#31DaysIBPOC: A Play On The Intersectionality In The Arts And IB Classroom, Universal Themes

By Effuah Sam


First Act

Scene: International Baccalaureate (IB) Performing Arts Educator Monologue

Characters: Education Stakeholders, Arts Educators, IB Practitioners (All 4 Programmes), and the IB Learner Profile Traits (Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-Minded, Caring, Risk-Takers, Balanced, Reflective)

Settings: With students aged 3-19, IB Classroom (or NOT, a philosophy/mindset for ALL; https://www.ibo.org/  Now in its 52nd year, IB is dedicated to developing international education that creates a better world.)

Time:  2021

Situation: As an IB theatre/performing arts educator my work and passions are inherently intersectional.  I understand the educational world through the interconnected parts of me.  In this piece, I explore being African-American and specifically Ghanaian-American (bi-cultural, first generation), raised in a predominately white rural American community, now teaching in a predominately Black and Brown American city school; Arts educational spaces that can be racist and identities that are marginalized.  We are all at intersections of multiple identities.  It’s a continual reflective (IB Learner Profile Trait) process realizing we IBPOC Arts educators are few and MUST continue to fight and advocate for #buildingequitableschools and #buildingequitableclassrooms to include artistic curricular development and artistic opportunities for IBPOC students.  I have been a part of Arts deserts, being the sole Arts educator in the school, feeling obligated (not mandated) to educate on all art modalities (dance, music, theatre arts, and visual art), as anything else would be a disservice to the students being served.

Additionally, with years of work in Arts education, I continue to see a lack of representation, even Hollywood and Broadway (mecca for film and live theatre, new inclusion clauses, recent calls for IBPOC production staff/playwrights) still struggle.  Change will not happen until we understand artistic history and how MUCH in the Arts came about through the works of IBPOC.  There are multiple forms of oppression and privilege, each individual faces in the schoolhouse, and how they interact with one another begins with understanding an intersectional approach.  I want all learners to have the E’s of Arts study- education, exposure (Arts integration), experience, and equity!

*****

CHARACTER Inquirers:  Teachers recognize intersectionality and the interconnectedness of content areas/disciplines.  Artistic materials matter (consumables, spaces- performance/production areas, quality instruments) to development of creative curiosities.  Lifelong Arts involvement and supports with the exploration and independent learning of artistic disciplines begins with equity.  I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by an abundance of Black/African Diaspora and European Arts, my mother Carolyn Coffield Mends, a professional artist along with my father; Albion Mends III (my first teachers) provided numerous learning opportunities and exposure to the Arts.  This intersectionality is at play in an Arts classroom daily- those who have no exposure, to those who could go perform on Broadway based on their routine interactions with an Arts community (summer camps, private lessons, competitive experiences), this is where differentiation comes in.  Imagine me answering a student inquiry at the beginning of the year, explaining Theatre Arts is not the same as Visual Arts, albeit we cover all the Arts and other contents in Theatre!

CHARACTER Knowledgeable:  Teachers know the specialty content(s) they teach AND, most importantly WHO they teach!  Does the educational institution know the “Do’s and Don’ts of Producing IBPOC Plays?”- have an advisory or diversity and inclusion committee/board.  Have they found the public domain of IBPOC Poetry/Short Stories available for devised and adapted theatrical works or theatre in other forms?  How do you make a “foreign” (word intentional) theatre style relevant?  Why do you teach only European artists as the classics or greats?  What literature or styles come to life dramatically in your classroom or on the stage?  Is the student voice heard (a new playwright, poet, creative)?   I cover the standard course of study and a variety of theatre perspectives, not limited to:  Africa (National Theatre of Ghana personal photos dress the walls), African American, Asian American, Hispanic American).  There is often a push for Shakespeare only by some of my colleagues; transforming and decolonizing Arts curriculum must be a part of the educational discourse.

National Theatre of Ghana July 2019.jpg
National Theatre of Ghana, summer 2019 Year of Return, Guided Tour

CHARACTER Thinkers:  Teachers seek solutions to overcome cultural and economic obstacles.  Often highly underfunded, yet widely promoted (gains in academic scores, mitigate truancy/absenteeism, motivating), why?  There is recognition that we in the Arts are resourceful, making community connections to cover inequities.   Community, parent, family, and guardian involvement is critical to what we do and provides opportunities for more robust artistic programs.

 CHARACTER Communicators:  Teachers communicate effectively.  We must communicate current realities, uncomfortable pasts, and truths about our world. Languages should be embraced and language study should be encouraged.  Many of my ancillary materials are translated to Spanish, the other dominate language in our school, and Spanish is spoken in my classroom (me-broken a bit, and students- no spoken language assumptions by names).   I currently utilize closed captioning/live transcription in Zoom for inclusivity (IEP, 504, ELL, AIG, environmental distractions, etc.).  

CHARACTER Principled:  Teachers demonstrate leadership and advocate for their students and Arts programs.  They act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities they serve.  Teachers transitioned to brand-new models of instruction with hybrid and remote.  Issues in digital equity, digital inclusion (literacy, etc.), technical support, and skills remain; there are many who still need major support in utilizing the tools for learning in a digital age- 2020 and beyond!  Doing performance work in Zoom land and hybrid has made this a year like no other; the challenges AND opportunities are numerous.

CHARACTER Open-Minded:  Teachers promote global awareness and its relevance to subjects they teach.  Teachers are life-long learners and we influence students with the instructional decisions and behaviors we make.  Teacher collaboration is highly encouraged, but what does that look like when you see inequities in Arts programs (state of the art facilities vs. 1960’s version) and this “open-mindedness” to reform/change is non-existent or racist when suggested curriculums/initiatives are not responsive to cultural differences and individual learning needs?  Not all Arts programs are created the same.

IB Bulletin Effuah Sam Classroom.jpg
IB World Theme Wall Decor.jpg
Created IB Themed Classroom Bulletin Board and Wall Decor

CHARACTER Caring:  Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse student population.  The walls speak in my room with posters and décor championing respect, support, and inclusivity.  I say your name and with preferred pronunciation, if corrected, I note my error and change phonetically.  I grew up with- “Do you have a nickname?” “Can I call you…?”- NO! There were the dreaded roll calls or days with substitute teachers butchering my name.  I will not traumatize you based on YOUR cultural identity and connections to family, place, land, tradition, and language; rather it will be a celebration ALL year (not just themed months, racial justice and anti-bias work exists beyond a Black and White binary; Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May) where we value our similarities and what connects humanity artistically.  Growing up with a mother with a disability, I am also hypersensitive to the disabled community often excluded within the Arts for a perceived inability.  Our current pandemic realities have excluded many.  “CHARACTER Communicators” also represents the care shown a student who is hearing-impaired in hybrid instruction whereby a mask is used (Covid-19 safety protocols) preventing lip reads, allowing them to know what is being said remotely- closed captioning.  I have even learned more ASL for a student nonverbal through our speech pathologist (my first path, maybe told in ACT II).  IB reflects our community and world; my coined mantra for the special and uniqueness we all possess, “You Are Somebody, ACT like it!” means you have worth/value and your creative (performance) skills shared in my classroom and in life matter.  Teacher Appreciation Week begins today, May 3 and I celebrate my fellow education warriors as we wear many hats, continue to do much to end the school year, dedicate ourselves tirelessly, and pivot in unimaginable ways- show you care, #ThankATeacher.

My quote- You are somebody, ACT like it!.jpg

CHARACTER Risk-Takers:  Teachers are ACTive members of their school community.  I am a passionate advocate for the Arts, identifying needs in school policies/procedures/practices and bringing them to administrative/District attention in support of school improvement and reform initiatives affecting student artistic learning.  Are we challenging systems and providing high-quality standards-aligned artistic curriculum that will accelerate learning for all students and impact life trajectories (we impact all other careers- future change agents)?

CHARACTER Balanced:  Teachers make connections to their personal growth and professional goals.  I am grateful to be a part of this #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, as often the Arts and specialized curriculums do not get the attention they deserve.  Also on this day, I make a global (IB) connection to World Press Freedom Day (#WorldPressFreedomDay, media literacy, civic literacy); I celebrate my writing beginnings as a student journalist (middle, high school, collegiate) and current varied writings.  This day affirms the importance in cherishing information as a public good- advancing transparency and empowerment. Literacy in all its various forms has a place in the Arts.  There are stories (plays) to be told by IBPOC Arts educators!

CHARACTER Reflective: Teachers reflect on their practice.  The Arts are also healing and provide an opportunity to reach the whole child.  MANY during our global pandemic have found solace in the Arts.  Conversely, systems and communities are broken when we do not teach the value in “specials”/ “electives,” support these contents, offer study in, or cultivate student talents and interests.  Check out what is/has happened to your local Arts community post 2020.

*****

Talkback:  After the play, an informal or formal discussion; feedback on the aforementioned performance.  Do more than talk!  ACTivism comes in many forms- education and IBPOC Arts educators matter; utilize YOUR skills, passion, and various platforms for change.


This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Erica Pernell (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).

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