My Teaching Artist story

I was featured again on the Maine Arts Education blog this week. Here’s what I said:

Teaching Artist – Poet

Brian Evans-Jones is mainly a poet these days but also does creative writing. Brian has been teaching since 2005 and doesn’t have a favorite grade or age to teach. “They all offer something different and wonderful. I like to teach by excitement and discovery. I want students to be excited about the idea of writing before they begin, and then to discover what they’re capable of while they actually do it. I want the whole experience to be fun—though also serious fun, the way that kids’ games can be serious.

What do you like best about being a teaching artist?

That’s a hard question! I guess first of all because I get to see a lot of different ages and types of students, and touch a lot of different lives. Lately I’ve also realized it’s because I get to partner with many wonderful great teachers and teaching artists. And on a personal level, I like the flexibility: I could never see myself being happy in a regular job! 

Brian at Hermon High School, November 2017

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful arts education?

Thinking about creativity in general, I might say:

  • To be supported to take risks
  • To feel OK about failure
  • To learn the unique habits and (wholesome) props that scaffold your own personal creative process.

Have you found assessment to be helpful in your classes, workshops and residencies, and if so, how?

Not being a regular teacher, I don’t often think about “Assessment.” But I do constantly assess how the class is going, how students and I are bonding, how well I am generating enthusiasm, how well my instructions are being understood and used, how well balanced my activities are between support and openness, how much effort students are putting in, how much they seem to be learning, and how keen they are to keep working. I can’t imagine teaching a class without monitoring those things constantly, and many more, but I don’t formalize them. I do frequently use the SWOT framework to assess how I think a class went and plan for the next one, though.

Brian at Hermon High School facilitating a workshop to help guide students working on Poetry Out Loud

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

People! Meeting cool people who do similar things and make me feel encouraged. Also getting to work on specific projects in partnership with other MALI people, like Kris Bisson, Lindsay Pinchbeck, and Tim Christensen.

What are you most proud of as an artist and/or a teaching artist?

As an artist: winning the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers.

As a teaching artist: the fact that I do this at all, having jumped into the financial and professional unknown in order to do it. Also some big residencies I have run or am running, like working with 80 second graders for 2 weeks in South Berwick, ME, and leading a team of 4 TAs on a poetry residency with the 8th grade at Wells Junior High School.

What gets in the way of doing a better job as a teaching artist?

Isolation, which makes me less likely to find more work, and makes it harder to plan great classes. Collaboration and MALI connections work against this.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

Leaving my role as a high school teacher, which didn’t suit me, to piece together a patchwork career, including being a teaching artist. It happened because I sought out any opportunities I could to get experience in the right areas.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a teaching artist or is just starting out?

See the previous answer! Plus also:

  • Make connections
  • Take (some) chances—trust the creative process with your career just as you do when you’re making art. 

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Brian at the summer MALI institute leading a workshop on writing

That’ll be just enough to pay for college for my two kids by the time they’re ready to go, right? I wish I was even joking…

In a world where college didn’t cost so stupidly much, I would use the money to set up and fund a nonprofit to take poetry to places and people who need it but don’t get exposed to it: prisoners, the homeless, older adults, children in poorer areas, etc.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

I should have ditched other work and done more teaching artist work sooner! It makes the most difference and is the most rewarding of the several things that I do.

NOTE: Brian traveled to Hermon High School and Van Buren District Secondary School in November 2017 to work with students with the Poetry Out Loud program that the Maine Arts Commission provides in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Brian is on the Maine Arts Commission Teaching Artist roster and is available to travel to schools and communities to provide poetry and creative writing instruction.