I have about 140 students in my current weekly schedule with class sizes ranging from 30 students in Art and Advisory, to very small Computer Apps classes with only 14 - 16 students. I have one Advisory class that rotates a new set of students every 12 weeks and the two Computer Apps classes are semester-long, so my student body total has changed frequently this year!
I always start out the school year introducing myself to my students as an artist by showing them a slideshow of my most successful drawings, paintings, sculptures, and printmaking works from college. I even show this slideshow to Advisory students to talk about my journey through art courses at community college and eventually The University of Texas at Austin before we start our college research project. I also carry my sketchbook with me and I use the fact that I draw in pens-only to regularly illustrate my philosophy about mistakes as opportunities for growth.
During a ceramics unit last year, I worked on a personal piece in front of students and used it to demonstrate handbuilding and glazing techniques. I have also painted entire personal paintings in front of students as demos, and I think it helps them immensely to see their teacher practice art making. Apart from the "wow" factor of capturing their attention about a certain process, or impressing them to elicit even celebrity-like status in their eyes (I once had a classroom of kids beg me to draw them or autograph their sketchbooks when I spent a free draw day outside drawing various students sitting near me!), it encourages them to want to keep trying despite failed attempts.
I really make a big fuss about mistakes in my teaching philosophy and tell stories about my journey to discovering my own abilities in art A LOT. I do not accept the "I can't do this" line from any student, ever. My patience is endless--in fact--for any student who says this because I'm so intent on pushing them from that line, to that moment when they look back and say, "look what I did!" It's likely more selfish then inspirational on my part really, because I also enjoy taking credit for that moment!
Yes: incredibly so! I could go on for days about how teaching middle school has changed my mindset about my own work or simply how I think about teaching art. The whole drawing in pens-only thing is something that would have terrified and frustrated me several years ago, but I embrace the thoughtfulness I have to apply when erasing is not an option in a new drawing. I hoard erasers in my classroom too, and only give them to students if they REALLY need them or if I sense a nervous breakdown approaching because I am withholding them.
I love the life metaphors that lie within this battle to achieve our visual expectations for a work of art while being forced to live with errors and work through them or see past them when we can't help that they exist. Watching a student at the most vulnerable and illogical stage of life (i.e. puberty) go through this process is highly inspirational to me.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Probably what I said about taking credit for those moments when I see students building a different inner dialogue about themselves based on the confidence that comes along with discovering art abilities. However, this year things are a bit different because teaching art is not the central focus of my workday anymore. So, it has become less about how to inspire students to feel confidence through what cool thing I can teach them to do in art, and more about how to listen to them and build relationships with them on a much more intrinsic level.
When I am teaching art this year I simply don't have the time in this "elective wheel" class where I have to teach them Advisory and Computer Skills, to facilitate the type of art learning I have in previous years. So I've let go of a lot of my snobbery in regards to expectations, and tried to get them to that "aha" moment as quickly as possible. This usually involves just letting them make a happy mess and steering it toward an outcome easily.
Overall though, my favorite thing about my job is the rapport I build with the students and how nurturing they can be in return when they feel valued. Small moments of appreciation I get out of things like: one of my favorite students who waits for me every day on our path to the computer lab because she knows what time I will be leaving my other classroom to walk with her each day. Or this very mature yet teddy-bear-of-a-boy who takes so much pride in the way I treat him like a teaching assistant each day, never taking advantage of it or lording it over the other kids. Or a boy whose mother is suffering from cancer and is often absent, who is wise beyond his years that stops nearly every day he is present to say, "Goodbye, Mrs. Hodge!" at my door as the loud masses of teenagers exit the building. These students put back all of the energy that is often drained from me in the teaching day, and I used to think these types of connections were only directly related to art somehow.
How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?
Collaboration is extremely important to me. I keep in touch with several of the other art teachers from my college studies in the Visual Arts Studies program at UT, such as cakecrushonthetown's very own Lindsey Bailey! Some of these connections are kept through social media or periodic phone or online chatting. I also follow many art educators I have never met on pinterest or blogs I have found when poking around on the internet for new ideas.
My former mentor teacher from my student teaching days has been a huge inspiration to me, as well as my former co-teacher from Dripping Springs Middle School. Even though, I still feel like a novice teacher at times in my third year of this gig. The further I get into this profession, the more I recognize the lessons learned from feedback and conversations with those I have worked closely with in this field are invaluable to how I approach the art of teaching itself.
Personal choice is something I have struggled with in my teaching methods, as I first began approaching art teaching to middle school students in a very collegiate way. I have had to let go of those methods to an extent for various reasons, some I have already mentioned in my responses above.
The biggest idea I am learning to embrace is the “make & take” philosophy. I’m a big fan of process-driven art, and I often don’t care if a student fully completes an assignment as long as the learning objective was fulfilled in some way. However, I’m learning that a lot of the internal confidence I hope for students to obtain in the process of art making can be achieved in a “make & take” project. I am an admitted art snob and a competitive one at that. I feel like there are “tricks” to getting younger students to make high art that is full of skill, and I pride myself in either tricking them or teaching them those tricks. However, there is a lot of merit in just letting kids make a fail-proof project and watching them gleefully create for the sake of it!
Inspiring, yes? Do you remember your art teacher in elementary, middle, or high school? A college professor, perhaps? If so, what made that person memorable to you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.