. They come to my class and say “I’ve waited all day for this!” I love how it changes or improves their lives forever and they will come back years later to describe how the visual/performing arts classes have helped them, supported their goals, or become a lifelong pursuit.

Tell me what you think are three keys to ANY successful arts ed program?

  1. Community and Administrative Support
  2. Dedication and a thick skin:)
  3. Students first!

What specific way(s) do your assessment practices tie into the success of your program?

Formative, formative, formative. Students are constantly assessed and encouraged daily without being aware of it. Formative assessment is vital to their individual improvement. My emphasis is on individual progress not on comparison to anyone else in class. Everyone can and will improve and graded assessments are based on their self-assessment, peer assessment and my assessment.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

The arts assessment initiative has been one of the best professional experiences of my career. The week spent last summer with people of like philosophy and mind was exhilarating and inspiring. The wealth of knowledge and ideas was a treasure trove to draw from and Ann Marie from MLTI changed my outlook on technology forever!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I have been blessed to have had many highlights in my career. Seven state championship show choir titles, two national titles at Disney, many successful festivals and sold out performances. I am most proud however, of the many students who have chosen to pursue careers and lives in the arts. It has been so rewarding to see them go on spreading the love of music, theatre and dance around the country. Many are teaching and directing at schools around the state, some are dancing in New York City, some are on television and in the movies spanning the nation from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles. Some participate in community theatre and church choirs. They keep me in the loop of their lives and I could not be more proud.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

The things that most interfere with being a better teacher are the increasing demands placed upon the teaching profession in general, red tape and paperwork, and also the constant repetition of having to educate administration about the unique and different needs of the Visual/Performing Arts Dept. I have had many supportive administrators but it has taken determination on the part of myself and my colleagues to gain that support and understanding of our programs.

Apple or PC?

Apple because we have “one to one” for our students.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

I constantly hear from colleagues across the state “It must be nice!”, “You have all kinds of money to work with.”, “Ellsworth has all kinds of advantages”. What I remind them is that it took 26 years to build what we have and we started with nothing more than an aging cafetorium stage and a handful of kids. There have been years full of “blood, sweat and tears” poured into our program not just on my part but on the part of all those students, parents, and volunteers during all those years. Circumstances were often against us but a passion for the importance of performing arts for students carried us through.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

The visual/performing arts are more important than ever to students and our culture.
Don’t give up and don’t expect everyone to be as excited as you are. Always remember who it makes the difference for-students. Be willing to compromise and be flexible and be willing to look at your situation from all sides. It is hard to argue with a program that is always focussed on what is truly best for students.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

After paying for my twins education, one is going to SVA in Manhattan for Animation and one is going to USM as Musical Theatre major (go figure:), I would probably finally start the “Wright School for the Performing Arts”. We have joked about it for years, buying The Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth and renovating it to be used as a year round performing arts school and performance center.

Thanks Rebecca for telling your story!

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