Hello from the mobile art room! The past year, I've had a residency guiding meditation and art-making for youth in the community room of a library! Libraries are such magical places, held together by a glue of unseen work and patience. Teaching classes in this community hub that is also home to some of my best friends (books, to be clear) is basically fully realizing my big kid dreams. It has been a privilege to do this work of imagining, and overall I have learned a lot about my strengths, capacity and areas for improvement as a teaching artist. I teach 5 free art classes in the library each week; show up early to roll in my art cart, set out tables and place chairs to prepare the space: circle on one side of the room, art class on the other. I stay after to clean and help set up for the next role the room will fill. The usual stuff, and it's super beautiful and super messy. And between my freelance-contracted-artist-teacher-healer work schedule and mental, emotional and physical health needs, I might run out of spoons, and that can make this amazing job really, really hard.
Coming into (out of?) a particularly rough week and feeling a collective need to stifle some self-doubt, I wanted to share a few tips and lessons I've learned/am learning from my experiences as a chronically-ill mobile art teacher - v v inspired by my current read Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice.
For a sick and crazy teaching artist just starting a gig, it can be sweet hell to navigate niceties of new bureaucracies, while building new relationships with families and creating a temporary haven in a shared space (not always the case for after-school or summer programs that you'd need to do this, but often has been my experience). This list is here for new teaching artists, well-seasoned folks, and also for myself as a reminder of how to prepare to show up present and joyful in the art room, whatever that may look like in any of our brilliant bodyminds. I love you, and you got this!
10 sick and crazy teacher's tools:
1. A note on teaching artist residencies - get clear on what is expected of you. What will you be paid for? What is beyond your contract? Really get these answers. If you're like me, your care for the youth and your artistic practice could = putting in additional (unpaid and under-spooned) hours, so it's best to figure out how to balance that with clear boundaries and rest periods. It's important to know how to navigate sick days, substitute teachers, routes of communication, emergency routes of communication for when you need it most. Make sure you feel protected.
2. Portable altar. Yes to the classroom project of making a space for special objects, yes to the talking pieces you will pass around in circle. And also have your own tools for (again) protection, patience, and clarity. I often wear adornments made by friends and community members that are laid with stones like citrine, for joy and creativity, or blue kyanite, for aiding expression, or loving intentions. I wear yellow for personal power, positivity, and confidence.
3. Handheld, easy to access snacks. I somehow often forget to pack a banana and granola bar, or crackers, to sneak a bite between classes. My little anemic body loves to munch on roasted seaweed.
4. Water. Throw a lemon in a jar or a thermos and continue to refill with water all day, to add brightness and replenish electrolytes.
5. Schedule in a break. Communicate this to youth. To families of youth. To folks managing the space. People will come and talk to you while you're prepping materials, while you're cleaning up, while you're trying to eat lunch. Be strict about this time to yourself from the get-go so everyone knows what to expect, or it may become difficult to maintain. You might not need this time every day, but there will be times your neck needs a good stretch, or your brain needs some quiet, or you forgot to take your meds, or your social anxiety is peaking and you just gotta breathe.
6. Reiterating because it's a big one for me: find out who to contact and how for emergency sick days. This caused me a lot of hardship at the beginning of my time as a teaching artist. I cancel a lot, and it's not because I don't care. Knowing that there is a network of support makes all the difference in the quality of your relationships, your work and your rest.
7. Ask about space accessibility, whether you need it or not. Capacity to support neurodivergent or disabled students. Ask about interpretation. Especially if you personally don't have training or experience in these areas.
8. Print out a syllabus. Even if it's not required of you. This can be as simple as writing up a theme for each class, or listing out the supplies students will be using. In fact, don't make it fancy or even detailed, because it will probably change anyway. Having a syllabus has helped me get folks excited about coming to class, given families a heads up on when to expect the messier classes, diverted a lot of "what are we doing today? what are we doing next week?" and put my class times and contact info all in one place for anyone who doesn't check email or wants more information while I distribute materials.
9. Jokes, riddles and games. Learn a few good ones online to have on hand. Ask your students for their favorites. Rounds of riddles mid-project lifted heavy spirits on many a dreary day.
10. Herbal soaks. This is a #homejoy thing. As I recently learned from the youth production "Parched" (Free Street Theater), taking a bath uses as much water as taking a shower, and a 45 minute bath is actually more efficient than a 45 minute shower. So if you're into it, soak up! I have tried CBD infused bath soaks as well as epsom salts thrown in the tub with herbs like lavender (floral, relaxing, encourages rest), or a touch of ginger (warming, anti-inflammatory, stimulates circulation) and/or a few drops of essential oils. The magnesium in epsom salt encourages your muscles to relax. If you've never worked with herbs before, do a little skin test with the herbs in water to check for sensitivity.
PS: You can practice with me this week at my regular Wednesday morning gentle yoga class. 9am @ Chi-Town Shakti