8th-Grade Language Arts Teacher
How intensive was the work on this project?
Nelle came to the school for 90 minutes once a week. 45 of those minutes were in my classroom; the other half was with Judi Roseman and her art class doing the animation, costumes, and scenery. Nelle had 20 weeks, but she put in at least 25. A few times near the end when we wanted a double period of rehearsal, and the art work was completed, Nelle would work with my class during their Spanish period. Towards the end, we tossed English instruction out the window and rehearsed and worked on the project only.
What was the ability level of the students in this language arts class?
This eighth-grade class was particularly extraordinary – remarkably responsible and motivated – and the nicest, sweetest young people. It would be extremely difficult to produce a project on this level with a class that was challenged in reading, writing, and behavior. That said, a number of years ago I did a similar project with a ninth-grade class whose members were not as bright or scholarly. I'd been their English teacher for seventh- and eighth-grade as well. They needed a bit more prodding and assistance in turning the stories into scripts.
How has your experience with Nelle affected your own teaching?
I adore Nelle, which I think shows. I love how she works with students and the joy she brings to her work. For many years I taught drama, but the course was dropped about seven years ago. So to have Nelle sharing a love of theatre, plus her technical experience, has really inspired me, and reaffirmed my conviction that young people thrive on being imaginative and being part of a theatrical community.
Back to Top
Nelle Stokes, Visiting Theatre Artist
What kind of training and experience do you have for working in the classroom?
I began my career as an actor, and then started writing and doing production work in television and film. I began teaching entirely by accident – a friend was an art teacher at a local elementary school, and asked me to 'help' with his school play. It truly didn't occur to me that this might be a career. I ended up there for two years. Since that time, I've worked as an artist-in-residence for over ten years. I've managed and trained other teaching artists and done a good deal of staff development on the local and national level.
I think some of the best experience I have is that I was a very bad student as a child, although I loved learning. I am forever grateful to a brilliant teacher who reeled me in, largely through the use of the arts. She had a big banner over the front of the room that said, "It's not what you've got, but what you do with what you've got that matters." I think about Mrs. Barker and her philosophy a lot.
What are some of the challenges associated with working as an artist-in-residence?
Working as an artist-in-residence is a real honor and a great deal of fun, but it's like anything: doing it well is very difficult. I think one of the biggest challenges is preparation – being ready with a plan, but able to bend. Schools are institutions, and institutions have lots of schedules and lots of things going on. Often – make that constantly – bells ring, kids get pulled out, things change. And you have to be able to “ride the wave,” without anger and without drowning. I am always a guest in a teacher's classroom. They know their students in ways that I never will. A true partnership with a teacher is a rare and precious thing. Too often a teaching artist can seem at best a distraction, and at worst a nuisance. So working well with a teacher is key.
How would you modify your work if you were teaching students who were more academically or behaviorally challenged?
It would be very difficult to do writing and performance at this level with students who were academically or behaviorally challenged. Doing a large-scale performance, especially with puppets and/or animation, takes a very long time and requires a great deal of patience and discipline on the part of the students. However, I have done a good deal of work with special education populations, students with physical, learning, and emotional challenges. We have created original scripts, produced short videos, and created scenes for performance. I found that the goals - whether performance or production - had to be simpler, and had to be realized more quickly, ideally within the same class period. Holding their attention on one subject from one week to the next could be tricky. Clear, attainable goals and steps work best with any group of students.
Back to Top