“I cannot tell you how much I grew as a teacher and a patron of the arts by participating in ArtSmart,” wrote Babs Rector on the eve of her retirement as a 5th grade teacher at Meigs Middle Magnet School. “TPAC Education has consistently offered superior professional development and stayed current with educational trends, which is a feat itself! I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be part of it.”
After teaching in three different Metro Nashville Public Schools over the course of three decades, Rector took time answer a few questions from SPOTlight about her experience with arts education. Throughout her 30-year teaching career, she was an active participant in TPAC Education’s ArtSmart, a program which blends professional development training, collaboration with teaching artists on classroom residencies, and attending performances on TPAC’s annual Season for Young People.
Q: We so appreciated your sending a note about your TPAC experience as you retired. Tell us more about your growth as a teacher and a patron of the arts after participating in TPAC Education’s ArtSmart.
Babs Rector: As a teacher, I realized that arts education helped me reach children with different learning styles. That’s important. TPAC Education also taught me to be more creative with any subject matter. If I was teaching science, for instance, I wanted the lessons to be creative. I wanted my students to relate to the subject. I learned to apply and adapt ArtSmart principles in other creative ways across the curriculum. I also found that TPAC Education excels at understanding current trends in education. The current emphasis on project-based learning (PBL) in Metro Schools is a great example of that. Arts education is not just something ‘extra.’ TPAC provides teachers with the resources on plugging into the latest standards and requirements, across the curriculum.
Q: Describe the impact of ArtSmart in your life, both personally and professionally.
BR: For me, in the beginning, the ArtSmart Institutes helped me to define different ways to look at different works of art. Personally, that exposed me to a variety of art forms, from modern dance to visual arts. I’d choose one focus for the classroom from the different options. After I was introduced to them, however, I was likely to attend a performance or go to Cheekwood to see the sculptures. I also benefitted from working directly with professional artists — actors, musicians, dancers, painters, sculptors and others. Their perspectives were not something I had ever experienced personally. To work closely with the artists gave me so many different ideas on how to work with students. And then, I did something that is so critical to the student experience and collaborated with the teaching artists. We brainstormed ideas for each ArtSmart unit in the classroom. We came up with unique ideas for student learning and we came up with them together. That helped me with professional development in other areas, especially collaborations with other teachers.
Q: The training and teaching artist residencies culminate with a field trip to TPAC for a performance or to another place to view visual art. How was that beneficial to classroom learning?
BR: First of all, TPAC’s performances or ArtSmart works of visual art relate directly to various subjects. Going to a performance at TPAC? You cannot even begin to tap into the depth of what those performances have to offer. The quality of the shows is always top-notch. The highlights of going to TPAC were seeing how the students reacted during the performance or talked about it after the experience because they had experienced something similar in the classroom. Clearly, they connected with the live performance and it reinforced what they’d learned. One example: Before we saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream we experimented with talking in couplets and explored how difficult it is to come up with something with that pattern of rhyme. We talked about the names of the characters. Why would Shakespeare choose those names? This play is not something that students would normally study in the 5th grade. ArtSmart helped them to connect to the work of art and give them an early introduction to William Shakespeare in a way that was relevant to them at their age.
Q: What kind of impact did you see in the lives and learning of your students?
BR: When we focused on the plays, for example, we did a lot of work with writing, including crafting short skits. I saw so much development and creativity when we did those activities. Some of the students, who were perhaps not so academically talented, really shined when they acted out a skit. When they performed a theatrical piece, let’s say, they were very witty and creative. They had a chance to shine in a different way.
Q: Any parting words?
BR: I wish that every teacher, every student, had more opportunities in arts education. I firmly believe that the arts are vital to a well-rounded education. I believe that the arts open doors for children. TPAC Education provides opportunities that many children do not otherwise experience in their young lives. When they see a play or study a work of visual art, it helps them to work through some of their own challenges and problems. As a teacher, it’s been very rewarding to see how the arts draw out the creativity and ability of all children regardless of their cultural and economic circumstance. Kids need this experience. The arts enrich their lives. At the same time they enjoy the arts activities and performances, they work out some things that are very tough in life.