My first real look into art education was in my secondary art education class. This is where I found out why being any kind of teacher is so challenging. Teachers have to deal with limited budgets, long hours, unrealistic school expectations, less-than-ideal environments, and students with a broad range of personalities, interests, and maybe even languages. Depending on the school’s demographics, some teachers will have to pay for things out of their own pocket, be faced with students who are more concerned with satisfying their hunger than getting a good grade, and really struggle to meet testing standards and avoid probation. This is all while earning a pretty mediocre salary considering the need for teachers and what they mean for society.
Art education is particularly challenging largely because many people don’t view visual art as a necessary part of the school curriculum. This inevitably leads to some students taking the class for an “easy A” and then being disappointed when they find out that they actually have to work hard to earn that A. This also means that art programs are often the first to go when money gets tight. One art teacher that I worked with received a teacher of the year award at her school recently, and when asked if she felt respected as an art teacher by her co-workers she said, “I feel like they respect me as a person, but as an art teacher? No.” Hearing something like that can be really discouraging.
To avoid turning this post into a book, I’m going to list some of the specific challenges that high school art teachers face:
- Motivation: How do you convince/show a student that they can apply skills they learn in art to other aspects of their lives? How do you convince them to take art class seriously when even some teachers view it as a privilege and not a necessity?
- Interest: How can you provide for a more advanced student who is interested in a career in art? I was the only student taking AP Art my senior year of high school, so I was grouped with a 2D Art class. How can the teacher challenge and support an advanced student when he or she has a whole class of less-advanced students who also need attention and help?
- Censorship: Where is the line drawn when it comes to free expression? How can you encourage creativity and self-expression while discouraging controversial ideas?
- Assessment: What kind of grading rubric do you use in a beginning class where skill levels are very diverse?
- SOLs: How can you get to the more advanced standards when you have to spend time teaching students things they should have learned in elementary school?
I will elaborate on some of these in my next post when I talk about my student teaching experience, but for now let’s move onto elementary education.
In my elementary art education class, I learned a lot about being a successful teacher in general. This includes things like establishing rules on the first day of school and enforcing them throughout the year, learning students’ names as quickly as possible and pronouncing them correctly, keeping the classroom organized, dressing professionally, giving positive reinforcement, etc. It’s important to remember that not everyone has the qualities of a great teacher. Being passionate about a particular subject does not in itself make a great teacher.
Logistically, I think elementary art education is more challenging than secondary art education. I say this because in elementary school, every single student takes art, which means every student in the school is your student for the whole year (or half year depending on your schedule). That’s a lot of names to remember. Classes are also pretty short. When you take into account how much time is spent getting children settled in their seats, distributing supplies, cleaning up, and perhaps addressing behavior issues, all of a sudden there’s very little time to get any work done. Classes are basically back-to-back so you can’t rely on cleaning up after the class leaves. This is especially frustrating when you want to do ceramics or printmaking with the students because the prep and cleanup time is generally longer. I think this is part of the reason why many art teachers resort to “easy” 2D projects using materials such as paper, tempera paint, pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc.
One thing that was heavily emphasized throughout my time in the education program was the use of themes in lesson planning. Basing lesson plans on a theme is important for several reasons. First of all, it helps connect all the aspects of a particular lesson. Having a theme also encourages students to make connections between art and other aspects of their lives. If the theme is community, for example, the student would be able to relate their artwork to the community that they live in or a community that’s different from their own. Although coming up with themes and writing good lessons based on them was challenging, it was much more challenging to actually teach these lessons. I say this primarily because of time limitations. It’s really hard to get through a theme, technical skills, and a project in a reasonable amount of time. I often struggled with this because I felt like I only had room for either focusing on the art skills or focusing on the theme and meaning behind the work. Both are important, but it’s sometimes easier to justify focusing on the skills. This is an art class right? Students are supposed to learn art skills. But how will students feel a connection to their own work and understand how art relates to the world if teachers are always just focusing on teaching them how to use watercolors or attach two pieces of clay? As with many things, you have to find a happy medium.
While I took both secondary art education and elementary art education, I had to complete a corresponding practicum (about 30 hours each). This means that I had to observe and assist in a high school art classroom and then in an elementary school art classroom. I also completed some hours at a retirement home. Being in an actual art classroom with this new knowledge and perspective as a future teacher and not a student was really eye-opening. It made me excited, but mostly nervous about one day teaching on my own. More on that in the next post though! :p
A Whole New World Part I
A Whole New World Part III
A Whole New World Part IV
If you’ve been keeping up with my posts recently, you know that I got a teaching license this year and I’ve been looking for a job as an art teacher. I didn’t find a full time teaching position over the summer, so I’ve been keeping myself occupied while I patiently waited for a job opportunity. It’s actually worked out pretty well! Two Mondays ago, I got a call from the coordinator of art for Roanoke County Public Schools. There was an opening for an after school gifted art teacher and he wanted me to come in for an interview! It was very unexpected so I was super excited but also extremely nervous. I agreed to come in the next day.
The interview went really well and I was offered the job unofficially (I still had to do a background check before it could be official). I actually started working the next day! It was very bizarre going from being unemployed to interviewing and working in just two days, but it’s a good bizarre :] This is a part time position, so I’ll be teaching once a week on Thursdays for 12 weeks. I currently have three students, which is a real treat because I’m able to spend one-on-one time with them. I’m really grateful for this opportunity and I’m excited to see what my little artists create! As always, thanks for reading :]
It feels like I just graduated from high school yesterday, but here I am, a college grad. I have mixed emotions about the whole thing really, and I don’t think it will truly hit me that I’m not going back until August when I’m not packing up the car with all my things to move back to campus. It’s bittersweet for sure. A big part of me feels very ready for this next step (whether I can clearly tell you what that next step is exactly…well that’s another story). I graduated cum laude and I’m super proud of my accomplishments. I’m excited to see what opportunities may present themselves to me. I’m excited for something different and new.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I am pretty nervous about the future. I’m still in the job-searching period of my post-grad life and waiting anxiously for an offer. Right now, I am looking for a position as an art teacher hopefully not too far away so that I can live at home for a little while.
I do miss JMU and the people I became friends with there. I miss the beautiful campus and the feeling of independence I had. It’s kind of sad knowing I’ll never go back there as a student. I’m also not looking forward to paying off my loans… There are definitely some perks to being done, though. I get to be around for more family stuff and spend more time with my boyfriend and friends who live here. I also don’t have to move all my stuff again (for a while at least). I can hopefully manage my diabetes better now that I’m a little more in control of my schedule and what I eat, etc.
I have lots of plans for the summer to keep me busy while I nervously await a job offer! I have another art show in August in Downtown Harrisonburg, so I’ll be working on stuff for that. I’ll put up more information on that show very soon. I’m also in the process of opening an Etsy store! I’ll mostly be using it to sell my hand-painted clothing, but I’ll probably put some small drawings and paintings there too. I will also post something about that once the store is up and running.
I’ve been contacting local artists, galleries, and boutiques in search of more opportunities to get my work out to the public. I’m kind of unsure as to how I should approach this kind of thing, so I’m seeking advice from those who know more than I do :P
I’m not too sure where I’ll be in a few months, which is kind of intimidating, but I’ll be sure to share my journey with you guys on here :] Stay tuned!
Me and my super supportive parents :]