Theater Educates interviews a different arts educator each month, to get his or her take on our field. This month we talk to Katherine Latterner of Fillmore Arts Center.
Katherine: I am currently Principal of the Fillmore Arts Center, a District of Columbia Public School. Fillmore provides the arts education to 12 DCPS elementary schools and serves 2,600 students at two sites. Artist teachers provide visual arts, music (including strings and band), dance and drama instruction.
How did you become an arts educator?
Katherine: I began studying piano and voice at an early age and began my college career as a music performance major. I realized that I would not become a concert pianist and switched my major to English. After college I worked at a non-profit but continued my involvement in music. When my children were very young, I discovered they had minimal music instruction in school and I began volunteering as a music teacher. I studied Orff and Kodaly and became a music teacher at Fillmore where I taught music (and creative writing for 14 years). I obtained a masters in educational leadership and became the Director of Education for the Musical Theater Center, returning to Fillmore as the principal five years ago.
Did you have any mentors in the field? If so, how did they influence you?
Katherine: My family was always involved in music (mother and grandmothers). My first real mentor was my piano and voice teacher, Lewis Grubb. We lived in a small town in Delaware, but he had performed in Philadelphia and New York and exposed me to a wealth of literature and experiences (singing with adult groups in Wilmington and Philadelphia).
There is a lot of debate among educators, administrators and policymakers about arts integration vs. art for arts sake. What is your opinion of this debate? Do you favor one side over the other?
Katherine: I think it makes perfect sense to make connections between the arts and other disciplines. Using the arts to teach numeracy, literacy, social and physical sciences allows children with varying learning styles to more easily access this information and to use both right and left brain modalities. However, the push has been to have arts education focus in Arts Integration to the exclusion of the arts as important disciplines. I am a strong proponent of having a high quality arts education for arts sake.
What advice do you give young people who want to make a career in the arts?
Katherine: Pursuing the arts as a career may not be the most financially rewarding choice (except for a very few people), but it is certainly a personally rewarding choice. If you have a passion for the arts, you should pursue it. Examine the multiple ways you can work in the arts (performer, teacher, production, etc.) .
What advice do you give early-career arts educators?
Katherine: Do not neglect the impact of technology on the students of today. Explore ways you can incorporate technology and please keep your activities interesting and “fun” for your young students. You job is to foster a love of the arts in your students so they can not only be participants, but also arts audience members and supporters.
Every educator has a different definition of success. Can you tell us about a time when you felt successful as an arts educator?
Katherine: I have had students go on to great commercial success, but it is the everyday successes (the shy child who performs a dance or sings a solo on stage, the class cut-up who really shines as the “king” in the drama performance, the beautiful ceramic bowl made by a child who said he was “no good” in art) that make me feel most successful as an arts educator.