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In Saskatchewan, Canada we began the program Arts Education about 6-7 years
ago. This program amalgamated 4 strands: Visual Art, Music, Drama, and
Movement(dance). I personally opposed it because, amoung other flaws, I
felt that it would lead to teacher burnout. The following are some of the
reasons I felt that way:
1. The skill and content level required by the teacher. To learn one
instrument to any acceptable level requires years of practice. To become a
teacher in just one of the four strands takes a lot of knowledge content -
theory, practice, teaching skills as against performing skills. Yet
Inservices typically are 1 to 2 days long.
2. The lack of power to fail a student in lower grades. The concept that
it is bad for a student's self-image to fail the subject of Arts Ed, let
alone the grade. I would like to challenge anyone to give me a solid
fail-proof test which discriminates between a student with low ability and
one who does nothing in Arts Ed simply because he knows that he will pass
the grade regardless of effort in Arts Ed. Of course, we all know what such
a student will end up doing - ie who will find 'work' for his idle hands.
3. To successfully create in the Arts requires an intimate knowledge of the
elements of each art, and a high degree of skills in applying these. How
many teachers out there have really composed a pleasant sounding piece of
music, and have done an excellent work of art, and know how to act, and can
perform dances? If you were to take a young person to learn to play a
trumpet, would you start with a generalist teacher or a specialized teacher?
I suggest that if I hadn't had the best when I started I would have
developed some very bad habits that would have taken years to correct. Yet
Arts Ed in many instances, requires one teacher to cover all this skill
area TO DO A CREDITABLE JOB.
4. The resources, location, time and preparation required even for the
superior teacher in Arts Ed. I have taught Chemistry and using this as a
comparison, the lack of funding, the lack of sufficient preparation time,
large classes, the lack of a single basic text (with teacher and student
resources) which covers all 4 areas are just a few but very significant
flaws in the program of Arts Ed in most cases. The design of classroom
space and storage which allows all these arts to successfully conduct classes.
Whenever I ask for money, I am told that the department of education
sold this program to administrators as a 'cheap' program (so what am I doing
asking for so much money). Typically, I can only buy 10 texts for all of
grades 6-9 in one budget year, no teachers resources - let's face it - we
all need CORRELATED TEACHER'S RESOURCES, and very little equipment.
Renovating the classroom - forget it!
Let me briefly tell you about an Arts Ed teacher which I'll call
Jane for her protection. She was young, energetic, and ambitious and single
when I first met her. When she started to teach Arts Ed she piloted the
course in our School Division. She was elected to be trained as a trainer
and came back to our Division and did a lot of Inservice with the other Arts
Ed teachers. For a long time after her presentation, I felt inspired to
press on and try to take more courses to make up for my perceived inadequacies.
Recently, I was thrilled to be called to go to an Arts Ed Convention
with her. Over the years I looked up to her. But I gathered from our
conversation on route to the convention that she had paid a high price in
time and energy devoted to this course...many weekends and evenings away
from her new husband, and young child. She looked haggard and depressed. I
observed that the subject is designed for the young and single loner, and I
actually think she conceded that point. She admitted that she was less able
to put as much work into the program because her commitment to her family
(which is to be commended).
Several respondents to my letter regarding burnout reported similar
causes of burnout. What do you think of the situation? I don't mind hard
work, as long as I know there is an end to it and as long as I have a
fighting chance to succeed. But I honestly think we need to re- assess what
the implications, needs, and requirements of Arts Ed are if this program is
to fly without the teacher-risk it represents.