Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Teaching Artist

on February 6, 2010

For many years, I’ve struggled with defining myself as an “educator.”  I began my career as an “educator.” I taught middle and high school. But, that role didn’t work for me.  I found myself too trapped. Too confined. There was something else I wanted to do.  Write. But, being only a writer didn’t work either.  I missed the kids. I missed the interactions. And right away, I began running the poetry workshop at Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

But, still what to call this new role? Perhaps, most telling, are my early experiences with writers who worked with kids along with their own writng.  The first experience happened when I took my seventh grade students to a week of creativity at Centrum. During the week, I worked in a poetry workshop with Vicky Edmonds. I sobbed after I read my first poem in her workshop. In that moment,  I woke up and remembered that there was something else I wanted to do.

A few years later, I attended the National Book Foundation Summer Writing Camp. In a workshop with Norma Fox Mazer, I cried after reading a piece about my Dad.  That began my journey into the Vermont College Writing Program for Teens and Young Adults. And looking back, I think those two experiences also shaped how I thought about writing and the type of writer I wanted to be. I learned that writing can be used as a source of healing, both for the writer and the reader, and I learned that it was important to use that skill and talent to guide others as a mentor.

But, I still couldn’t figure out how to define what I did. Yes. I write. Yes. I work with kids as a writer/mentor who is sharing how writing can help tell our stories. But, I don’t work as a classroom teacher and I don’t want that label. So what exactly is my role? How do I define what I do?

The Arts Corps of Seattle defines it perfectly…I am a teaching artist.

“A teaching artist is a practicing artist whose teaching is part of that practice. Teaching artists don’t necessarily have education degrees, but they might. Teaching artists are role models for lifestyle, discipline and skill. They pass on an oral and experiential tradition in ways of thinking, seeing and being. They are educators in the truest sense of the word. The root of the word ‘educate’ is to draw out. They ‘draw out’ rather than ‘put in.’ They are guides/facilitators/bridges to creativity. Teaching artists are social activists.”

– Arts Corps education director Tina LaPadula, Teaching Artist Journal

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