It’s that time. Another school year has come to an end. And, in honor of me finishing out my 10th year, I will count down the 10 biggest things that happened this year. Not everything that happened this year was good. In fact, it was kind of a crappy year. But, I did learn a lot and made some great relationships with me students. So, without anymore drivel from me, let’s do this.
10. UNITY: I will admit, I saw the Unity Project video on Facebook, and I was in. I emailed my principal and he was all in. I created a gofundme project for it and through the kindness of others, the project was funded quickly and I was able to go shopping for materials. It was a great way to kick off the year. I had so much support from other teachers and our student body. While there was a few hiccups along the way (one being when a students thought he could climb on a pvc pole and he broke it), in the end, it was an amazing installation.
9. THE PURPLE HOODIE: I had a tough student this year. He was hard to reach. He didn’t talk much, and he often had his purple hoodie pulled up over his head. I started the year off by giving him some space, and by asking his monitor teacher for some strategies with him. It took a while, but we built a relationship. He spent much of his time during his class in my office, but he would do the work I asked him to do. And believe me, he did not like making or talking about art. After a while, he would come in during lunch to hang out and chat. He did this at other times as well. We built a relationship where I could be honest with him and give him a fair dose of snark and it was all okay.
There was this one day that was bittersweet. It both made me sad and touched my heart at the same time. He came into my office one morning during tutorials, but there were already like 6 other kids in my office. I said hi, and he looked at me, but then left as quickly as he came in. I sensed something was off. I figured I would ask him later that day. He didn’t show up to class. When he returned the next day, he told me where he was…talking to some people in the office. When he told me why, I was saddened. I won’t go into details about why. And I know this is weird, but it touched me that I was the 2nd person he came to find to talk with him. The first wasn’t in her office, so he came to me. I care very much about this young man. And, I am glad I gained his trust. Sadly, he has moved to another city with his father. But, rumor has it, he will be back next year. Relationships can sometimes matter more than art making.
8. ESCALATION: I have a co-worker that has been teaching with me for the past 10 years. We get along on the surface, but when you look closely, you will notice we couldn’t be more different. For starters, we teach on complete different ends of the art spectrum…he’s dbae and I’m TAB. We don’t play well together and it has been building up for years. I finally got up the courage to talk to an admin about the situation; I went in with the intention of seeking advice in how to make our department better and how to work with him. It was suggested that we circle up, a restorative discipline term. Basically, it was like mediation. He basically refused, and one day it escalated between us in my classroom. Luckily, I was on conference and I held my cool. We still haven’t worked things out, and I have been told our head principal will eventually talk with us, but I’m not holding my breath.
Why am I adding this? Well, this was a big event that happened this year. I think it needed to happen. I would have liked to go to mediation, but I am mostly okay with the outcome. The fact that I spoke up and I was honest about my feelings and that I took ownership that I wasn’t innocent in any of it was big for me. I don’t like confrontation, nor to like to create waves in my workplace.
7. SCHOLASTIC ART: This year, I finally got up the nerve to enter my students work in the Scholastic Art contest. I was so nervous. I see the potential and awesomeness in my students’ works, but do others. My kids don’t make “normal” pieces, and often times it’s not what “they” consider gold seal work–one reason I don’t enter into our state art event. But, I was told Scholastic was different. My kids didn’t win anything, and after looking at what did win for my region, I wondered about the judges. But, that is neither here nor there. I am so proud of my students for trusting me. I still think they were shafted because their work was super cool. I know, I’m biased. I look forward to next year and entering more student works.
6. DALLAS: This year’s Texas Art Ed Assoc held it’s yearly conference in Dallas. I presented not once, but twice. I presented once about grading and TAB…it kind of bombed. I was told it was fine, but I know better. The other presentation was a overview of HS TAB. It went really well. Beyond the presentations, I participated in my first live twitter chat, got to have great burgers and beer with a friend who I met in Chicago at NAEA16, I met the terraforma cards guys, and I got to throw some bowls for a local empty bowls event. It was a pretty fun time, I must admit. It was a much needed and much appreciated work-cation.
5. THE BIG APPLE: NAEA17 was held in my old stomping ground…NYC! There was no way I was going to miss a chance to go “home”. I don’t even know where to begin. I got to room with 2 of my favorite TAB ladies. I got to finally meet and hangout with Melissa Purtee. I stayed in a hotel in midtown. I lived in Queens, so the hotel stay was new and so cool. I got to go to the MOMA, which is in a completely different location from the last time I went there…over 20 years ago. I had a fabulous dinner with other TABbers, provided by my fabulous mentors, Diane and Kathy. Times Square had become something I couldn’t believe…so bright and shiny. And, I got to have a reunion with one of my closest friends from college.
4. 4th Annual THS Art Show: Six years into my time at THS I asked if we could have a high school art show. Up until that point, there wasn’t any. This year marks the 4th year that I have put up a show that celebrates all art made at our school. I don’t just show off my students and my co-worker’s students. We include any other elective where art is created–welding, fashion, photography, floral design, culinary, and we include our teachers. It is a lot of work, but in the end, it is so worth it. This year I was worried that it wouldn’t go off well. (See the escalation paragraph above.) But, I put that aside and just focused on the art. I think it was a great turn out. Students sold their work, and not just to their parents. The rain stayed away (every year it rains at the beginning of the show) during the show itself; I do believe it rained earlier in the day though. I found a better way of hanging the paintings, almost none fell down this year…the rain always brings the humidity and that doesn’t play nice with how we used to hang out artworks. Granted no one from central office showed up, even though they were sent formal invitations, but I’ve come to expect that. And quite frankly, those who are important, like parents, friends, teachers, and the community, showed up in support. I look forward to celebrating our students again for years to come.
3. A SMILE LIKE I’VE NEVER SEEN: Art is a funny yet fabulous thing. It can grab hold of the most unlikely and unexpected people. This year I was lucky enough to witness this. I watched a student finish a project early and ask me if I could show him how to use the wheel. We weren’t slated to use the wheel for months, but who am I to stop a student from learning to art. That week, I knew art had put her hooks in him. Over the next few months, I watched him grow, and learn, and create. I watched him create bowl after bowl, vase after vase, each time honing his skills, and using every ounce of clay we had. But, it was more than that. I saw the passion for what he was doing rise in him. I saw a smile, and a light in his face when we talked about ceramics and his work. I am so glad that he decided to sign up for beginning ceramics. If only he found it before his senior year.
2. RESTORATIVE DISCIPLINE: Our school started to implement a new behavior management system. It is called restorative discipline, and for the most part, it is meant to be proactive instead of reactive. It is not something that the entire campus learns at one time. It is done in stages. I know that seems odd, but after learning about it, it makes sense. I was lucky enough to have been asked to be in cohort #2, which began it’s training 2 weeks before school ended. It is so much about community and building relationships…which is right up my alley, and why I was asked to be in the 2nd cohort. I personally think it was cool to be asked knowing why they asked me. (Some were asked because they thought that teacher was lacking in that area.) Anyway, so far, so good.
But, more than being part of the next cohort, I did participate in a couple of tier 2 circles this year…these are reactive, but they can make such a difference. I had one student who I kept butted heads with, and if she kept it up, we knew she was headed to our alternative center. We circled up and we both spoke our piece and listened to the other person. We made a contract and tried to implement it. We hit a bump and had to re-circle. But, that time worked. We now have an amazing relationship, and don’t tell her, but I will miss having her in class next year.
1. NO MORE THEMES: This year I dropped the themes for my art 1 and art 2 classes. I instead went with artistic behaviors for major units. We worked our way through: artists solve problems, artists communicate, artists, observe, artists steal, artists represent, artists abstract/don’t represent, and artists work in a series. This was a major step forward for me and my students in our TAB studio. I think it really was more meaningful to them to really understand what artists do. It really made a huge difference, the switch that is. I could see it in their work; I could see it in their exploration; I could see it in their understanding of art making; and I could see it in their growth. And, at the end of the year, I had the least amount of work left behind I have had since making the leap to TAB.
It has been a very interesting decade of art teaching for me. I have changed so much. My teaching has changed so much. I like to think it’s all for the better. I keep learning new things, about art, about teaching, about students, and most importantly, about myself. I often wonder what is going to happen next, which is something that keeps me interested and wanting to go to work every day. What obstacles will I face and will I overcome them? What new things will I learn? What new things can I teach someone? What new relationships will I make? What new surprises will I find? I think it’s this last one that I really enjoy because I love being surprised by what my students do and learn and create and tell me. It is what makes it all worth it.