Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Art Teacher Before You

This fall will mark my fourth year at my current school. Since my school goes from PK-3 (as in they are 3 years old) to 12th grade, I really get to know my students. Now that the students are used to me and know my methods, I don't have to do a lot of "What to Expect in Ms. J's Class" stuff at the beginning of the year. I mostly do a an overview and remind kids of how to re-assimilate during those first few weeks.

Not to say it is a perfect method, or that it never changes. Classroom management is ever changing thing for nearly everyone. I have a system that mostly works for me, and I tweak it all the time to make it even better.

But, it took a LOOOOOONG time to get here. The best way I know to explain the journey is in writing a letter to the art teacher who worked at my school before me.

Dear Mr. Grant,

First, I hope I got your name right. My students -formerly your students- tell me that is your name, and as you have thoughtfully affixed it in plastic letters in such a permanent way that I still can't figure out how to remove them from above my -formerly your- doorway I feel it is accurate. Second, did/do you partake in a lot of illegal substances? I only ask because my students love to regale me with stories about your special fairy who lived in the art closest and loved glitter. Or, wait, was that an extended metaphor for something else?

Anyway, whatever your deal was/is, I primarily want to thank you. Apparently you were -or were interpreted as- so scatter-brained and lackadaisical about teaching that even the most meager of my student's projects are met with comments of amazement from colleagues and administration at my school. I know I'm an awesome art teacher, but I hear all the time from awesome art teachers who aren't recognize or appreciated. So, I feel all kinds of lucky that I get appreciated at all, and I feel it is mostly because I am juxtaposed to some kind of interpretation of you. Look, I know that is kind of harsh to say, but, ahem, the kids and teachers have told me some pretty funny stories such as you liked to nap in the kiln room and they once found you in there asleep during class time, you were always sneaking off campus early to avoid carpool duty, you would lie down on the floor during faculty meetings and sleep, pretty much everyday was free-draw day, and my favorite is that your clay lessons consisted of handing kids a lump of clay and saying "Go wild!"

I'm not a fool, and I know the kids love to embellish, but wow, even as half-truths that is quite a track record. It is rumored that you quit at my school because you didn't like all the rules from administration (?) and were strutting off to public schools. I'm wondering how the rules and napping is going for you there? I only ask because I worked with at-risk kids before working at this school and the rules are killah-intense and um, if you nap there you might die.

In any event, I really hope you have learned the word "No," because clearly you didn't while you were here. Honestly, I think you took in every half-crazed thing anyone donated from their homes! I cleaned out 50 nearly full cans of spoiled oil-based enamel wall paint out of the kiln room where they had obviously been happily residing for a looong time. It is really a wonder you didn't blow up while napping in the kiln room! And, don't even get me started on the 3,000 tiny glass bottles in the art closest? What are those for? Drugs? Syringes? Where did they come from? I can't bear to throw them away, but can't come up for a use for them either. And what about the 8 boxes of broken glass? I'd really love to do some stained glass, but we really don't have the resources for it (or safety protocols). I really hope you didn't do any stained glass with the kids. . . There was just so much junk in the art room! Some of it was really awesome salvageable garbage (old leather strips -cool!) and some of it was just garbage (huge urn full of dirty rocks -wtf?). Even after cleaning pretty extensively and continuing to sift through more junk these three past years I found and entire (!) box of speedball lino cutting tools this Spring. Crazy!

Finally, you must be a really sweet guy, or just someone who epitomize the "whatever, chill" mentality. I say this because it took a long time for the faculty here to understand that I'm not stopping my class to hand out art materials or wasting my art budget on handing out art materials for people who didn't bother to pre-plan. As in their lack of pre-planning doesn't constitute my emergency. It took awhile, but they get it. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the occasional email/classroom request -usually a few days in advance- for some isolated item or non-consummable item etc. But, my first year it was nearly hourly interruptions! I even had a volunteer wander into my art closet without asking while I was teaching!! You must have been some kind of laid-back dude.

I really admire that, but I have no idea as to how you were able to teach with all those interruptions!

So, well, bottom line: thanks for being you and making it so easy to be me!


Ms. J.

1 comment:

  1. Amy, you are too cute! You've really made me think though; as someone eligible (and likely) to retire in next year or two, what will the person who comes after me learn about me by what I leave behind? I want to be a hard act to follow!

    I'm prepping for a big post, (coming soon!!!) at my blog, about art education in general because I feel a need to get stuff off my chest, and some of the stuff you talk about is pretty relevant - how are we perceived by the rest of our staff, or kids, etc? What can we do to improve it? Saying no to passing out brownies is certainly a start, and staying awake and substance-free in our classroom is always a good idea too!

    I'm assuming from your post that you teach in a private school?