One thing I’ve picked up on in my ten years of being an educator is that when it comes to learning, “one size” certainly doesn’t fit all. Not only that, footwear is so unique and the shoe game is so taxing– often involving testing the shoe out and modeling it before knowing it works for sure.
This metaphor essentially means that the job of a teacher is hard and unpredictable. I am constantly shifting and changing my teaching/ lecture approach based on whatever audience I’m engaging with. And often, those shifts occur in real time.
Notice I said audience. I have a background in theatre and so I’m always thinking about performativity when I teach/ speak.
I’ve never identified as a traditional classroom teacher and I have always struggled with the idea that “one size fits all”. In fact, I had commitment issues when it came to becoming certified to teach in the state of Mississippi. That was until I had an opportunity to teach at The Mississippi School of the Arts. MSA is not a traditional school, by any means. It’s a residential college prepatory arts school. I also integrate blended learning since my students are writers by practice and spend a lot of time on the computer. My fidelity at MSA is to the creative writers, putting me over my own department: The Literary Arts Department, which turns twelve years old this year. The classroom size is small, about 10 students at a time. It’s upper high school so the writers come to me in their junior year. There’s a different kind of vulnerability at work when teaching young artists. My daily goal is to develop their creative and critical thinking skills. I also aim to instill diversity and socially responsible artistry.
The Class of 2019 and I started our journey at MSA together and this past week, I was fortunate to hand them each their red rose at commencement.
The seniors joked for months leading up to graduation about needing to keep me close to impart advice as they navigated their freshman year in college. They talked about needing a pocket-sized version of me. “Pocket Sibley” is what they coined it. So, I created this small publication and surprised them on graduation day.
It’s a great feeling to have finally found what feels like a perfect fit as a non-traditional Arts Educator. What I also love is my ability to be flexible and reach other audiences in communities I care deeply about. I was fortunate this year to be the graduation speaker at Denman Junior High School where I attended in 1996-1998.
I also experience teaching in my non-profit work through professional development and cohort leadership.
One-on-one and small group instruction are definitely my favorite. I also love a “wild card” teaching situation, which I totally get in my exciting role as a dance instructor. This past year I taught dance and character development to twenty-two girls between the ages of 5 and 12.
Lastly, my daily, 24-7 teaching obligation happens at home with my own children in my vital role as mom.
I believe it was Kofi Annan who said,
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”
I finally understand and respect the call on my life to be a non-traditional educator. I know the communities I am accountable to and I know that imparting wisdom is something I want to do forever.
I’m a teacher, y’all! And I have to say it’s a pretty dope thing.
Clinnesha is a writer, wife, mom, meta-artist, and social entrepreneur who feels most accountable to southern, black citizen-artists, elders, children, and families. Her work is at the intersection of arts, culture, innovation, and community.