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Teaching is Improvisation: A Teaching Artist's Perspective

Posted by Stage Partners on

Stage Partners Education Director, Maria McConville, got a chance to catch the Fresh Professor, James Miles, between classes to hear about his love of collaborating with teachers, how the arts are the “main ingredient” to a student's day and about why you should attend the Arts In Education Roundtable Face to Face Conference in NYC this April. 

MARIA: In your experience, and you have taught all over the place, how has Arts Education changed? Anything we should bring back? What are we doing right?

JAMES: When I first starting working in arts education, I worked mostly in after school, as did most of the teaching artists that I met. Over the years, I have seen arts integration happen more frequently, so that the arts are not just an afterthought; they are the main ingredient. I see more and teachers recognize the power of the arts in educating and engaging young people. There is still arts for arts sake, but as the 21st Century is about multiplicity of skills and tasks, the arts are viewed as a collaborative element within general education classes. I think this is a good thing. We operate in a world where we don't separate from our mobile devices and we have the capacity to text, listen to music, and play a video game. Integrating the arts into academic content allows for those multiple pathways towards expression, and also provides career readiness for young people because they are seeing the world via multiple perspectives.

MARIA: If you could change one thing about our education system, what would it be?

JAMES: I'm sure this is a comment often heard, but if I could change one thing about the education system, it would be its reliance on standardized tests to assess student knowledge and teacher efficacy. We need to build a greater system of trust in our educators and in our students. 50% of the jobs that young people will have in the future haven't been invented. Yet, we still test students as if we are preparing them to work in a 19th century society where every outcome is predictable. We are not training students to be part of an assembly line; we should be uplifting them to create their own assembly.

MARIA: What are your top three favorite things about working with teachers?

JAMES: I love working with teachers because I love collaboration. My mother works in education. My brother was a special education teacher and worked with me, as a teaching artist. It's in my blood to work with teachers and I enjoy the conversations we have together. Teachers want the best for their students and to experience that kind of goodwill lifts me up. On a practical note, I love working with teachers because I love teaching. I facilitate many professional development workshops around the country and I'm always excited to share my ideas and, also, listen to other ideas and perceptions about academic content, school culture, student behavior, technology, and more. To sum up, my top three favorite things about working with teachers are:

--Sharing experiences.

--Building community.

--Empowering each other, thereby empowering students.

MARIA: Do you have a teaching motto?

JAMES: My motto is "teaching is improvisation. Live in the moment and forget the rest." My other motto is "no regrets." Every experience has value.

MARIA: What attracted you to the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable? What is the coolest thing about the upcoming Face to Face Conference that no arts educator should miss?

JAMES: Everyone should go to F2F to meet people and cultivate a community of like minded people, interested in arts education. The community is strong and I have made some wonderful partnerships based off of my experiences there. Plus, if you go this year, you'll get to see a lot of me, which no one should miss. It is an amazing experience to be in a room with me. #humblebrag. (Just kidding)


JAMES MILES, the Fresh Professor, is an adjunct professor at NYU and is the Project Director of Fresh Ed at Urban Arts Partnership. A Master Teaching Artist that has been worked in arts education for over 15 years, he has facilitated workshops and designed curriculum for the New Victory Theater, Roundabout Theatre, Disney Theatrical Group, Theatre for a New Audience, Center of Arts Education, BAX, Brooklyn Arts, Council, Opening Act, and (Out)Laws & Justice. He is on the board of directors for the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable and the Teaching Artist Journal. A graduate of Morehouse College and Brandeis University, James is also a former accountant, model, and actor, but can be frequently found on Twitter, as @fresh_professor, writing about arts education, educational policy, and academic inequity.

The New York City Arts in Education Roundtable is a service organization and a community of arts education practitioners sharing information, providing professional development, and communicating with the public to promote our work in schools and beyond. The Roundtable currently has over 120 individual and organizational members, representing all five boroughs of New York City. Sign up for Face to Face here:

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