Reflections on the Program in Educational Theatre and Beyond

Hello Educational Theatre Blog Readers! My name is Naomi Avadanei, and I graduated from the Undergraduate Program in Educational Theatre this past May (2013). I consider myself very lucky to have found and been a part of the Educational Theatre community for 4 years–those 4 years were filled with so many incredible opportunities, inspiring moments, and (of course) invigorating classes. Upon entering senior year I had to make the ever-so important decision: to go to grad school right away or to take a few years off and apply what I’ve learned in the workforce. Clearly, I decided on the latter.

I started applying to jobs pretty early during my senior year around October/November and didn’t really stop until I got my first teaching job in mid-August. Currently I’m what many would call a “freelance teaching artist.” I work as the Theatre and Movement teacher at Hunter College Elementary School (3 days a week), the Education Associate at TADA! Youth Theatre (4 days a week) and a Teaching Artist with TADA! (several times a month), Brooklyn Children’s Theatre (1 day a week), Salk Middle School (1 day a week) and The Paperbag Players (several times a month). Throughout my application process I would estimate that I applied to over 100 different positions in total. It was a long, arduous, and VERY stressful process, but I’m really happy with the companies I’m working for, the people I’m working with, and the work that I’m doing. It all paid off. When I was applying to jobs I was pretty stubborn about only applying to and accepting positions teaching theatre. In my case this was the most important non-negotiable. I realized I wouldn’t be happy in my chosen career path unless I was working in some respects teaching theatre to kids. As I was applying to positions (and it got closer and closer to the beginning of the school year) I started to have doubts about my non-negotiable. Was I being unrealistic? It turns out that just as I was starting to give up hope, a posting for a Theatre Teacher at Hunter College Elementary School came up on the List Serv (the List Serv is a gold mine–read those emails, they could lead to something!), and I applied. I was offered the position on August 19th, just 23 days before the first day of school. After that I kept getting various Teaching Artist positions from previous connections and interviews and everything sort of just came together. So while my story is unique to my experience, I’d like to share with you some of the things that helped me get where I am now and what I wish I knew/know as I was looking for a job and as I start my first year of teaching Theatre and Movement with students ages 3-12.

Classes (required and not) that you should take (and pay really, really close attention in):

First and foremost, I think this needs to be said because I didn’t figure it out until late in my Junior year/early Senior year. There’s a point in your college career where you have to stop thinking about classes and class work in terms of being a student and getting good grades and start looking at it as preparation for your future career. This may sound really silly but let me explain; I always prided myself on good grades and completing assignments well but often once the assignment was handed in that was it. I forgot about the bulk of the work necessary to complete the assignment (these are the details are really valuable and helpful later on) and moved on. My advice to you is to take those good ideas, great activities, and awesome tools and create a running list (preferredly an organized one). You’ll thank yourself later on. Ask questions in class and complete assignments through the lens of a teacher and an artist, not just a student–you will inevitably get good grades and you’ll make your transition into teaching much easier.

  • Any of the artistry/practical classes (Playwriting, Directing, Physical Theatre, Stagecraft, any Shakespeare Class). Even if you’re not interested in a career in Shakespeare or don’t want to become a playwright it’s important you LEARN about these things so that you’re prepared to TEACH them later on.

  • Dramatic Activities in the Elementary and Secondary Classroom–that running list I was talking about, these classes will be the equivalent of gold for that list.

  • Theory of Creative Drama

  • Some sort of Movement Class–I took Intro to Teaching Creative Movement through the Dance Ed. department. This class will help make you a more dynamic theatre teacher and a more attractive candidate.

Things I wish I had known:

  • Teaching Portfolio

    • Spend a lot of time on it, it’s worth investing the time.

    • Be organized when creating it, you will inevitably print and reprint the material in your portfolio. You will add, you will subtract, you will create new material. Create separate folders and documents for everything.

    • Be pushy about showing your portfolio to your interviewer. I wasn’t always so assertive in presenting my portfolio. For my first few interviews I waited for the interviewer to ask me for it. They didn’t. Assert yourself. Bring your portfolio and gently suggest (read: force) them to look at it. Show them all of the time and effort you put into it. Pick a few highlights to show them–no one will have time to look at the whole thing. Show what’s most relevant to the position.

  • Letters of Recommendation

    • Ask for them even before you need them. Don’t expect people to have a fast turn over. You want the person who is recommending you to take their time and do a good job on your letter so give them the opportunity to do just that. Ask them for the letter 1-2 months before you anticipate needing it.

    • Get a variety of letters: people who have seen you teach (both in the elementary and secondary classroom–if you’re interested in teaching both–you want those letters to be separate so that you can have them ready should you be applying for a position in that area), people who have supervised you in an administrative position, people who have worked with you in an artistic setting etc. You want a variety so you have at least one letter for every type of job you might apply to.

    • This point is similar to the Teaching Portfolio point. Most employers won’t ask you for a letter of recommendation. Give one to them even if they don’t ask for one either in a hard copy at the end of an interview or as an attachment to your follow up email.

  • Get all of your certification paperwork and exams out of the way and submitted as early as possible. You don’t want to be thinking about them when you’re applying to jobs–you’ll have enough stress without worrying about whether or not you’re teaching certification went through.

  • Get in touch with past employers and internship coordinators, let them know you’ve graduated and are looking for work. You never know, sometimes the stars align and they’re looking for someone just like you.

  • Have a backup curriculum prepared for all age groups you’re interested in teaching–even if it’s just an overview

    • Some employers might ask you to create a curriculum on the spot (mine did).

    • In case you get hired last minute (I did) you won’t have to start from scratch, but you’ll have somewhere to pull from and creating a year long curriculum in 2 weeks (or 2 days) won’t seem as daunting as it could be. Remember that list I talked about? This is when that comes in handy.

    • Speaking of creating a curriculum I don’t think we really talk so much about the logistics of creating a curriculum. It’s an area the program could work on. This is not to say you don’t get a lot of tools during your time at NYU, but not exactly: How do I create a curriculum? What should YOU do? Take initiative. I recommend you ask your Cooperating Teachers, they’ve been there and they’ve done it. So while their teaching styles might be very different from your own, take the time to ask them and talk through the process. It’ll help you when you have to create a curriculum of your own.

I really hoped this post helped you. If you have any more questions please feel free to contact me at Nja235@nyu.edu