Schools Teaching art as a part of everyday life

  • By Pia Smith
  • This article was published more than 5 years ago.
  • 1 Jan 2019
Rosie at work. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Early career teacher Rosie Wositzky-Jones loves the arts. Which is just as well, given her role as a specialist performing arts teacher at Fairfield Primary School involves teaching music, dance and drama, running choir and orchestra, and staging several productions every year.

A trained performer who grew up immersed in creativity, Rosie believes that if children are exposed to the arts as a standard aspect of their schooling, it will also become an everyday part of their lives.

“What I would ideally like to provide is a belief that the performing arts is for everybody – it’s not for ‘talented people’, it’s not just for the lucky few. You meet a lot of adults who say things like, ‘I would love to sing but I just can’t’ or ‘I’d love to play an instrument but I’m not talented’. Even just [to change] that belief that the arts is for famous people, or something that happens on special occasions, rather than something that is part of everyone’s everyday life,” says Rosie.

The annual productions, which Rosie writes or adapts herself, are a highlight of the school calendar – a key opportunity to bring the classroom learning to the whole school community and to extend the kids’ creative experiences. As a young graduate, however, the prospect of mounting three concerts every year was initially daunting.

Photo: Meredith O'Shea

“When I first started, it was my first year out teaching and I was quite overwhelmed. But having done two years now, I’ve come to understand a lot more about why it works really well,” says Rosie.

“I surveyed all the kids, asking what the best thing about last year was, and concerts come out so highly for everyone. They ask me about it on the first day of the year, and pretty much every day for the whole year! Now I appreciate how important performing is for the kids, and also for the families.”

This was reinforced last year, when the school’s choir and orchestra were invited to perform for 400 principals at the MCG – “a big deal for our school!” says Rosie. After coming off stage, she asked one of her Grade 4 students how he felt. “He said, ‘Rosie, I was talking to my mum and we worked out if I do choir this year and all the way until Year 6, I will be a three- year choir veteran!’ It was a really lovely moment, to know it was something he talked about with his family and that made him proud of himself.

“If I can provide opportunities for the kids to just enjoy performing arts, to have positive associations and memories of it, they’re more like likely to continue on with it as they get older and to include creative pursuits in their decisions about how they want to spend their time.”

“If we’re going to create adults who feel that everyone can be artistic – I don’t see how that’s going to happen unless you start when they’re kids.”

With concerts, of course, come challenges – especially at the outset. “Putting on three big shows, working with venues, and lighting and sound technicians… there’s no handbook for it,so I had to be prepared for anything. That takes quite a lot of emotional energy – which I think is just anyone’s experience of first-year teaching, no matter what area they’re in. But I have just finished my second year and it was so much easier!”

The support for performing arts at Fairfield Primary is something Rosie doesn’t take for granted. Alongside student productions, the school has a strong tradition of hosting large-scale creative events, from gigs by local musos to its annual art exhibition, Art4All. “I’ve been fortunate to be in a position where I’m not having to fight for the profile of performing arts,” says Rosie.

In 2017, she introduced an artist-in- residence program for Grades 3 and 4, to introduce skills the kids would not necessarily gain outside of school. So far, resident artists have taught clowning, circus skills, shadow puppetry and Bunraku-style puppetry.

“There’s lots of literature on the benefits. If we’re going to create adults who feel that everyone can be artistic – I don’t see how that’s going to happen unless you start when they’re kids.”

As a specialist, building relationships with around 500 kids also presents a challenge. “We [specialist teachers] worked out that the generalist teachers see their kids for more hours in the first two weeks of school than we see them in the whole year!” Rosie says. “And because I’ve got three classes in one – dance, drama and music – plus preparing for concerts, I am always feeling the pressure of using the time as best we can.”

As for her relationship to the AEU, Rosie says, “When I graduated, I knew joining the union was the right thing to do.” Personally, she has benefitted from access to professional development, especially through Musical Futures. In the future, she’d like to see greater recognition of the unique requirements of specialist teaching roles, and find a support network of primary-level performing arts teachers.

“I know that so many of the things we take for granted, that make our job easier, just wouldn’t be there if the union hadn’t been there. I feel like it’s my responsibility to contribute to that, so in 20 or 30 years things are even better for teachers.”

Challenges aside, Rosie relishes having a role that draws on the breadth of her creative interests and experience. “I love the freedom – for all intents and purposes I run my own program – which means I get to go to work and spend time exploring and sharing things that I’m interested in with a really great bunch of kids.”

And another thing… 10 questions for Rosie Wositzky-Jones

The most important things I take into the classroom every day are… flexibility, patience and my singing voice.

The most important things to leave at home are… my car! I am trying to catch the bus more.

The best advice I ever received was… work smarter, not harder.

My top piece of advice to someone starting out in education would be… consider a specialist position.

My favourite teacher at school was… Mr Madden, for the life-changing plays he wrote, directed and produced.

The people I admire most are… women in music.

The music that changed my life was… my dad, Frank Jones’s. That early exposure puts it right at the core of your soul – much like the town you grew up in or the family bolognese recipe, it’s powerful.

In my other life, I am… writing electro pop.

If I met the education minister, I’d tell him… to put a performing arts teacher in every school.

The most important thing the union does for its members is… work now to improve the future.

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