30 May 2020

History, Collaboration, and Creativity . . . An Interview With My Mom (Part 1 of 2).

Before I came to China, I was visiting my mom and decided to go through some pictures. My mom has shoeboxes and shoeboxes of old pictures, along with some albums. So we sat down together at her table and looked through everything. We laughed at hairstyles and marveled at clothing, and I studied the environments of each image. Sometimes the pictures were taken in old homes we lived in as a family, sometimes they were in my grandparents' homes, and sometimes they were in old buildings or schools where my parents used to work. I look at these old images and imagine these characters still living their lives in a parallel universe.

A couple of years ago when I was back living in the United States between 2016 and 2018, I decided to interview my mom about a variety of themes around teaching. She has always been a teacher, only taking time off when I was born to raise my sister and me. Throughout our childhood she volunteered regularly at our schools and, sometimes, substituted for our classes. She went back to work as a teacher when my parents got a divorce, circa 1986. I was in the seventh grade.

When I gave her the following questions to answer on a Google doc, she insisted on writing out the answers in cursive and mailing the document to me. The original handwritten document is in my storage unit in Tennessee, or I would definitely be posting images of it here. I was able to transfer most of her answers to my Google doc. So, below you will find Part 1 of my interview with my mom, Ricki Annette Bailey (Dolce). Enjoy!! (Picture above taken by my sister, Kerry.)

Where were you born?

I was born in Painesville, Ohio. The hospital was Lake County Hospital.

What year were you born? 

I was born in 1946. This was the first year of the “baby boomers”.

Who were your parents? Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Philip Joseph Dolce - father
Mary Helen Monk Dolce - mother

I was an only child. I always wanted a brother or a sister. It wasn’t always fun to be an only child. When I was young, I always pretended I had a twin sister named Vicki.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Terrell, Texas which is 30 miles East of Dallas, Texas. In high school we always stayed in Terrell on Friday nights and went to Dallas on Saturday nights. Actually, we were juniors and seniors when we did this.

What is your most vivid memory of growing up there?

I found it was really fun growing up in a small town. We could walk many places. Everyone knew everyone in town. Much easier to be somebody when you grow up in a small town.

What did your dad do for a living? Where was he from?

My father was a meat inspector. He would inspect several meat packing plants around the area to be sure everything was up to US standards. My father was from Painesville, Ohio which is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.

What did your mom do for a living? Where was she from?

My mother was born in a very small community in West Texas called Pattonville. She was many things during her lifetime. Before she was married, she worked at a military base in Childress, Texas. Some other jobs were: switchboard operator, bank teller, and her last job was as a Lincoln National Insurance saleswoman.

What year did your father die? How did he die?

My father died the year I was 11 years old. Actually he died on Labor Day and I turned 11 on September 14th. This was in 1957. He died of a heart attack. He just had a physical a few days earlier.

How did your father’s death affect your mother and your relationship? How did it affect how you grew up?

For as long as I can remember, my mother’s mother lived with us. This helped some when my father died. My grandmother cooked, cleaned, and babysat me. My mom worked full time. It was almost like my grandmother was the head of the household and my mom and I were more like sisters. In fact, my friends always asked my grandmother for permission if I wanted to do something with them.

What high school did you attend? Tell me a story about when you were in high school.

I attended Terrell High School. While there, I was in the "popular crowd" and got to do many things. I should probably say that I was most likely in the popular crowd because I was in a small town. This will probably make you laugh . . . In high school, we had a teacher named Mrs. Kimbrough. She was the Latin teacher. No air conditioning yet, so all the teachers kept their windows open. If you were in Mrs. Kimbrough’s class and a motorcycle went roaring by she made us all pray for the evilness of motorcycles!

Where did you go to university? What did you major in?

I attended college the first year at Arlington State. This school was eventually The University of Texas at Arlington. I attended The University of Texas at Austin for the last 3 years of college. When I first went there, the enrollment was three times larger than my hometown. My major was Elementary Education. My last year I took a class about South American History. That was the hardest class I took while in college!

What was the first school where you taught? How many students did you have? How was teaching different then/how has teaching changed? Is the structure of teaching different? Are there any similarities?

When I started teaching in South Austin, there were no art teachers. We all taught our own art. The students really liked it when we had an art activity. Probably because I really enjoyed it. This was the 1968 class. I don’t recall having a campus art teacher until the late 70’s/early 80’s. When I first taught, we usually had 25 - 28 students in class.

After being away from teaching for 15 years, everything seemed different. Rather than making bulletin boards, decorating rooms and other items like flash cards, vocabulary cards, etc., these items were provided by the school. It may be different in a small rural school or a poorer district. But, I happened to return to teaching in a wealthy school district. When I first started teaching, there didn’t seem like there was pressure on the teacher. Also, discipline problems at school were handled by the teacher as well as the parents. Now, it seems like parents have the upper hand. Districts have a fear of being sued by parents. For several years now, many schools will back the parents rather than the teacher.

Basically I feel the structure of teaching is pretty much the same. Still making lesson plans, giving report cards, and having conferences. Some differences may be limited classroom size, sometimes teaching only one or two subjects in elementary, and teaching curriculum that will enable students to do well on national and state tests.

Can you list all of the schools where you have taught? Including grades and dates?

The following are the districts where I taught and when: 

  • Austin Independent School District - Grade 6, 1968 - 1972
  • Plano Independent School district - Grade 4, 1988 - 2005; Grade 3, 2005 - 2007

Both of these places are in Texas.

Did you serve any special roles whilst teaching, team leader or something like that? How did that change your focus during the teaching day?

One year I was the team leader. I did not like that at all! I am more of a follower . . . A couple of years Austin Independent School District had all “new” teachers take a handwriting class. I taught that and enjoyed it. For several years in Plano, I was in charge of all textbooks. I liked to do that job, also. Additionally, I was the assistant team leader several different years in Plano. I didn’t mind that.

Do you have any higher education degrees? A masters? Or masters coursework? When you were teaching, what was your educational philosophy?

I only took 6 hours of graduate classes. One course was “Statistics”. The other was a science class. I took many classes each year but not for college credit.

My educational philosophy was very simple. It was to try to reach every child in my classroom in some way so that they enjoyed learning.

Name 5 things you could not start a teaching day without, and why were these items so important to you. (These could range from Sharpies to a cup of coffee, a clean desk to supplies set out for students . . . )

Five things I could not start a teaching day without:

  • My schedule for the day
  • My plan book opened on my desk
  • Materials (teacher guides, papers for students, etc.) all in order and on the table by my overhead
  • Warm-up instructions on overhead for when students entered room
  • A neat and clean classroom

If I didn’t have the above items done, I felt very unorganized. I never left my classroom without being ready for the next day.

How was your classroom arranged? Did your students work in centers or groups, or were the desks in a row?

My classroom arrangement changed often. A few times we were in rows. Most often it was an arrangement that allowed groups to work together. I always had centers for the students to go visit and do activities that reinforced subject learning.

Part 2 of my Mom's interview will be featured in a few weeks! If you have any specific teaching questions that you think might be interesting to ask her, please let me know in the comments section below! XO!

21 May 2020

In Which We Are Preparing for Our Annual Art Show . . .

This past month, all of our students have been preparing for our annual ART SHOW! πŸ™Œ We arrived back on campus, as a full school, on April 7th. And I was told that we would not be having our regularly scheduled annual performance event. Instead, we would be organizing and planning a talent show that would be videoed for the school community to watch. In conjunction with the talent show, student art works would be hung in the gallery. Chances are, no one will be able to see any of the work that will be displayed. But, it will be nice for me to see this show come to light. And it will be fantastic closure to a very tough two years of teaching!

For the June 1st opening, the upstairs art gallery will feature student works created about and inspired by the artworks of Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau was a French post-impressionist painter whose work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists. He started painting in his 40’s and focused on paintings about imaginative jungle scenes from the rain forests in Africa. He never left France but visited botanical gardens on a regular basis to try and learn as much as he could about various species of plants. Mr. Rousseau’s paintings steadily rose to fame throughout the 1900’s with a large retrospective taking place between two museums in the mid-1980’s: in Paris at The Grand Palais and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Our student artworks will be on display from June 1st throughout the remainder of the school year. Please find below images of the works in progress that Mr. Rousseau inspired in our students. Enjoy!

Nursery students focused on beautiful jungle birds in flight!

Kindergarten 1 students focused on recreating Mr. Rousseau's Traumgarten

Kindergarten 2 students also worked with tigers, but using a collage project designed by Deep Space Sparkle

My Grade 1 students looked at toucans and tropical flowers, creating a collage of their painted pieces on an acrylic background (not shown).

Grade 2 students combined monkeys and flowers and leaves . . . This is still a work in progress! Pictures forthcoming!

Grade 3/4 students celebrated the birth place of Mr. Rousseau by creating beautiful Eiffel Tower collages inspired by Deep Space Sparkle.

My bilingual Grade 5 students made fun rainforest frog paintings.

My Grade 5/6's were tasked with specific painting studies of some of Mr. Rousseau's most famous artworks.

My bilingual Grade 6 students were asked to imagine botanical landscapes, as this is how Mr. Rousseau dreamed up most of his artworks: walking through botanical gardens and studying the plants.

Like my Grade 5/6's, my bilingual Grade 7 students were tasked with specific painting studies of some of Mr. Rousseau's most famous artworks.

My Grade 7/8's created jungle bird studies with watercolor.

And, finally, my bilingual Grade 8 students will be creating a giant rendition of the famous painting: A Centennial of Independence. Originally created in 1892, this painting celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first French Republic. Peasants dance a popular southern French dance around three liberty trees. My students are using brown butcher paper to create each part of this painting at a larger-than-life size. Finished work coming soon!

10 May 2020

Pandemic Isolation and Homestay, March Roars Like a Lion: Part 3 of 3 . . .

I have not felt comfortable being back at school with my students, living a somewhat normal existence, while the rest of the world is still hunkering down. We've gotten so comfortable in the province that I am living in that no one is really wearing masks anymore. It's like we all fell in a dark hole between January and April, and then climbed out into a new fresh existence . . . Where everything is exactly the same as it was before we fell in the hole. Except, now I am trapped here for the foreseeable future: no summer, no traveling, no going back to the States, no nothing. KNOW NOTHING. 

I am comforted by my dog and my cat. In fact, I do not know what I would do if I did not have my dog or my cat right now. 

My dog wakes me up with a paw in the eyeball and licks all over the face at 4:30am every morning, regardless of whether it's the weekend or not. I get out of bed and walk him around the apartment complex, we visit his mother and her 5 new puppies, and then we come back home. When we get upstairs, I turn on the kitchen sink for the cat and my day begins. Each day, this same routine, over and over again. A fixed sequence of events helps me stay focused on the present and sane. So, even though I wake up earlier then most everyone else, I am thankful.

The weekend before we started back to school, I made a Coronavirus 2020 Kitchen Dance Playlist. I have included it below. This helped me throughout the month of April, as a way to blow off steam when I got home and while I was doing the dishes. As many people know, when my colleagues and I got back to campus in early April, we were told that we were losing our Spring Break, gaining a 6-day workweek, and our school year would be lengthened to late July. My new school has requested our presence by July 26th, which means I will have less than 2 weeks to move and situate the animals. So, dancing each night is a HUGE release. I highly recommend it.

Below are some of the things I was writing or thinking about during March. February and March were hard because we did not know what was going on. No local news is provided in English and our school was not communicating with us regularly. So, it was a tough time, which is somewhat reflected in the entries below. Keep safe, everyone!

March 6th, 2020


The bright sun shines in from the window.
The skies are blue, the birds are singing.
Housebound for 8 weeks, I am pale and calm.

No pollution, no honking, no shouting.
An eerie quiet creeps over this city of 9 million.
I am left with my own thoughts, as the walls creep in from all sides.

Every two days, we are allowed to leave.
Gathering groceries, replenishing water.
The flowers are blooming, spring is here.

"Make art!" People say.
Lord knows I have the time.
But being trapped is different, frustrating the spirit.

Every time I leave the house, my temperature is taken 3, 4, 5 times a day.
I wear masks. I wear gloves. I look down at the ground as I walk.
The stray dogs fall in line behind me, protecting me everywhere I go.

At home, I prepare daily lessons for my students online.
They send me pictures of what they create, and I send feedback.
"Stop growing!" I say to one of my second graders whom I have not seen in over 2 months.

I write remember to take a shower on my to-do list and ignore it for the thousandth time. I write a blogpost and lose interest before posting it. I write out my goals for the next 3 years and question why.

Did the people going through the Spanish Flu feel this way? What about The Black Death? I drift off to sleep, later each night because what day is it anyway?

No light at the end of the tunnel.

The new normal.

A Message to a Friend in The States via FB Written on March 7th, 2020

Here's the deal . . . I am in the belly of the beast, and there are some interesting precautions happening (like temperature taking and various other things). But it really doesn't seem any different than H1N1. I know people have died, and that's a tragedy for sure . . . But people die all the time from the flu and H1N1 and street traffic and pollution and the numbers are much larger for these things than for what is happening now with Coronavirus. Plus, the affected/effected populations are generally older people. Just like with the regular flu. It doesn't make sense to me to stop whole populations of people from going to school or going to their job or stopping all festivals from taking place. I mean, how much power are we going to give this thing? We are ALL going to stop living our lives because of this. Just hole up and let the plague wash over us? Really? It's very frustrating. This could be my 8 weeks of isolation talking. Who knows? I just think that maybe there might be something else going on--worldwide--that the heads of countries know about, but the general publ
ic does not. Otherwise, all of this panic just doesn't make sense.

March 12th, 2020

On Sunday afternoon—2 days ago—we were required to walk to a government building in a neighboring apartment complex about 2 kilometers away. When we arrived, we had to show our previous ID card—a pink residence card that showed where we lived and what our names were. Once we were let into the complex, we walked another few blocks to a nondescript building. Inside it looked like a bank, tall counters with employees standing behind. There were 3 employees to be exact, 2 on the phone and 1 helping customers. The customers were international folks, like me. We were here to pick up a green QR code that is linked to our phone. This code tracks our movement throughout the country. It is intended to help curb people from traveling to highly infected areas. I will have to carry this pass at all times, especially when entering stores. If I don’t have the pass, I will be turned away. This pass can be scanned at any time, from any government official, to track where I’ve been.

I have been working in China since August of 2018. This is my 3rd time to work in China, the first one being a week where I was asked to create a large community-based installation in Beijing and the second one where I taught an art camp for 3 weeks in Chengdu. Currently I am teaching at an international school in Nantong, which is about 2.5 hours North of Shanghai. I teach 28 art classes a week to students in nursery through Grade 8. It is challenging, it is thought-provoking, and it is exciting.

We have been out of school since our Chinese New Year break started on January 18th, which is 8 weeks. And, we have been teaching online classes to our students every day, Monday through Friday, since February 10th, which is now in the middle of our 5th week. I remember first hearing about Coronavirus on Wednesday, January 8th from my dad’s wife who texted me about it via WeChat. By the 15th of January, my flight to Qatar scheduled for a January 31st flight for fun with friends over the Chinese New Year break had been cancelled. By February 6th, our school had been closed until further notice with online classes beginning on February 10th.

It’s been a blur, to be honest. I can’t believe when I look at the calendar hanging in my kitchen, that I have been sitting in my apartment for 8 weeks. That’s 2 full months. The first 3 weeks of having stores and businesses closed was normal—nothing is ever open during Chinese New Year. But then everything just stayed closed. My apartment complex blocked off all gates except for one, where they set up tents, monitors, temperature taking stations, and sign-in sheets. There is a big printed banner outside of this area that has a picture of a man in a mask looking off into the distance and says in both Chinese and English, “Go China! We will win!”

In some areas they were taking people’s pets and killing them, worried that all animals were COVID-19 carriers and not just the obscure farmed species found in the Wuhan market. So, while one of my colleagues left back for Canada, and most all international folks left back for their home countries, I stayed to protect my pets: a brand-new puppy found in China and a cat I rescued in Qatar. (They have since debunked the rumor that domestic pets are carriers.)

What’s surprising to me, now, is the amount of shock and panic that is taking place in the United States, with people asking me for help or information on staying safe. That the United States is not taking precautions or making preparations. But universities are closing down, festivals are being cancelled, and Costco and Walgreens are running out of masks, water, toilet paper, and various other household items. In China, we were also not given any information. No one was telling us what was going on, ever. And when we asked for information, our questions were met with blank stares or sighs of irritation because we-shouldn’t-be-asking-so-many-questions-and-just-do-what-is-being-asked-of-you-already. So, a lot of what we were hearing about with what has been happening in China over the past 2.5 months was not from China but from the States and CNN or from other sources like WeChat or news articles from Singapore or Europe. All we were being told is that you must wear a mask, you must wash your hands, and you must stay in your home until further notice.

My apartment is very small with one bedroom and one study, a living area, a bathroom, a closed-in balcony, and a small kitchen. It has lots of windows and light pours into all of the spaces all day long, from sunup to sundown. It is a 6th floor walk-up in a quiet area of town. I love this apartment, especially with my cat snuggled on the bed for most of the day and my puppy playing with his toys in the living area. But this is our 8th week of isolation and, on most days, the walls feel like they are closing in on me. I watch countless hours of Gossip Girl reruns, work on my online classes for 6 hours a day and try my hardest to take showers regularly. Friends and friends-of-friends will post to me on Facebook or Instagram or text to me, “Oh, I would love to be at home all the time! Treat this like a residency! Make some artwork about what you are going through, cook some fun foods, take long naps!” Right. Except my mind is jumbled with worry and depression from not seeing people. I hate sleeping because I think it’s a waste of time, so it’s not really my bag to take naps. And, cook things? I have no oven and a bizarre convection ceramic stovetop that only fits woks. I know people mean well, but under duress it’s hard to stay busy and focused on personal projects and self-care. Did I mention that I’ve gained almost 8 pounds because the gym is closed, 
there’s not a lot of daily movement, and I just sit in my house eating all of the time?

03 May 2020

Pandemic Isolation and Homestay, Online Learning and Reflection: Part 2 of 3 . . .

Online Learning, Written March 1st

For the past 4 weeks, I have been teaching PYP art classes online to our students in nursery through Grade 5/6 classes. In order to keep the number of texts down for the parents, I have chosen to create PowerPoints for each of my classes. Each PowerPoint includes one slide of instructions and vocabulary, multiple slides of images and relatable videos, one or two video tutorials, and specific instructions for turning in work. The PowerPoints are kept on my desktop in different colored folders. Each class is color-coordinated according to the day that I teach them which helps me keep track of incoming student work.

What’s important to me is not so much what the students might be reading in my PowerPoint, but the images and videos that they are looking at. I have been very careful to conduct lessons with materials that are readily available in the students’ homes: markers, paper, glue, tape, pencils, etc. I’ve also told both the students and the parents that they can use whatever materials they might have at home to create their artwork. This helps to lessen the stress potentially placed on the parents to go out and purchase a bunch of art supplies.

My lessons have been a mix of holiday projects (Valentine’s Day), important observations (Black History), and UOI projects. I have been very pleased with the lessons I have created and the bulk of information I have been able to find online. For the week of Black History, I created a different lesson for each class featuring new artists that I had never heard of. This was very exciting for me, allowing for further research in my field, and helping me to transfer my enthusiasm for my subject into my lessons for the students. I also collaborated with Ms. Karla from Kindergarten 2 on a water experiment that I called Monet’s Garden. The students studied Monet’s artworks before decorating simple flowers, folding in the petals, placing them in bowls of water, and watching as they “bloomed” right before our eyes. It was magic!

The feedback I have been able to share with my students is incredibly thorough, analytical, and individualized. I have more time with online teaching to give specific and personalized feedback to my students, whereas in a normal classroom situation there are time constraints. But I have really enjoyed giving thoughtful written feedback to my students during our online lessons. And having a connection to the parents has also been wonderful. As a specialist, we never get to speak to the parents or hear from them. With online learning, I have a direct line to each of the parents and it is awesome! They are a huge support to online learning and I am so thankful for their participation!

Please find below several artworks from each grade. And you can find a link to all of my PowerPoints and resources here. Enjoy!









Reflection, Written April 16th 

My friend Jason Brown has been organizing and hosting mail art gallery events in Nashville, Tennessee for the past 10 years. Mail art, a movement that dates back to the 1950s and 60s, often involves collage, rubber stamps and a tradition of challenging the postal system by mailing irregularly shaped objects or ones with addresses that have to be picked out of elaborate designs (Tennessean, 2014). Mail art is super fun to create, navigate through the postal system, and receive!

Mr. Brown’s most recent project is called, My View From Home, and encourages participants to find joy in their surroundings whilst living through a pandemic. Originally from London, he encourages everyone, worldwide, to participate in his mail art events. So, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for Stalford students to reflect on their Covid-19 homestay/isolation experience. (I mentioned this project at the bottom of my last post, here.)

I created an A4-sized postcard for the students to use as the postcard where they made their artwork. Each class has been tasked with thinking about a different aspect of their experience to refer to in their mail artwork. On one side of their postcard, the students draw or collage a piece of artwork relating to the subject matter on which they are reflecting. For some classes, the students thought about their online learning experience and teachers. For other classes, the students focused on what they did while they were in their house (study, read, play with their pets, video games, etc.). One of my classes looked at the shape of the virus, another class thanked their parents for caring for them during this outbreak, and another class looked at the jobs of the many health care employees working tirelessly around the clock.


The second side of the postcard includes the address box, the postage stamp, and a place for writing a note. In the note section of their postcards, the students were asked to provide advice to other children their age of how best to deal with and protect oneself during an isolation and homestay period. In this section, some students provided practical advice, such as washing hands and wearing masks, while other students talked about how best to use one’s time and which video games they would recommend.


We are still working very hard on our postcards but look forward to sending close to 125 postcards to Nashville, Tennessee before May 31st. Once in Tennessee, the postcards will be photographed and catalogued by the Special Collections department at Vanderbilt University Library. Vanderbilt is a top school in the United States with many distinguished alumni and affiliates. It is an absolute honor that our students are getting the opportunity to participate in this creative and reflective project and have really enjoyed the process.

→ → → Next up: Part 3, March Roars Like a Lion

PS: If you have the opportunity to join in on a Zoom dance party: DO IT! I had so much fun, a few weekends back, disco dancing with my friends out of Alaska! We danced solid for 2 hours and it was like we were really all together! SO. MUCH. FUN. πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡