Teachers are Artists and Artists are Teachers

TESOL Drama New York City Workshop - Teachers are Artists
TESOL Drama New York City Workshop

The arts have played a major role in Marisol Santana‘s development since when, as five years old, she began learning how to dance and play musical instruments. Through her education, research and practices, she has come to learn that art is the universal language which transcends culture, gender, religion, and nationality. She has found that practicing multiple art forms increases learning, creates new art forms, activates metacognition, and improves social development/communication skills. Her teaching philosophy is informed by the work of Carl Jung in that the practice of art facilitates “individuation” by helping us reach our highest potentials, while revealing truths about who we really are and what we are meant to do in life.

Nice to meet you, Marisol. Can you tell us when did you first learn about what it is meant to be a teaching artist?

Nice to meet you too. Sure, I came across the phrase teaching-artist when I began my graduate studies in Educational Theatre at New York University in 2007. After studying the craft of acting within a conservatory setting and experiencing the limitations of auditioning as an actor, I felt the need to pursue a more satisfying and practical path. I decided to stop seeking others’ permission to be an artist.

So, what did you do?

I learned to write plays and teach drama for education and social justice purposes rather than to suit the needs of the commercial entertainment industry. I started to produce my own plays, film festivals, exhibits and mini-concerts in various venues such as restaurants, bakeries, schools, and off-off-Broadway theatres.

Marisol as a young actor in 2000
Marisol as a young actor in 2000

What was significant about this time of your life?

Educational Theatre was a perfect fit for my newly realized path. I met many teaching-artists in New York City; talented ones who, like me, learned to make a living doing what they love. I realized it was possible to be an artist and a teacher, that I didn’t have to choose. I could do both and be fulfilled.

When did you start teaching English with drama?

One night I had planned a performance and an art exhibit in a local Argentinian bakery, where I sang jazz and blues alongside my paintings and photographs of my travels to Brazil.

Funny enough, that night in the bakery, I met a director of a TESOL school located in New York City, who could relate to my work because he was from Brazil. He approached me after the show and asked me to produce a similar show at his school to promote the recruitment of new student-teachers.  

A few weeks later, we met and planned what was to be the TESOL International Film and Art Exhibit, which included artists and filmmakers from all over the world. We spoke about our shared passions for cultures and travel. I was struck by his school’s slogan “Make money traveling and teaching overseas.” This reminded me that I was trained to teach drama with any subject, so why not combine TESOL with drama?

It took several months to develop my concept and create a curriculum to train teachers to teach English using drama overseas. I started to produce TESOL Drama workshops in New York City, Paris. Los Angeles, and eventually in Florence in 2018 where I collaborated with a very talented TEFL trainer, Sheila Corwin at Europass Teacher Academy.

It is amazing to discover teachers from all over the world who also have a deep interest in using drama to teach languages, particularly because it makes learning fun and kinesthetic.

Marisol performing in New York City
Marisol performing in New York City

What about your dream?

During my first overseas workshop in Paris, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was, in fact, living my dream as a teaching-artist and an artist-teacher. I was creating theatre and performing together in an international art space with other teaching-artists.

How is this similar or different from other forms of theatre?

While it’s not Broadway, it is something much more meaningful to me, because teachers from different parts of the world come to study and experience these joyful practices of drama with me, a curriculum that I designed, like when an audience comes to see a play that you have written. You also experience those same close-knit bonds that you feel with other performers in a show, like an ensemble family of sorts. One can make life-long friends and colleagues in these workshops, just like you do in the theatre.

Washington Square Park, Painting by Marisol
Washington Square Park, Painting by Marisol

What has been one of the biggest high points you have experienced as a teaching-artist?

During my first international workshop in Paris, I learned that one of my participants planned to take the drama methodologies he learned in our workshop back to the children in his home country of Palestine to help them overcome their trauma of war. It is so exciting and amazing to see that this kind of theatre could reach students in the most remote corners of the world through their teachers. Last summer in our drama courses, we had teachers from the Réunion Islands off of Madagascar. I had never heard of these islands before.

What would you tell teachers who think that they are not artistic?

Everyone is creative. Life itself is an art. You do not have to be an artist to play or to have an imagination. Like Picasso said “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up.”

Art education philosopher Maxine Greene suggested that teachers should strive for the skill of aesthetic literacy, having the ability to comprehend and articulate artistic meaning to their students. Art not only develops creativity, but empathy for others, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaborative skills.

Teachers should be like antennas that tune into the multifaceted needs of their students, just like artists tune into the needs of society.

Marisol after her TESOL Drama workshop in Paris, France, 2013 - Teachers are Artists
Marisol after her TESOL Drama workshop in Paris, France, 2013

What would you tell other artists in the world who want to be teachers or other teachers who want to be artists?

Be true to yourself and never give up on what makes you happy! Be open to reinventing yourself with new possibilities to create the life you want. Never forget that being a teacher is being an artist; they must create interesting lessons and activities that engage their students every day, just like a performer has to do with her audience. There should be no limits to creativity for teachers and students. As Shakespeare once said, “All the world is a stage,” and we are its teaching-artists! Teachers are Artists!

Thank you for this interview!


2 thoughts on “Teachers are Artists and Artists are Teachers

  1. It’s impossible to express with enough praise the accomplishments against all odds, that Marisol has achieved. I have no doubt that there’s
    even much more to come!

  2. AvatarLillian says:

    This is wonderful❣️I so embrace Marisol’s philosophy. We learn so much about ourselves through our creativity and we create better when we know ourselves‼️

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