Q&A with Jesse Factor

Teaching artist Jesse Factor appeared on our Teaching Careers CarCon panel in December. Jesse teaches at the Marymount School of New York, the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, and the International Schools Theatre Association. As a dancer, Jesse appeared with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Graham II, and various touring companies of Cats. He holds a BFA from NYU/Tisch.

Jesse Factor

What led you to consider developing a career in teaching?

My parents were teachers at International Schools. I remember that they would come home and want to share what happened in their class that day or talk about what they were learning themselves. I attended the various International Schools my parents taught at overseas, and I remember thinking how cool it was that the teachers were able to share what they were passionate about with their students while also leading vibrant and exciting lives.

What kind of teaching are you doing and what attracted you to this setting?

I teach in a variety of settings but primarily I teach Middle School Dance at an independent K-12 School in Manhattan. Independent Schools are governed differently than Public Schools, so they have some flexibility in the specialists they are able to hire. I was impressed with the faculty at my school and their level of education. I also teach in the Teens Division at the Martha Graham School, and one evening Open Level Class at the Martha Graham School. I like this setting because the students are very focused on the work.

What skills and training did you need? Where did you learn them?

I would say that Communication and Classroom management are the primary skills no matter what subject you are teaching or where you are teaching. Students need someone who can reel them in,  focus them, and make them excited about the subject matter. I’m constantly finding new ways to motivate and challenge my students in a positive way. I would also say Observation and Intuition are important skills to cultivate as a Middle School teacher. Adolescence can be a difficult time frame for young adults, and sensitivity to their needs is essential.

I learned a lot about how to work a Middle School room while working for the International Schools Theatre Association. When I started, I was in my early twenties and I had no idea what I was doing. I would watch older, more seasoned teachers take control of a gymnasium full of insanely loud and boisterous students in a second flat and be amazed. I basically stole everything they did that worked, and use it myself now.

When I was in Graham II, we did a lot of Educational Outreach at a diverse range of schools through the 5 boroughs. That was a good experience to see how young people could react to dance and allowed me familiarize myself with trends in the way they reacted or asked questions. It helped me to anticipate behavior so I could structure my work accordingly.

In terms of the larger picture, I think having a pedagogic philosophy and knowledge of current trends in education are important skills to have. I took a teacher training course at the Martha Graham School that gives one a Graham Certification, but there I also learned how to structure a lesson plan and to write a syllabus as well as to familiarize myself with teaching objectives and teaching points and how to use them in the classroom.

What do you like about this work? What are the drawbacks?

I really like the variety of places I teach and the balance of all my classes. There is a lot of variety and I get to teach a diverse range of material. The Middle School students have so much energy and are a lot of fun to be around. I also love my co-workers there; I find them to be highly skilled and intelligent people who are also passionate about what they do. I enjoy the school community and working with and meeting so many different people.

The Teens at Graham bring a beautiful desire to learn that is inspiring to me, and the Open Class serves people from all walks of life who just want to move and stay active. I have to approach all my classes differently.

I also like the schedule of teaching. I can still fit in time to take class myself after the school day is over, and I’m able to maintain a freelance career choreographing and assisting choreographers. I still feel connected to and part of the industry.

I think the only drawback to my particular job is that it does take a lot of physical energy. Thank god for online shopping.

What suggestions do you have for members who are interested in teaching?

I would recommend specializing in a specific area and then familiarizing yourself with lots of different idioms. For instance, I specialized in the Graham technique but have taken workshops in many other styles and formats so that I can offer a variety of dance experiences in my curriculum. Don’t discount what you know, but learning how to teach what you know to new audiences is an entirely different skill set that needs to be cultivated.

Take workshops and as much professional development as you can. Familiarize yourself with current trends in education such as Core Standards, Technology in the Classroom and 21st Century Skills. Having this kind of information can really help you out in an interview or if you want to expand your position.

Write out a personal statement about why you want to teach. You as an individual offer a unique combination of experiences that no one else has. Distill and abstract the most interesting things and powerful qualities about you. Have a really good story or two about your performing career that you can parlay into a learning experience or use in the classroom. I would also advise you to have a sample syllabus and lesson plan ready for a demonstration class you may be asked to teach.

Attend information seminars and meet people at panels. Find people that inspire you and contact them for informational interviews. Books like inGenius by Tina Seelig and Mindset by Carol Dweck are great resources to have.

See the schedule of CTFD’s upcoming Career Conversations here.
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