Reading, Writing and Rhythm

Creative teaching gigs available for musicians and other artists

Volume CXI, No. 1January, 2011

Do you want to use your music to enrich the lives of public schoolchildren – while getting paid? Here’s some news: the Actors Fund has come up with a very creative way for musicians and other artists to do part-time teaching gigs in the New York City public schools through the Actors Fund Work Program.

It’s not without some fine print, but it just might turn out to be a positive experience for you and a way to increase your income.

Here’s the big picture.

The program is called STARRRS, and it stands for “Substitute Teachers for the Arts and the three R’s.”

The idea is that musicians, actors and other performing artists are sent into the New York City public schools as substitute teachers.

But instead of following a standard curriculum, you are allowed to use your music as a teaching tool. You may even give mini-concerts. It’s ultimately up to the principal what you are allowed to do, but the idea is that you use your artistry in the classroom.

The pay is $154.97 for a full day of teaching, minus taxes. That means getting to a school around 8:30 and getting out around 3. On top of this, there may be opportunities for additional work at an hourly rate. Subs are members of the United Federation of Teachers and are covered by its union contract.

Although the current budget situation has meant that some schools are not using substitutes, a number have expressed an interest in those from STARRRS – in fact many principals have expressed a specific interest in musicians.

Here’s the fine print.

  • You have to attend a generic orientation session about the Actors Fund Work Program, which lasts 2.5 hours. (If you’re already a member of the Actors Fund Work Program, call your career counselor now and ask about the STARRRS program.)
  • Working with a career counselor, you will determine whether STARRRS is appropriate for you. (Remember, the Actors Fund Work Program is there to help you find a meaningful sideline or new career, so if STARRRS isn’t right for you, the program will help you find another fit.)
  • You must attend a separate STARRRS orientation and audition. (Yes, there is an audition.)
  • There is a substantial training commitment. Training takes place all day Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, for four weeks. All participants must attend all sessions, but you’ll get out of training in time to do evening gigs. You’ll also have to take some online courses.
  • It will ultimately cost you just under $300 in fees, but at the end of it all, you will have your substitute teachers’ license for the New York Public School system. (Part of the cost covers fingerprinting fees. If you’ve already been fingerprinted in the past from teaching or sub work, you don’t have to be fingerprinted again and can knock about $115 off the required fees.)
  • If you finally make it through the program, the expectation is that you will commit to at least two teaching days a week. (Remember, each teaching day is 8:30 to 3, approximately.)


Local 802 member Michel Gohler is a woodwind doubler and freelancer. He recently came off the road with “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and read about the STARRRS program in Allegro when we first published an article about this program last year.

He decided to give it a try because he was interested in teaching in a classroom and this was a way to dip in part-time.

Gohler reports that the training he received was excellent. His first day in school was in mid-December, up at P.S. 173 in the Bronx. He notes that the school is situated in perhaps a tough neighborhood, but he felt safe. “School started at 8, but I got there at 7 to be prepared,” he told Allegro. “They were just unlocking the doors!”

Gohler did not realize he would be assigned a classroom made up of second grade children with special needs. However, the regular teacher was there along with two aides.

For the first three sessions that day, Gohler just observed. Afterwards, the regular teacher left to attend a workshop, and Gohler stepped up to the plate: “I started by unpacking my flute and relating the names of the flute parts to the parts of the body…head, mouthpiece, body, and so on. Then I started playing.”

The students were interested at first, and then when they became a little rowdy, Gohler had them march around the room. In a second class, he took out his sax and repeated the concept.

Gohler is new to STARRRS, but the first day whetted his appetite for more. “I would recommend the STARRRS program to other members, but you must have an interest in teaching,” Gohler concludes.

Local 802 member Clare Cooper would agree. She worked for three different placements in the STARRRS program last year.

“I was put in some very difficult situations and since I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with kids, I had a hard time,” Cooper told Allegro.

Cooper added, “I would recommend this program to other musicians who have teaching experience or are parents and know how to deal with children. I am grateful for the work during a time when gigs were scarce.”

Another member, violist and violinist Janet Lucy, came into the program with a lot of teaching experience, but not much subbing experience. She, like Michel Gohler, is a newcomer to STARRRS.

Lucy said, “I have enjoyed the moments where I have made a connection with a child – and there have been a fair amount for someone new at this. The children seem excited to have a teacher who does music with them, even though they also have a regular music teacher. I also have enjoyed the positive responses from some of the staff who make it clear that the school values music!”

Lucy added, “I would recommend this experience to musicians who are really interested in teaching school-aged children and who feel fairly comfortable presenting what they do for classroom environments. One thing to know is that in my classrooms, there have been floating assistants who can help with discipline, which has been a crucial element. If the children’s focus isn’t with you, they won’t listen to music well. On the other hand, I found my violin to be a good starting point for listening.”


Are you still interested? If so, the first step is to attend one of an Actors Fund Work Program orientation sessions. These sessions are not specifically about the STARRRS program, but you must start the whole process by attending one of these. They take place every Monday from 12 noon to 2:30 p.m. at 729 Seventh Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, on the 11th floor. (You must arrive on time: no latecomers permitted.)

After you do that, the next STARRRS orientation and auditions are planned for mid-February.

If you need any more information, please contact Kathy Schrier, director of the Actors Fund Work Program, at or (212) 354-5480.

Even if you’re not interested in the STARRRS program itself, but you want more information on career development, call the Actors Fund Work Program. It is a valuable resource for musicians and all performing artists.