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// Rad Gal, Rad Gig: Teaching Artist

Hi! I'm Caro, a Chicago-based teaching artist who blogs at Like the Syrup.

In case you’re not familiar with the role of a teaching artist, it’s just that: an artist who teaches. They’re usually practicing creatives first and teachers second, but many of them go on to get formal credentials. The day-to-day schedule varies but most of us are employed full-time at one organization or work on a freelance basis at several.

I became a teaching artist by chance. I went to art school, graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Art, and landed at an ad agency after graduation. The short version is that it was a horrible experience. I quit without a plan B and found myself doing freelance design work to pay the bills. I did a little bit of everything but I wasn’t enjoying it and it felt like I was wasting time.
Then a mentor told me something that I still think about all the time. She said, "Nothing’s a waste. At the end, you know one more thing you don't want to do and that's just as valuable." It was a light bulb moment for me. I continued to take on odd jobs and freelance projects but started looking at each one as a process of elimination.

I ultimately realized that what I wanted was a creative job that allowed me to give back. Another thing I learned about myself is that I prize flexibility over stability, and that I don’t want to do the same thing every day. When I came across an open teaching artist position, it seemed like a perfect fit!
The Chicago Public Library has a program called YOUmedia that puts creative spaces in the library specifically for teenagers. Students can kick back, check out laptops and other professional-grade equipment, and attend free workshops on everything from music production to graphic design. There’s even a little recording studio at one of the branches!

I worked with YOUmedia part-time, Monday-Thursday from 2:00-8:00pm. I taught one hour-long workshop each day but I spent the rest of my time just hanging out with students in the space. I'd work on lesson plans while they worked on homework and we’d chat about their friends, families, or whatever TV show they were watching that week. Every day was different, whether it was helping a student use GoogleDrive or getting my ass kicked at Mario Kart. I lost count of how many prom dresses I looked at that spring!
My position at YOUmedia lasted seven months (the length of a grant that paid my salary). In that time, I taught six-week units on self-publication, graphic design, and creative writing. I also did some one-off workshops to help students create resumes and work on their college applications. Not only was it a great job, it helped me find the path I’m on now. 

Chicago has a large number of nonprofits working with underserved youth, most of which employ teaching artists or volunteers in a similar capacity. We’re basically one big extended family, which makes it easy for us to share best practices, collaborate, and connect each other to opportunities. That sense of community is a big reason I love what I do so much.

These days, teaching is about 25% of my work. The rest of my time is spent on the other side of the classroom. I own a small business that works with colleges, community organizations, and bloggers to develop online classes.  It’s a dream job that I never would’ve discovered without being a teaching artist! 

How to Get Started

All you really need to become a teaching artist is a portfolio that showcases your craft and some teaching experience. An art degree or teaching accreditation definitely helps but isn’t required for most positions. 
What is required is a lot of flexibility, patience, and the ability to make things work in less than ideal circumstances. Sometimes your lesson plan just doesn’t work and you have to adapt it on the fly. You’ll likely be working outside the standard 9-5 and may or may not have benefits.

If that doesn’t deter you, I recommend starting as a volunteer. It’s a great way to get experience! I got my job at YOUmedia because the interviewers liked my web development background (hard to find among teaching artists) and that I had planned my own workshops as a volunteer with Girls Rock! Chicago. 
Nonprofits like Girls Rock and 826 have chapters all over the country and are powered by volunteers. So are libraries! You can also check out Idealist to find local organizations looking for specific help. It’s important to find an organization that’s doing work you’re passionate about.

I also recommend asking a teaching artist if you can assist them—especially if they teach at multiple places! Many of the people that have assisted me have gone on to do their own thing and I regularly recommend them when I have to turn down a gig. 

If you’d like to chat more about teaching artistry, or just be buds, you can find me at Like the Syrup and as @carolinesyrup on Twitter or Instagram. Thanks for letting me share!


Rad Gal, Rad Gig is a new feature on The Clueless Girl's Guide where I invite really neat gals to share their really cool stories. Whether your gig is a full-time job or just a hobby, I want to hear from you! If you think you'd be perfect for Rad Gal, Rad Gig, feel free to get in touch or view the information on the Submissions page! Just submit a short description of what you do and why you think it's rad!

// I Fought The Law

In keeping with the neat Nude Portraits photo series, I thought this one from Olivia Locher was worth sharing, too! Olivia depicts some of America's strangest laws through her photography. I've included a few of my favorites below. Some of these laws are just hilarious. Be sure to let me know which one is your favorite! (I'm kind of partial to the bouncing pickles myself... I wonder who's job it is to test the bouce-ability [?!] of pickles?! haha!)

// Things I Love Thursday v.200

this! ♥
♥ this adorable photo ♥
this tattoo! ♥
♥ leslie knope quips are the best part of parks + rec ♥
this bedroom ♥
this stag photo ♥
this illustration ♥
this pretty bento lunch ♥
this needs to hang over my desk ♥

// Funeral home offers drive-thru visitation. Okay seriously?! This is so tacky.

// This is the best dog post on Tumblr of all time! You must look at it. Oh my stars they're too good!

// Living simply in a dumpster. Whoa! Forget Tiny Homes! Could you live in a 36 sq. ft. box?

// Why it doesn't matter how you feel about your friends. I need to be more mindful of this!

// I'm choosing a winner for the Ameda breast pump tomorrow. Get your last minute entries in!

What are you loving this week?

// Window Shopping - 70% Off!

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ModCloth is having a huge 70% off sale right now so of course I had to spend some time lurking around, dreaming up a wishlist of my own. None of this stuff above really goes together, but I'd still love to welcome all of it into my wardrobe! And yes, that's totally a shark sleeping bag... Insane, right?

Did you score anything awesome from the big sale this time around?! xo

// Linden Atlas - The Birth Story

I was pretty positive that I wouldn't share Linden's birth story on the blog... I'm not sure why since I really enjoy reading those types of posts myself. I guess part of me was really heartbroken that his birth didn't go even remotely as planned, and I've sort of been mourning that experience for the past six weeks. The thought of writing about it made me feel guilty and ashamed because I was letting the little details cloud my memory of such an incredible experience. Don't get me wrong, he's here and I'm over the moon! He was born healthy and I got through it (fairly) unscathed... I'll consider that a huge success. I think I was just overwhelmed with everything. But for the sake of memory, and sharing my experience, I figured I'd write up a little something. (And of course a little something turns into a long something haha)

After being admitted to the hospital on five separate occasions in the five weeks that lead up to Linden's birth, I was terrified what the actual labor and delivery process might be like. Starting at around 34 weeks Linden's heart was going a little crazy. At my first hospital admission his heart was racing at lightning speed. Then just a week later when I was having regular contractions, his heart rate would drop considerably. Between his variables and my (mild) pre-eclampsia, my "totally easy" pregnancy turned into quite the adventure. Despite twice weekly non-stress tests, weekly admission to the hospital, and even a Pitocin-induced contraction challenge test, I was still loving being pregnant. I was sore and large, but I loved every minute of it. My doctor had expressed her concerns to me about Linden's heart and after a lot of consideration we agreed to start induction as soon as I hit 39 weeks. I was scheduled to be admitted to the hospital at 10pm on Tuesday, July 22nd and the Pitocin drip would begin at midnight. I was both elated and terrified.
Tuesday the 22nd rolled around and we went about our business as usual. I made sure to eat a delicious "last meal" and I even managed to sneak in a quick cat nap before heading out. At 9pm we left our house with our bags in tow and checked into the hospital. Apparently everyone was having a baby that night because we had to wait for a full half hour for a bed to open up before we could be admitted. After getting settled in I waited for my nurse to make her rounds and I psyched myself up for that awful Pitocin IV (seriously... the IV in the hand is the worst!). Finally at 12:30am my nurse came in to start the drip. She let me get up and move around a bit, go to the restroom, and then settle in bed to begin. As soon as I sat back down in the bed I felt a strange gush of water... like I had peed myself. Y'all, I thought I peed myself! I was so embarrassed haha! I looked around with a strange face and contemplated what just happened, and then I finally mentioned it to her and made sure to say "But I really don't think I peed myself... I mean, I just went to the bathroom"... Lo and behold my water broke on it's own! Seriously thirty seconds before the IV was to be inserted. (If my water had broken on it's own at home, I probably would've just assumed I peed myself. Seriously. That sort of comes with the territory of being 9 months pregnant haha It wasn't some crazy cinematic thing like you see on TV) Anyway, the IV was started and we were left to settle in for a long night of Friends reruns. 

After about 30 minutes my contractions (which I could barely feel in the beginning) were terrible. The pain escalated so quickly and I could barely stand it. Since my water had already broken on it's own, I was free to request an epidural at any point. (Shoutout to all of you moms who do it the natural way, but that was *not* for me! Holy moly!) I buzzed my nurse and told her I was ready knowing it'd be a full half hour before the anesthesiologist could make it up there anyway. At around 2am the anesthesiologist showed up and inserted my epidural. It wasn't the most painful thing in the world, but it sure as heck didn't feel good either. In fact, I cried like a baby. And had snot dripping down my face. Not my finest hour... BUT! Sweet relief was there! Almost instantly my lower body tingled and went numb. So numb that I couldn't even lift my feet to move the cover haha Luckily I was able to catch a little bit of shut eye before the real show began. Or so I thought... 

Not too long after my epidural I heard my "alarm" go off at the nurse's station. For the next couple of hours 2 nurses came in every 5-10 minutes to sort of roll me from one side to the other. Apparently Linden's heart wasn't doing so well. Despite "passing" the contraction challenge test a week prior, his decelerations were worrisome. By 4am my Mom and Nana were at the hospital, sitting in our dark room with us. The nurses came and went each time my alarm would sound, and eventually a midwife came in to talk to me about what was happening, telling me that a c-section might be in order. My doctor came by as soon as she got to the hospital sometime after 6:30am and said a c-section would be the only safe way to bring him into the world. I held it together long enough for the medical staff to leave the room, but as soon as the door shut behind them I broke out into tears. I had known all along that a c-section might happen. I had known for weeks that his heart wasn't really tolerating the contractions so it was a possibility. But I was scared. SO scared. I didn't know what to expect and I was terrified of being cut open on a table. Not only that but I was so scared that the contractions were actually hurting Linden in some way, like cutting off his oxygen supply or worse. It wasn't the birth that I had envisioned. Still, I made sure to write down my wishes on our birth plan should a caesarian take place. Within just a minute or two they had the OR ready, and Mike was suited up in his scrubs. They wheeled me in and started surgery at 7am exactly.

I don't really remember a whole lot about the actual surgery. I was awake the whole time, but the drugs were pretty strong. I had a really really wonderful anesthesiologist that talked me through the entire process. She was so kind and that honestly made a world of difference for me. I felt slight pressure, but nothing was ever uncomfortable or painful. The minutes blurred together, and in no time I heard Linden cry for the very first time. I couldn't see him, but his cries alone sent me into emotional overdrive. I started bawling like a baby right there on the table. They lifted him up and started to clean him off. Mike was able to take his phone and snap some photos, but it was difficult because his glasses were so fogged up from crying! Seeing this made me cry even more haha! After that I can't really recall much of the next half hour. They let Mike take Linden back to our room so our family could see him, but I never even saw them leave. I was in and out of sleep since the pain medication was so heavy. The anesthesiologist kept having to wake me up to remind me to breathe deeply. They pulled me off the table and rolled me out of the OR at 8am on the dot... One hour from start to finish.

I got back to the room and everything was still so hazy. I remember holding him for the first time and being so incredibly awestruck by how precious he was. I wish I could remember more from those first few hours but everything is a blur. (That's really what prompted me to finally write all of this down... I'm so afraid I'll forget!) My parents stayed for a few hours and then left to let us rest for a while. We stayed in our L&D room for most of the day until we could be transferred to the Mother/Baby Unit. Mike's parents and Toby came in to meet Linden and everything felt wonderful.

I had envisioned this certain kind of birth experience and it wasn't anything like that. I was okay with the c-section (though the recovery was excruciating!) and above all I'm just glad he's here, safe and sound. Part of me is still mourning the birth experience we didn't have... like Mike cutting the cord, immediate skin to skin contact, etc. Things that really aren't that huge in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes I'll still catch myself crying that I wasn't the first person to hold my baby... or the second. Or the third. It's silly to stress over because I've certainly made up for the "lost time" since then, but when you're in a heightened emotional state, all rationality goes out the window haha. There wasn't a single thing on our (extremely lax) birth plan that went according plan... but that's sort of how life is I guess. Even with the stress, surprises, and slight speed bumps, I get to be the mom to one of the sweetest little guys around.

Part of me finds it hard to believe it's already been over six weeks since this experience, while the other part of me feels like it was so long ago. Now that I have my first birth experience out of the way, I think I'll feel a lot more calm the next time around. I definitely hope we have more children in the future... no matter how they come into the world. I was never aware of how emotional a c-section could be, but I feel very lucky that we were surrounded by so many wonderful nurses, and my amazing doctor, because they made the whole thing so easy. I'd do his birth ten times over if it meant bringing the same sweet little person into the world. It may not have been my ideal, but it was perfect. I know so many women feel cheated when they have a c-section, and honestly, that's how I felt, too. I felt like my body was failing me, like when I got my preeclampsia diagnosis and when my body couldn't keep Linden stable. But now I see the good that has come from it and I can't really be mad, ya know? I asked a lot of my body during those nine months... I'd say I came out victorious. It was worth absolutely every second.

I know my labor and delivery experience may not be unique from anyone else's, but I'm glad I took the time to sit down and write it out. Even if just for my own sake. I'd like to be able to remember enough of it to tell Linden about it when he's older. That's good enough for me. Thanks for letting me share. xo