Studio Time is the Best Time

7 04 2014

Landed in Little Rock around 11:00 PM and I was wiped out.  The National Art Convention was great but a marathon with early morning sessions and loads of miles to almost run to attend all the selected sessions was a challenge.  You add in the time zone difference and it totals up to bring me coffee and tape to keep me awake!!

I wake up on time to get to the morning commute on to heavy traffic and of course someone caused an accident to make the backup worse.  This was not the homecoming I was looking forward to.

I pull into school, park in my usual spot, and pull out of the back of my car my computer, purse, and school bag.  I’m still tired and I had not had a cup of coffee yet.  Then all of the sudden to my right as I pass the carpool drop off, a huge squeal from a car was heard.  It was one of my students and she almost blew out her Dad’s eardrum from her enthusiasm to seeing me back at school.  Her Dad rolled down the window and said, “I guess you’ve been missed!” and he smiled.  I was only gone one day and of course Spring Break the week before.  My art student bounced out of the car and helped to carry my bags to the studio, the whole time telling me all about what a week she had and how she could not wait until I got back.  I go to the second floor to my studio and I see six of my artists waiting for me.  They ran to greet me and give me hugs.  In the center of my desk is a chocolate candy on a stick in a shape of a paintbrush from New Orleans, a place one of my other artists’ visited over Spring Break.  My studio was a buzz of excitement of everyone trying to get my attention and to share with me all that I missed in their lives since I saw them a week ago.  I was so incredibly happy to be back in my studio and looking and listening to the chatter of my artists.  I belong here, I belong with these students, they need me, and I need them.  I am so fortunate to have found a place where all that I put into my students; I get out of them as well. Spring 2

My schedule was a full one and in every class and in the hallways students remarked they missed me and asked how was my trip.  Our deadline for turning in our garments was the next day but a photo shoot was set for the end of the day, lots of last minute finishing was going on in the studio all day.  My art studio looked more like a closet or a recycle bin but the studio was humming along like nothing was in the way.  My students adapt to all the crazy activities I host and the commotion actually makes my studio the place to be so I am okay with that.  I have students popping in all day long to check in with me on all the latest stuff going on in sports, news, school, or just a new haircut.  There is a lot of trust, kindness, affection, and admiration in my studio.  It is a feel good place and expectations are high.  Is everyone achieving at the same level all the time?  Of course not, it’s a high school and I teach teenagers.  But I must say the relationships are healthy between my artists and me.  It’s about teaching art but it’s also about building up young adults.  There has to be expectations, benchmarks, celebrations, accountability, and lots of humor.Image

This weekend was the first weekend in a long time I was able to stay at home, in my house.  I did very little…well in perspective of my life…if you understand my life.   I did catch up on sleep and that was the most important part of my weekend.  I am able to reflect on my past two weeks and plan out the next three without feeling sleepy.  I accomplished a lot this week, one student Award for a Fashion Scholarship, a nice letter from Bill Clinton for our work to support Haiti, a gift from Indonesia with supplies for a batik project, all of our garments have been sent off for the Recycle Runway Show, and I completed an interview for Little Rock Family magazine on all the Service Learning work I do with my students.  I have Congressional works to submit this week and our big State Art Convention and Contest coming up next.  Finally our big Curbside Couture Fashion Runway Show…it’s going to be amazing.

My life is a wild ride but I the rewards far exceed any of the dips in the road.

Reflections of the National Art Convention

3 04 2014

Wow! My feet could not get me to all the sessions I wanted to attend, but I did enjoy the ones I was able to squeeze into my busy schedule. San Diego is beautiful and my anticipation of presenting was sent to the back of my mind for one day. I reconnected with teachers from my old school, met up with dear friends on my PLN, and I was able to gleen knowledge to fuel my art teaching philosophy. One observation I made after I already selected my sessions on the Spark App. was, I was either in the Advocacy realm or Research. Interesting?! but not surprising.
Sunday was the Art 2.0 meet up or Tweet up and it was great to see so many faces connected to people who I follow, tweet, or read their blogs. I also love that Davis Publications supported our gathering with great Starbucks coffee. Much appreciated by the art educators who do not often get such nice perks. The photo of all of us in our PLN shirts was twice the size from the previous year. And this leads me to my big “take away” as Craig Roland put it. We need to continue to do more to reach out and include more art educators. We are a unique and talented group that serves the biggest variety of students. We juggle and problem solve all day long, and into the night, we create something wonderful, thought provoking out of nothing. We make garbage beautiful, we put smiles, hope, and purpose, on so many faces during our regular day. We need to do the same for each other. Children are in the center of what we are doing…not our egos, endorsements, twitter followers, or accessories. It’s about elevating art education, connecting what we do in the studio to real life applications. We are the makers of change and we need each other to keep us on our path. I’ve never been big on cliques and I want everyone to know they have valued. As I observed the group of us, I noticed people watching. I wanted them to feel welcomed.

photo (30)

It’s a part of who I am…I cannot turn it off. I look, I see, I observe. I pull from my observations as much as I do my conversations. Samantha Melvin and I had the best conversation at the airport for the trip home. We both were exhausted and our minds wandered to our classrooms and our students. I know she is a fighter for her students and a advocate for art education so I loved our visit. We discussed real issues we face with our programs, community, but also our successes and opportunities. I have a feeling if we worked in the same place we could do some real damage. It’s always about the students. How we do our jobs may vary, how our studios look, our budgets, and our programming may all vary but placing children in the center should never change.

Heading to San Diego for NAEA

26 03 2014

artsed MonaI am excited to attend another National Art Convention but this time as a presenter.  I have to admit I am not as relaxed as I was last year but a little stress keeps me on my toes.  I have been gathering photos and content for years and I thought no problem I can pull this together easy.  Not so.  I have almost 25 years of teaching art and not all of the years are documented with the digital era so I am relying on my last 10 years of documents to help me through.  My sessions speak to the heart of who I am so I am comfortable talking about it.   I am wading through years of photographs of lessons, club activities, and past students.  I am very lucky to have had a stable and positive career.  I had the same troubles as most art teachers do: teenagers who don’t behave, low art budgets, administration who just don’t get it, etc.  But I must say the majority of my career, I have always been able to overcome and steer the ship forward.

I love working with young people and making a positive impact on their immediate day and their futures.  As I read some posts on Facebook and other blogs, I read the tension so many teachers are feeling due to budgets, political pressures, common core, contracts, etc.  I am not immune to this either but I do focus on the students in my studio space.  I can control the environment.  My students deserve the best of me, even when I am not feeling the best.  I often say to myself “fake it, until I make it.”  This year has been incredibly busy.  I have students spread all over the place, participating in art contests, charity events, local showcases, art club activities, and of course all of my art courses.  I have spent almost every Saturday with a different group of students.  I don’t regret it, actually I enjoy it.  Having my students ask me to meet them at a little hole in the wall to have breakfast was so precious.  We gathered around a small table and we just enjoyed talking to each other.  It was great.  I was a running a little late (10 minutes), I thought they would be too, but I was wrong.  They sat waiting wondering what was keeping me.  I was just sleeping in a little too long.  Ha!  High school students waiting on me for breakfast still makes me smile a bit.

I invest a lot of time with my students and I believe that is the key.  They crave attention, appreciation, a place to belong.  I provide a time, place, and activity with others who enjoy the same thing.  We meet “fancy” people and the students get respect.  I wish more adults would create safe opportunities for teenagers to learn how to behave, grow, appreciate, and gain self-esteem.  It is very important, more important than a letter grade or a standardized test.  The experiences build young people to want to be someone and they realize they can do it.  When students realize all the possibilities, they align themselves to be successful in other areas in their life.

As educators we need to fuel what makes us feel balanced, happy, and inspired.  This trip to San Diego will place me among all the people who get what it’s like to be a dedicated art teacher and artist.  In my world they cannot be separated.  It is the Disneyland for art educators.  I hope I get the chance to meet many of you there.  If you cannot attend make sure you follow along online either on Facebook groups, Twitter, or ArtEd 2.0.arted2 dali

Top State Art Awards and the Highs and Lows of an Art Teacher

2 03 2014


It’s been a busy couple of weeks and they will only get more intense as results of juried art contests, scholarship awards, and exhibitions begin.  My art program at my current school is starting to catch air under itself.  I work very hard and dedicate a lot of time alongside my dedicated art students.  I have modeled what it takes to be successful as an artist and my students are exceeding most of my expectations.  Yes- there are a few who could work more but they are who they are and … I will keep working on them and not give up but I choose to focus on my achievers.  So my motto is “Get on board!!!  This ship is moving forward and you have a seat but you need to take it, it’s not reserved seating, and it may get taken by someone else if you don’t occupy it now! ” 

I take pride that my art classes don’t just encompass the gifted but all students with all kinds of skills and interests.  My demographic is pretty even for boys and girls, athletes and scholars, and I like it that way.  Art should be available for everyone to try it on and see where it will take them.

Recently, a series of seniors have been praising what the visual arts program has done for them in front of the whole middle school and high school.  They all mentioned how it is hard to be an artist but well worth all the time and effort with failures and successes.  One student in particular mentioned her experience with me in my studio for five years.  She was placed in my class as an eighth grader and has never left.  I was touched by her description of who I am and about what I have done for her.  I didn’t realize how much of myself I revealed to them. 

 NO- not anything crazy but she picked up on my kindness and support I give to students when they are struggling to be a teenager, to all the charity work I do, and a few quirks that she finds engaging.  I just do these things and I don’t really think about how much my students see or think about what I am doing.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because she is an artist and has keen observational skills but for some reason it surprised me.   She mentioned my work as an art advocate, my work with local charities, and my global efforts to help Haiti.  She stated that observing this has helped her see artists can and do make a difference.  It helped her decide to NOT listen to people who tried to discourage her from going to art school.  I nearly melted into a puddle of mush as she spoke about how she learns differently and it’s okay because she is an artist and can see and perceive the world differently.   I felt my heart skip a beat when she so proudly shared her path to become a secure young lady through the arts. Her success in the art studio helped her become more successful in other classes.   It was one of the very best speeches for the purpose of art education and what we do as art educators.  We do so much more for young people; more than teach our students to create wonderful art pieces- We create strong, healthy, positive, curious, creative people.


This year has been full of positive energy, honors, awards, but also challenges.  Most recently, I have felt that I need to pull out my art advocacy file and defend the Fine Arts program.  It is truly scary to think there are people who cannot see the value in a Fine Arts education.  I know it looks like we have lots of fun and it may even appear easy but I assure you it is not.  If it looks easy it’s because there is a heck of a lot of work upfront to support success.  I wish someone would wear my shoes for one week….be me!!! See how you handle all the different challenges that we as art teachers deal with all day.  I don’t sit in one spot and I do not have a correct answer to offer to satisfy my student’s questions.  I do offer more questions to propel discovery, I support self-discovery, I assist them to collaborate, try and try again, I help my students reflect, and learn.  I also ask them to show what they learn so everyone can see what they have struggled to create, question, think, and solve.  

This has been a strange couple of weeks where I should have been at my highest high, but found myself going into defensive mode instead.  It’s sad when the joy you deserve is tainted by someone else.  I am looking forward to the National Art Convention so I may steep myself in positive energy with other artist/art educators who understands the struggle.   Until then…. I will be in my studio matting all the latest art pieces who have landed in the top places in the state.  



Season of art showcase, competitions, and runway shows.

8 02 2014

It is a cold snowy day so I am finding time to write about all the many “balls” I have whirling above my head.  In my everyday life I am fostering my third dog on to it’s final forever home.  As a new empty nester this need to nurture has been replaced with the pitter patter of four legged furry feet in need.  My two resident long hair doxie’s have been wonderful hosts and our experience with fostering shelter dogs has been rewarding.  This has been my welcoming change to my quiet empty house since our son has gone off to college.  It has also been a great stress reducer to be welcomed home to three wiggly butts and sweet puppy kisses.  No matter how busy my day has been, or the exhaustion I am experiencing, I find these little furry critters lift me up.


The past two weeks have been busy beyond compare so far.  Just when I have a prep to actually conduct school business or maybe sit to sip some hot coffee, I am summoned to a meeting, problem solve a student crisis, or help a colleague.  All too often my nicely brewed, perfectly sweetened coffee turns cold before I get to enjoy it.

This week Mother Nature ran my perfectly timed TV interview clear out of whack!  Where I had two preps to have plenty of time to get to the TV station and still time left to set up my classes…into finding subs to cover my classes, lessons to rework with tutorials to write to keep my students on schedule.  Thankfully, the TV interview went smoothly and I was able to return in time to teach one of the classes I thought I would be missing.  Now, the rest of the week should have been like scheduled right?!  No- my timing was off the rest of the week for so many different reasons, far too many to name.  We all have weeks like this once in a while but these past two is enough.

I have three lessons that include introducing my students to three different portrait artists:  Rene Magritte, Chuck Close, and Amedeo Modigliani.  I have each course tied to different expectations and criteria but all are exploring a self-portrait from direct observations with assists from photos.  My hope is to have all of the works of art completed for our year end Fine Arts Showcase.  I am hoping to have all the different interpretations of self-portraits on display together.  I think this will be a really strong exhibition.

Therese J Modiglini portrait

photo (25)

Before the Fine Arts Showcase, I also have a presentation to help prepare for the school, about our wonderful trip to Memphis.  We are presenting our discoveries for a Black History Month observation.  It will include the religious exhibit we saw at the Dixon Gallery in Memphis, Ashe to Amen, and our visit to the Stax Museum.  Both inspiring artist’s revelations and talents.

Plus, who can forget our Curbside Couture Runway Show in April!  I have 30 students involved to keep on track and two garments I am working on to complete for the show.  I have one garment almost completed but I have one I need to start.  I am hoping to have another fashion workshop soon to keep my students progressing on their garments,  from what I have seen, the garments are original and have clever recycled materials used in inspirational ways.

My online interview was published on the same day of the TV interview so it was a booming day for me.  I appreciate the story Tim Bogatz @eastartroom published about my crazy world.  Follow this link to the story of you did not see it.

Art teachers need art teachers to keep us fresh and feeling supported.  

Off to do some sewing…

Spring Semester Begins with a Bang

20 01 2014
Breathes New Life

Jade Pfeifer

One week quickly turned into two before I had a chance to catch my breath.  My classes this semester consists of all advanced level courses and NO Foundations.  I have to admit this is the first time I do not get to know my students in an entry level course and I don’t like it.  I enjoy introducing students to the basics and getting them excited about what is about to happen to them….uncovering something wonderful about themselves.  I love the excitement I see in my student’s eyes when they have just completed the “best work of art they have ever done!”  There is something so great about sharing that moment with my student that I don’t ever want to give up.  I know it happens in my other classes, even in AP art classes, but it is somewhat of a different experience with the new artist revelation that really makes me feel that I did my job.

I now have new faces in my advanced level classes whom I need to get to know.  I need to figure out what they are successful at doing and what do they like to create.  I move along with the basic assessments for the elements and principles of design and color theory, so I do get a grasp of what they know.  We do thumbnail sketches before beginning a new composition, so I can evaluate what they know about compositional layout, how they approach a drawing, and how they manage all of the materials.  Of course every art teacher has methods and techniques that vary, so I need to share my best practices with my new students.  There is an uneven level of comfort and ease with the students whom I have taught Foundations and I know the students sense that.  I strive to make everyone comfortable.  I often make the awkward moments land on me so we all get a good laugh.

This is the first time I am integrating “new to me students” with students I have already had in class.  I do like new experiences but some things you know you don’t like and this I do not like.  I know my students all know each other and all of them are really great and give helpful assistance when needed to locate supplies or offer clarification to students who get confused.    My studio space is very organized and I label everything but the ebb and flow is organic and moves with the climate of the group. I have a Northern accent in a Southern school so it does take some time to get used to words and ways that I say things.  Most of my artists tease me and point out my accent with a laugh.  My new students look confused when I say get a “smock” or yes you can get a drink from the “bubbler”.  My sense of humor is wrapped in my instruction and class management; most of the regulars expect it.  But newer students are not always sure I am pulling their leg.

On to the third week of classes and most of the students have fallen back into routines and everything will settle into a new flow all over again.  Not that I will have much time to analyze deeper into this new experience.  We are sending art work to art shows online submissions, filling out scholarship applications, writing letters of recommendations, and preparing for big art events.  This week we had our first recycle/upcycle fashion workshop. It was a successful workshop and many of my students have a structure started that will enable them to build additional details to create grand garments for the runway show.

Recycle Workshop

One of my students who I have had since she was in 8th grade is now a senior.  She is very talented and a sweet young lady.  I have witnessed her growth for so many years. Her painting is the one at the beginning of this blog post.  I know she is now a confident artist with big dreams to pursue with a portfolio to support her future.    It will be a bittersweet separation when she graduates.  That is what makes being a teacher one of the greatest jobs.  We have the ability to shape and change the future.  We work with young people and it’s not all about tests, information, and assessments.  I feel her painting says it all.

Clinton Volunteer Gala 2013

22 12 2013

The students who have been active with our Homes for Haiti project this school year had a wonderful opportunity to be recognized at the Clinton Volunteer Gala.  Upper School students and Upper School Art Teacher Joy Schultz were mentioned by name during the ceremony for all the time and energy they have given for the Homes for Haiti project.  We design and create the product but we also spend our weekends at street festivals and events to sell our Homes for Haiti.  Connie Fails, the Clinton Store Manager, mentioned the amounts of money we turn in after each event and the crowd was impressed.  President Clinton arrived and gave a wonderful speech about the value of giving back to improve other people’s lives.  He was inspirational and appreciative of our efforts to Build Haiti Back Better.  Congratulations!




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