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Dance and Drama One Step Closer

By Michael Buss, 2016-04-26

Want to hear something mind-blowing? For the last 40 years you could not teach Dance in California junior or high public schools unless you had a PE credential. And you could not teach Theatre unless you had an English credential.

Imagine the soccer coach being asked to teach ballet! Or the English teacher being asked to teach a theatre class! If you were lucky, there were some schools where it just so happened that some teachers did have these “secondary” skills.

Put simply, there were NO credentials for Dance or Theater. Only West Virginia matches California with such abysmal support of performing arts in our schools. For if we were to have properly trained and credentialed theatre and dance teachers – image the profound difference that would have upon our schools.

Now, it’s probably true that these two subjects have been missing for so long, or else so poorly taught, that school and district administrators simply do not know what REAL programs in dance and drama would even look like. Meanwhile, kids with highly kinetic learning intelligences may flounder in the more sedentary subjects (which is most of them.)

Union opposition
What was the problem? For as you can guess there were plenty of strong proponents pushing for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to approve such credentials. The California Alliance for Arts Education led the charge with wonderful advocacy. The State would have to pass a bill to make this happen. And the CTA union, the California Teachers Association, would also want to weigh in. But for YEARS the CTA resisted. Who can fathom the reasons?

To bring you up to date. Sen. Ben Allen, a keen, bright young man, understood the need to resolve the lack of suitable credentialing for dance and drama and recently introduced a Senate Bill to fix the problem. Now he’s the darling of the performing arts across the state, of course. But what would the CTA do at their general assembly in this very month of April?

A curious case
So I wrote to Ryan Anthony Ruelas, a member of the CTA, to ask him why the union had withstood opening up dance and drama credentials for so many years. But I got no reply - because (as I found out later) the school district blocked my email!

Ruelas is a teacher at Anaheim High School; he is on the board of the Anaheim City School District; he was, for a while, a Commissioner on Anaheim’s Cultural and Heritage Commission. And when I saw him last year at a large ACSD Arts Fair he was beaming with approval of the plan to gave access to all kids in the district to musical instruments. 

And when I saw him a few days ago, he was delighted to tell me he voted in favor of credentials for dance and drama.

Now here’s what happened next. The CTA conference finally APPROVED the call for single subject credentialing on April 12th!! The vote was 310 support; 250 oppose. That’s a 55% approval. More worrying is that if the CTA is representative of the general teaching profession, know that current performing arts teachers work in schools where 45% of their colleagues and administrators still not really get it!  But let’s not get bogged down in this right now.

April 20th – and the Senate Education Committee approved Ben Allen’s bill, SB 916, by a vote of 9-0. Next, it will go to the Senate Appropriations Committee and eventually, all being well, to the Governor’s desk.

This is a time for great optimism for the performing arts here in Anaheim. I have often pointed out how many fine actors and choreographers live in LA and OC counties. But they cannot all find work. What opportunities would open up for them, and our schools, if they could get credentialed! Bring the smell of grease-paint, the heat of the follow-spot, into the drama class, the real experience of having auditioned and performed in stage plays and movies, and the teaching of drama will take on a whole new dimension. Wherever we have fine dance and drama teachers – the whole school benefits.



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