MALI Teacher Leaders Series
This is the seventh blog post of the Phase 6 Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Teacher Leader stories. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about the work each Maine visual or performing arts teacher or artist is doing. CLICK HERE for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE for more information on the 81 Teacher Leaders plus 4 Teaching Artist Leaders. CLICK HERE for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. There have been 77 posted to date. Thank you Jean for sharing your story!
Jean Phillips has been a teacher at Wiscasset Middle High School for fifteen years. Originally hired to teach English, but, in 2008, when the drama coach and director left, she picked up the three drama classes. In 2010, when the person hired to direct the One Act Festival play suddenly quit, the opportunity to direct came along. The following year, Jean was “hired” to teach three drama classes: Acting Workshop, Children’s Theatre, and Tech Theatre Design and to direct the two yearly productions. She has been doing both “jobs” ever since. Presently, Jean also teaches the 8th Grade drama component of their Allied Arts program. Her yearly responsibilities include two public performances – one in the fall and the One Acts Festival piece – creating, building, or procuring all the sets, costumes, and props, as well as the maintenance, storage, and upkeep of the lights and the stage. She usually teaches nine to twelve 8th graders per quarter and 10-15 students per year in the Acting Workshop class per year; 8-12 students per year in the Children’s Theatre class; and 20 – 30 students per year in the Tech Theatre Design class. Jean’s Acting Workshop class involves teaching the terminology specific to theatre, stage positions and body positions – creating characters through analysis and fulfilling the performance standard by producing a public performance piece. Children’s Theatre begins with each student reading a children’s book, creating a story board for the book, a group decision of which play be the best to produce, writing a script, practicing together, and putting on a public performance – sometimes with children in the audience. Tech Theatre Design involves the technical aspects of theatre – specifically the design and construction off a set, sometimes the design of costumes, if time permits lighting and makeup.
My most favorite part of being a theatre teacher is watching students become hooked on working on the stage – either behind the scenes or as actors. I love that many disenfranchised students have found a home in theatre and even if they don’t pursue it any further than high school, they will have gained skills that will carry them throughout life.
What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?
The three essential things to a successful performing arts education is full support by administration, parents, and state; less interference by outside agencies; and fewer budgetary constraints.
How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?
I am just beginning to utilize more formative assessment in the classroom. The public performance has always been the summative assessment, but I have found it important to the success of the summative assessment if more formative assessments are given.
Before becoming involved in MALI, I taught my three classes and directed my plays. Now, I have never been as involved with professional development for the arts as I have this year. I have made more contacts and found advocates. I have also been able to engage more students in advocacy for the arts, too.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of two things: first, that I have been directly responsible for having students opt to become theatre arts majors in college; and two, that students who have not normally found a home in high school have found a safe haven on stage.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
For me there are two things that get in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as an educator: people who have no idea what happens on stage telling me how to do my job – the more constraints put on me by bureaucrats makes connecting with students harder because I’m spending more time with pointless paperwork than working directly with the students; and my own inhibitions. I am not a risk-taker and feel safer with the tried and true.
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
My whole life has been about hard work and determination. I have major anxiety and live my life in stress. In spite of this, I have earned two BA’s and an MA – all because I do not believe in quitting. I broke my leg my third year of getting my MA and learned to drive with my left foot so I could continue going to class because I knew that if I took the rest of the semester off, I would never go back. I set my sights on a goal and just push forward since I’ve never been very lucky or relied on circumstances to get what I want.
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
Wow – I’d tell them there’s a fine line between keeping discipline and being a hard nose about following the rules. I’d tell them that there will be times when you won’t sleep because you’re worried, or you’re scared, or you’re frustrated, or you’re stuck – and all of those sleepless nights will be worth it when just one student comes back to thank you or remembers you fondly later in life. I’d say that no matter how much your budget gets cut just keep on keeping on. Arts education is important and students need this creative edge as well as a haven – be these things and more.
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
If I had $500,000 I would build a separate arts facility for Wiscasset Middle High School – one with adequate space and light for the visual arts, a clean, soundproof room for band and chorus, and a dedicated space for the construction of sets, the construction and storage of costumes, and a place for all performances. If this isn’t feasible due to budget constraints, I would overhaul the stage lighting, build a space for the construction and storage of sets, maybe get more tools, and have someone come in and design a much cleaner, more organized space for the lights.
Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?
Who doesn’t have regrets? I guess my biggest regret would be that I didn’t reach more students, especially since many of them shied away from my program because they were anxious about performing or because they were afraid of me because of what they had heard from other people. I hope to have worked on the latter before I’m 94.