Theater Arts, grades 9-12, Nokomis High School, Newport, Maine
This is the eleventh blog post for 2014 and the third phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) of this series sharing arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to learn from and about others. Lisa has been a teacher leader during phase 3 of the MAAI.
Lisa Neal teaches Theater Arts to grades 9-12 students at Nokomis High School in Newport. She has been part of the district for 27 years where she began her educational career as an Education Technician. Lisa directed the middle school show chorus for 21 years and will begin her 19th year with the High school show chorus this fall. She also worked as a 7th grade social studies teacher for 10 years at Somerset Valley Middle School. Lisa has been at the high school teaching Theater Arts for the past two years. She teaches two Acting classes, a Script Writing class, an Advanced Theater Class and a Comedy class. She also assists with the concert chorus and run the after school Drama Club. Her program is growing quickly; she has about 100 students in her classes and between the two after school productions, one of which was a musical, Lisa has about 50 students involved.
What do you like best about being an Arts educator?
There are so many reasons that I love teaching theater arts. It is very exciting to teach in an area where most of the students are excited to be there because they were able to choose the class. These students enjoy the content and are willing to give the effort needed to do the difficult work. I love watching students blossom into confident young men and women. So many come into the class as very shy individuals, not truly believing that they can conquer their fears around public speaking, yet they leave realizing that they have it within themselves to take those crucial risks. I love hearing them use terminology we have learned in class and be able to evaluate the craft based on true understanding of what they are viewing. I love hearing them make connections to other content areas and hearing them tell me they “felt smart” in their other classes because they applied concepts and knowledge they learned in Comedy class. In short, I love my job!
What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?
- Effective Educators: Nothing in education will be successful if there are not people who are passionate about their content, but even more importantly, people who love being with students. Educators must inspire students and help them achieve their potential by encouraging and critiquing. When students know they have someone in their lives that truly care about them, they will thrive.
- Opportunities to DO: The nature of the arts is to share. We need to give students the chance to share their work whether that is in front of an audience of ten peers or a public audience of 800. Remembering to consider each student as an individual while planning these opportunities is imperative, but it is giving them a chance to prove to themselves that they can do it is vital to their growth.
- Connections: We need to show students how the arts connect to other content areas, as well as other facets of their lives. When they make this realization, they will continue to allow the arts to enrich their lives and become life long lovers of the arts.
How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?
Invaluable! This year our school has put great emphasis on formative and summative assessments. I use formative assessments in many forms, every day in my classroom. Having a clear picture of your student’s understanding of the content, where their interests lie and what their ability level is, is the most important information that any educator can have. It helps to differentiate instruction for content, process and product, and it gives direction for future lessons. It allows a teacher to decide if they need to reteach certain concepts or if they can move on to the next one. It also assures that students will proficient on summative assessments that are given, which will be even more important as we move towards standards based diplomas.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
I have had the chance to meet other talented, passionate educators from around the state; I have been able to share experiences. Being a Theater Arts teacher can sometimes be lonely. I am the only one in my entire district to teach in this content area. Meeting other teachers who teach in the same content has been extremely helpful. We have developed a wonderful relationship, sharing ideas, rubrics, costumes and even did an exchange production, bringing each of our respective groups to the fall musical in each school.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I don’t know if I would say I am “proud”, but I will say what I hope that I have done is make a difference in the lives of my students. It is what I strive to do every day. I would like to think that some of them have learned something from me and they might look back and be able to say that they had a teacher who genuinely cared about their well-being and not just their education.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
It never feels like there is enough time to do everything that needs to get done. I would love more time to reflect on my lessons and discuss with other educators ways to improve my practices. I think the most important thing that any educator has to do is continue to work towards “better.” I have always said that when I think I have it all figured out and that there is nothing more I can do to improve, then I better retire. I think it will take all the time I have to get to be the best teacher I can be.
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
I came into teaching later in life. When my daughter was in 7th grade, I quit my job and went back to school full time. I graduated when I was 35 years old and “fell” into a job during my student teaching. Although this may have looked like “luck”, I had spent 15 years in the community volunteering in my children’s school, working with a theater company that offered Shakespearean residencies to middle school students in the state of Maine, and working as the director of the middle school show chorus. After teaching for 10 years I decided I wanted to get my Masters Degree which I received last December from University of New England in Literacy Instruction. Getting the job as the Theater Arts teacher at Nokomis was lucky in that it opened at a perfect time, but the reason I was asked to be there was because of the work I had done in the district over the last 20 years.
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
Remember that teaching is not a job, it is a calling. Not everyone should be a teacher. You must be passionate about your content and know it well, but you must love being with students and imparting that knowledge even more. You must have patience, be flexible and above all, have a sense of humor. Before you become a teacher, make certain it is your calling because when you are called to be a teacher, there is no job more rewarding.
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
Build a beautiful Performing Arts Center so my students could experience what it is like to perform on a real stage! Okay, I know this amount wouldn’t come close to doing that but I would just multiply my hypothetical money and make it a few million.
Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?
At this point, I would say I do not have any regrets. I have a full rich life that includes a wonderful family, opportunity to perform with other talented people who love the arts on historic stages like Lakewood Theater and Waterville Opera House, and I work in a field that makes a difference in the lives of others. What could be better?