Enjoying a fresh bowl of homemade guacamole with chips, I am reflecting on my school year. Wrapping up the twenty-fifth year of teaching art and thinking about how much I have changed my teaching style.
I really didn’t think I would make it this far. There were times of transition from being a middle school art teacher to elementary and then on to high school that I never thought would happen. But by far, the biggest change was my leap from public education to independent school education. Choosing to leave the public school system to a college prep school was not a popular choice among my public school teacher friends. It was a risk to leave the comfort of public school, there was a comfort because I was a public school student and I had predictable transitions to steer my career. I was in a comfortable position that I could have ended my teaching career at but I wanted to continue to grow and complete my Master’s degree. There was a time I thought of pursing a Doctoral degree in art education to follow in the footprint of my college professor and mentor Dr. Ernella Hunzinker. But now so much has changed in education. I am very happy I followed a path that I chose not out of fear of change or job security. Because that has all changed in public education. No longer is art education valued in many schools nor is advanced degrees honored in school systems. It is very sad and I believe a dangerous decline in education. As an artist and an art student, I don’t think I would have survived middle school or high school without the opportunity to immerse myself in the art studio. I found my strengths, my value, and my future in the art studio. This is no different for many of the Fine Arts students I know. How can this be happening in American schools when we have so much research on the ways minds work and how creativity is a valued as an asset to be a successful individual?
As a public school art educator I learned to be resilient by working with small budgets, large class sizes, and inferior working spaces. I learned it isn’t always what you are teaching but how you make the individual student feel. Yes, standards need to exist, along with skills, art history, and fundamental use of tools and equipment. But you need to tap into who are your students, what is it they need to be successful, and how do you the educator make the experience memorable and applicable to the students?
My teaching style has also evolved over the years and at times I felt I was going rouge with my ideas because it didn’t fit the DBAE style of teaching that I was educated to implement in my studio. I found that the students had better ideas and learned more when I scaffold the learning and then let the students believe in their own strengths and let them go. Let them fail and try again. It’s not really failing, it’s practicing, pushing, discovering, and triumphant successes. Successes can look very different to everyone and it is my job to help my students to understand their successes in the journey of the discovery.
As I think back to my start as a long term sub in a middle school in Waukesha, WI and then the small school district in Reedsburg, WI, I remember the excitement I had in setting up my art studio. Decorating the walls to help guide my students and the lessons I was going to explore with them in the classroom. I remember how scary it was to run my own space and direct my own students. I remember the first day I walked into my studio at the University School of Milwaukee as the MS and Upper School art instructor in a highly respected prep school in the area where my father grew up as a child. The overlap of family history was unique and the opportunity to grow and build a stronger visual art program catapulted me to where I am today. Today, I live in Little Rock, AR and I teach in a small and very young prep school in the middle of the city. I am instrumental in writing curriculum, building partnerships with the Clinton Foundation, raising money for local and global organizations, and earning Arkansas Art Secondary Art Educator in 2015. I do not take that lightly and it is an honor to be recognized because I am in a small school in the State of Arkansas, I am a Northerner in a Southern territory, and I am again making changes to meet the needs of my students that runs against the norm. I have always pushed, challenged, and changed my program to meet the needs of students. I do it because I love what I do and I want to offer a quality program to my students. What works for me in my space may not work for others because we are all very different educators. We all need to find what works best to reach our students.
The changes I am implementing in my studio will fit much more into meeting the needs of all of my students. I have created a program to not only meet a variety of disciplines but levels of discovery. I will be able to continue to be the only Upper School art teacher in the studio. I am going to function as their resource, cheerleader, coach, mentor, and fellow artist in the studio. It’s an exciting time to be in my studio. We will have two 3-D printers, two sewing machines, one surger, one printing press, two potter’s wheels, in addition to all the traditional tools and materials. Yes- It will be a lot going on but I don’t really know how that is so different from teaching in two different elementary schools in two different studios with five grade levels, and 400+ students. At least I am in one space in one school. I am also functioning on a one-to-one computer school with multiple digital platforms to document and store all the progress of each student. I’d say I am ahead of the game.
Within my first week of summer I have already slept almost a whole day, didn’t realize how much I needed that until today. Feeling awesome. I updated my Haiku digital platform for my studio launch in August and I completed two proposals for submission at NAEA16. I am super excited to go to Chicago and see my Art Education PLN group. I feel supported and challenged by all of you everyday and I am so thankful for all the friendships that started with a single tweet.
We need to continue to learn, grow, and share to keep arts education moving forward. WE do have multiple challenges ahead of us in the future but as art teachers we face them everyday with grace. Here’s to many more years in the art studio. I am sure of one thing and that my path will always be evolving and that I should never underestimate where I might end up.