Jakey Toor is an itinerant dance teaching artist, working with the San Francisco Unified School District’s Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA). She teaches weekly dance classes to the entire school population at four sites: Argonne, Longfellow, John Muir and Cesar Chavez elementary schools. On the average, Jakey teaches six classes per day, meaning that on any given week she works with 600 students, 30 classroom teachers, and 4-6 principals and vice principals.
When asked what brought her to this work, Jakey replied, “a very clear idea of what I didn’t want to do, passion for movement and a fortunate happenstance.” With a BA in theater, a portfolio of solo performance work and TA experience, she found herself with sufficient credits for a multi-subject credential and supplementary authorizations to teach both theater and dance in elementary settings.
Jakey approaches her work with an inquiring mind. Initially, she was not comfortable with the idea of socializing students and continues to question whether the teaching she is required to do aligns with her values. To help her with that, she established a blog, Artists in the Classroom as a grounding, virtual space to maintain her reflective practice habit. When asked what she does to keep herself engaged, inspired, open and ready, Jakey responds that “because reflection, documentation, writing and technology keep me engaged and inspired, I process, share and keep track of my experiences through blogs.” She takes class to “stay on the ball and in my body” and sleep is high on her priority list. She sets an alarm clock to tell her what time to go to bed. Jakey also meditates on a daily basis.
After three years of teaching 1,700 children each year, Jakey’s lessons learned include:
1) Self care. Sleep is essential. “If I have to choose between prepping or sleeping, I’m better off sleeping, even if it means that I walk in a little under prepared. For me, the presence that comes with rested, wakeful-ness is more valuable than a full completed lesson plan.”
2) Be Yourself. “Being genuine, honest and real will get you far. There is no need to convince anyone of anything. Just do your work and be who you are. Bringing your authentic and present self to the table is enough.”
3) Neither a Victim nor Martyr Be. “I am not a victim of the teaching profession, my schedule or my work load, nor am I a martyr. I am choosing to engage with the world as a teacher and I have the ability to ensure that I show up present, operating from a rested, happy and healthy place.”
“Every site I work with has a very unique culture. I feel like a sort of cultural chameleon, constantly experimenting with and creating my role and the role of dance at a site. I feel like it is imperative to have positive, productive relationships with EVERYONE. If people don’t like you or find value in what you do, they aren’t going to help you or champion your cause. So, if I want a site to be on board with dance, 1) I have to provide a service that people perceive as valuable, and 2) I have to welcome and include everyone, every step of the way. That means I am in constant communication with the principal and teachers, and also the support staff and custodians. Because if I don’t have a good relationship with the custodian, and s/he mops the floor after lunch on Friday’s, our class isn’t going to happen. Or, if a principal doesn’t find value in students dancing, they aren’t going to let four classes come together and rehearse their performance piece during “core” instructional time. All of these little things matter and add up and result in dance becoming a valued part of a school’s culture.”