This is the 32nd in a series of blog posts telling arts teacher’s stories. The first 19 were told last year by the phase I Maine Arts Assessment Initiative teacher leaders. The series continues with the stories from the phase II teacher leaders. These posts contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.
Susan M. Jones has been teaching for 19 years in MSAD/RSU 40 at Medomak Valley High School. Her present teaching responsibilities include 25 students in chorus, 17 students in theatre, and 65 students in history. Before teaching at MVHS she was in neighboring MSAD 50 for 2 years.
She started teaching music, K-12; general, vocal, instrumental for about 8 years, and then expanded to Social Studies around 1999. Susan’s purpose was her desire to teach Music History, and learned that she could only do that with a certificate in Social Studies. So she got temporary certification and proudly showed her principal who informed her that someone else would be teaching Music History, but could she “please teach one class of World History?” The pay-off would be that she would only teach in one building all day. Fourteen years later she still hasn’t taught Music History. In 2004 she taught history full time. After four years, Susan was put back into part-Fine Arts and part-Social Studies, and then in 2011, Intro to Theatre class was added to her teaching load.
The main responsibilities of Susan’s classes are to prepare students for college (history classes); to prepare and perform choral pieces and to bring each student’s vocal ability to a higher plane (chorus); and to teach the basics of acting and improvisational theatre to her theatre students.
What do you like best about being an arts educator?
- The first is that I often get to see my students for more than one class; I get to see the end product of the growth they have achieved. I feel sorry for classroom teachers that only have the students for a year or for only a semester because they do not get to build the relationship that arts teachers have.
- We allow kids to have fun, to be creative in a controlled environment, but to have that fun, they have to be engaged. In Theatre class, they can be silly when we play the games, and when we are reading scripts, they have to be totally engaged so they don’t miss their lines when they come up. The teamwork displayed in Theatre (and Music and Dance!) is something rarely discussed but is much more vital than that experienced on a playing field. We don’t have subs on the bench just waiting to take over for someone who is injured or needs a rest!
Three keys to a successful visual and performing arts education:
- Enthusiastic, energetic, knowledgeable teachers
- Enthusiastic administrative support from administrators
- Parental & community support
How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?
I have found assessment to be helpful in my Theatre classroom by developing a rubric that students can see and use themselves. I used the rubric I created this past spring to assess a short monologue by the students. First, I filmed the students, then played back their pieces for the class to see (they had performed in front of the class, so it wasn’t anything new), and each student had to grade themselves. I also graded them, and found that most were much tougher on themselves than I was! The rubric gave us a good jumping-off point to discuss what made a good monologue and what they could do to make it even better. It was gratifying to hear the students use the vocabulary and language of theatre to explain their thoughts.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
One of the benefits of becoming involved in the arts assessment is the network of people I’ve met who are so willing to help answer questions and give suggestions and advice. I really feel that I could talk to any one of this group and they would honestly and kindly give of their time to help me…and I would do my best to do the same!
What are you most proud of in your career?
The thing I am most proud of in my career are the students who have returned to say they’ve done or tried something they never would have if it hadn’t been for what they learned in (fill in the blank: Chorus, Theatre, History, etc.). I have had students who have become music teachers and majored in history; so far I haven’t had any students who have gone on to continue with Theatre because I haven’t taught it long enough – most are still in high school! I do have two students this semester who are seniors, and one is majoring in Theatre and the other is minoring in it – I can’t wait to talk with them as they go through college! One student I had who took Chorus a number of years ago, well, singing wasn’t her strong suit, but she didn’t mind being in with the whole mix of people and her lack of pitch-matching wasn’t noticeable. She returned to visit after her sophomore year in college and proclaimed that she had taken part in a community sing-a-long of the Messiah, and that she would never have had the nerve to even try it if we hadn’t sung two pieces from the Messiah when she was in high school. She was so excited, and I was excited for her!
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
Scheduling is probably the biggest thing that gets in the way of me doing my job. In a small district, it’s hard to get the number of people who want to be in your classes to actually have room to be there. Then guidance counselors and administrators who throw up their hands and say, “Sorry, I can’t do anything about it.” I think they need some creativity in their lives!
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
I was able to get my Master’s Degree through a lot of hard work and determination! I figured if I was going to have to take courses anyway to keep my certification, I might as well have a purpose, so I applied for the program, took all the tests and was admitted. I figured I’d let my school district pay my tuition. Then before I’d even taken one class, I lost my job. Well, I paid for that one class, and through a community scholarship, I kept taking one class at a time. When I started, my oldest child was 5, the next was 3, and the youngest was 1. For three years, I was unable to get a job, so we were living off my husband’s salary with no health insurance and three kids. And I was taking college classes which often met every day for two weeks at a time in Orono, which meant I had to drive back and forth every day, plus have a babysitter from 7 am – 6 pm, which we couldn’t afford. I went to the local high school and asked if there were any young ladies who needed tutoring in Algebra and I was able to secure free babysitting by offering free tutoring – a win/win situation! People often think getting a master’s is something that can be done in a couple years while you are working, and it can be done…but that’s not the way I did it!
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
I would advise teachers to advocate for themselves, have the absolute best intentions for their students in mind, and be open to learning how to be the best teacher you can be. Lifelong learning is the absolute key to teaching!
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
I would use the $500,000 to pay off some bills, and put away the rest for those “rainy days” that will come – my parents are getting older, as we all are, and we may need to help them. Oh, and travel – I would love to travel more! I want to play djembes in Africa, go to the Shakespeare Festival in Edinburgh, learn Russian dancing in Moscow…it’s endless!
Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?
Yes, I have regrets. I really don’t know that anyone shouldn’t have them. Mostly the regrets revolve around accidentally hurting people. I wouldn’t have said certain things in an off-hand manner, or I would have listened more closely before jumping in. Those may sound like “little things”, not on the level of “I wish had had more courage to take that position”, but those are the things that bother me after years and years, not the major life-moments.
Thank you Susan for sharing your story!