Sunday, July 21, 2013

Looking Forward: The First Day of School

The First Day?!  Summer vacation just began. Well, for some of you, it just did. But, here in the dirty South, most of the teachers return to school in late July, and begin teaching in early August.

I've been desperately working on a personal sculpture project all summer, have done little school related stuff, and have recently been asked to do quite a bit of "pretty-i-fying" of the school halls. Since I refuse to head over to school any earlier than I must, this doesn't leave much actual teaching-planning time in my pre-planning/teacher-workday week at school.

If you are a first year teacher, you are getting ready to learn (and live) a really un-fun fact: Most of the time you spend in pre-planning will be in meetings. In fact, you should expect little to no time in your classroom preparing for the school year during pre-planning. Most principals send out an email over the summer stating that the school is open for teachers about a week ahead of pre-planning. . . I've come to learn (the hard way) this is a strong suggestion that you get on over to school, and get your classroom ready before pre-planning. So, when I say I will not head back to school "until I must," that means I'll be darkening the doorway about one-two days before pre-planning, and will be getting as much paperwork done prior to that time as possible.

The first fews days of school are always trying to me as an Art teacher. I don't want to go over rules for six hours straight; I want to make Art!  So, I long ago left the whole "let's go over the syllabus word-for-word" stuff by the wayside, and jump right in!  This year, school starts on a Wednesday, which makes the whole "here is a mini project to begin Art" thing a lot easier.  I like for the first project I do every year to be something the students make individually, and that I can hang as one collaborative piece in the main hallway. In the past, we have all made mini 4 in 4 in self portraits in solid colors of the color wheel. We then hang the portraits in color order to make a "rainbow of faces." This is a wonderful first project for elementary students! This allows me to show them how we make Art as a community, and also allows me to get some stuff up on those sad, empty walls ASAP.

This year, I want to do something a little bit deeper, and am using an incredible concept from Susan Bivona over on Art on the Move to make a similar collaborative piece with my students.
image by Susan Bivona from Art on the Move, seen here:
Here is what my first few days look like, and what I plan to do with my class time.

Day 1:
1. Meet students at the door, get their names, and direct them to their numbered, assigned seat
2. Welcome students to begin class
3. Go over how to say my name ("You can call me Ms. Zschaber or Ms. Z.")
4. Show a quick PowerPoint about me (here is me with my dogs! Here is my Art! etc. etc.)
5. Ask students to grab a note-card and pencil from the center of the table.
6. Have the students answer questions about how they feel about art, how they feel about art class, what they hope to do in art class family, dreams, hopes, and activities on the card (I use these later to customize projects that are as relevant, engaging, and interesting to my students as possible).
7. Ask a few brave souls to share their responses.
8. Collect the cards.
9. Hand out the syllabus.
10. Go over the syllabus in a brief manner by showing a funny PowerPoint about class expectations.
11. Go over the rules (again brief).
12. Ask students to get a sheet of paper from the center of their table.
13. Demo to students that they will be tracing their hands and arms.
14. Students are to trace hands and arms, cut out work, and label it with their names.
15. Tell students they will be asked to define "What is Art" this week, and to think about their answer before the next class.

Day 2:
1. Welcome students at the door, remind them of the class expectation to read the board upon entry (this involves getting work from previous day).
2. Visually check who follows directions.
3. Welcome and begin class by reiterating the classroom entry expectations
4. Go over the outline for the class, and demo material dispensation and clean up procedures.
5. Ask students to define Art on the scratch paper at their table (in complete sentences).
6. Ask a few brave souls to share. Show a mini PPT about defining Art. Allow students to discuss.
7 . Give students two minutes to get their materials (which they should've done in step 1, and remind them again of this practice).
8. Demo the next steps in the project (decorate their hands in the color assigned to their table).
9. Demo storage procedures for work that needs to dry.
10. Direct students to the "I'm finished" assignment
11. Allow students to work.
12. Go over clean up procedure.
13. Clean up, have closer, and leave.

Day 3:
1. Welcome students at the door, remind them of the class expectation to read the board upon entry (this involves getting work from previous day).
2. Visually check who follows directions.
3. Make a list on the board of students who follow directions and say THANK-YOU!
4. Welcome and begin class by reiterating the classroom entry expectations
5. Go over the outline for the class, and demo material dispensation and clean up procedures, and hallway procedure for hanging artwork.
6. Give students two minutes to get their materials (which they should've done in step 1, and remind them again of this practice. This is the last day they will be allowed to do this w/o consequence).
7. Demo how to finish up the project (add your "What is Art" definition to your hand).
8. Students add finishing touches to their artwork
9. Finished students work on "I'm Finished" assignment (usually a sketchbook assignment).
10. Clean up, go over procedures for hanging up artwork in the hallway.
11. Have students gather work, and hang work in hallway collectively, (last 10 mins of class).
12. Ask a few brave souls to share their answers and discuss their choices. Have a mini-discussion about What Art Is.
13. Tell students what the project will be for the following week, dismiss from hallway to next class.

10 Practical Things No One Tells You about Teaching (Art)

The first year teaching is tough; this is both good and bad. On the one hand, everything is new and you are forever trying to find your groove. On the other, you are new, fresh out of school, and full of new, and probably awesome, ideas.  Experienced teachers rely on the wonderful energy of first years, as it often revitalizes programs and curriculum  Never be ashamed to be new, and never be afraid to share some new theory you learned in school (we are old, and we need you to teach us about it).  While the first year may not be your hardest year, it will come close.  For Art teachers, this first year can be even more difficult since we are often the only teacher of our subject in an entire school. Whereas other first year teachers can rely on other same-subject teachers for aid, Art teachers stand alone.  Here are 10, practical things about teaching that no one ever told me about, but are invaluable to my classroom and practice: 

1.       Make good with the people who run the school
No, this doesn’t mean the principal, administrators, team leaders, and/or fellow teachers. I’m talking about the secretaries, administrative assistants, bookkeepers, paraprofessionals, and janitors. Without these critical people, it would be hard for school to happen.

The front office staff are often your first wave of defense when it comes to anything important happening in the school environment. I’ve had my grits saved by the front office staff at my school so many times!  From a whispered, “Hey, unscheduled fire drill is happening at 10:05 a.m.” to “FYI there are going to people from the district office in the building on Friday,” these are the people that can make or break your day.  People who do not get along with the front office staff suffer. We are only allotted so much copy paper each quarter; I always run out. But, my awesome front office staff will *always* find me a few sheets when I run short. I know the people who antagonize the front office staff don’t get that kind of treatment.  I try to always be friendly, genuine, appreciative and pleasant with my front office staff. . .I also buy them all lunch once a year as an appreciation for all they do. I’m lucky; my front office colleagues are superstars.

The paraprofessionals work tirelessly with some of the most difficult students and/or difficult situations in the entire school.  They are a huge untapped resource when it comes to behavior management because they have literally seen it all. They also serve in a lot of classrooms throughout the day. They are often privy to the most gossip, and know the most about the inner-workings of your colleague’s classrooms. For instance, I might wonder, “Why is John crying today?” A paraprofessional will often know (even if John is not his/her student) because s/he was present when the upsetting situation went down.  These people are incredible workers, and you should never discount the wisdom they have to share.

The janitors keep your school clean. They provide you with cleaning materials and paper towels. They move furniture and help you remove graffiti.  If you are nice, they will help you haul heavy stuff, and give you extras (like trash bags, brooms, and/or steel wool etc. etc.). They have a thankless and very hard job.  Treat them with respect, and demonstrate that you are doing all you can to keep your room clean, so they only have to do a final sweep/change of garbage bags.  I always leave my room with the floor picked up, chairs neatly stacked, and garbage cans all in one spot. It is the little things, y’all.

2.       Procure spray bottles/ recycle spray bottles and funnels
It seems so random, but I use spray bottles and funnels all the time. Spray bottles come in handy for cleaning and for clay projects.  Whenever I see cheap ones, I buy them up.  I don’t fill the spray bottles with typical cleaning solution, as that might cause allergic reactions to students (and you know at least one kid will spray another kid in the face at some point in your teaching career).  Instead, I put about 1 Tblsp of hand-washing dish-soap in a spray bottle and fill the rest with water (if I have it on hand, I’ll add a scented oil for a good smell).  I use this solution for kids to spray down tables etc. etc. for cleaning. At the end of the day, I spray everything with a bit of Lysol to keep the germs down. Funnels come in handy for all that filling and re-filling of bottles, cups, and spray-bottles that you will inevitably do.

3.       Buy soap, and forget about hand sanitizer
I don’t know what it is about the soap provided at school, but it is pretty worthless when it comes to cleaning art grime. The soap at my school is this pink goop with the consistency of thick water.  I’ve taken to buying up liquid soap whenever I see it on sale (usually $1 a bottle or less).  It doesn’t have to be “nice” soap; just soap that isn’t produced in mass quantities seems to be a lot more effective. I also don’t buy hand sanitizer anymore. Students believe that hand sanitizer will “clean” any dirty mess. The reality is, in Art class especially, you need a little sudsy water to work off the grime; hand sanitizer doesn’t do that. I have seen kiddos who have just used hand sanitizer, with the dirtiest, yuckiest looking hands because they aren’t washing away grime; they are “cleaning” it. Ew. Ew. Ew.  I’ve also noticed that some kids use hand sanitizer as a scented product to keep themselves “fresh.” They will take as many as eight pumps of product and rub it all over hands, elbows, knees etc. etc. That just gets wasteful, and it becomes one more thing you have to manage.

I keep a little bottle of hand sanitizer behind my desk for me (after I use a communal tool etc.) just as a personal, preventative measure against disease. If my students want to avoid germs, they can wash their hands with soap and/or bring their own hand sanitizer.

Overall, I think hand sanitizer is great when you need to give a quick pump to elementary students on the way to lunch. . .Or, if you are a non-Art teacher or a teacher w/o a sink and you want to keep germs down. But, if you are trying to remove dirt and grime, you need soap.

I also use foaming soap bottles to keep the cost of buying soap down. I wrote about it in a post here:

4.       Buy lotion
Art is dirty and the kids do a lot of hand-washing. This leads to dry hands. I have taught in a lot of environments wherein the kids will whine about being “ashy” after hand-washing, and/or will tease one another for being “ashy.”  An easy way to avoid all of that is to just buy some lotion. I buy two economy-sized bottles of lotion for each school year. The total cost ends up being about $6, which is a small price to pay to avoid teasing and/or complaints.  I make sure to purchase something gender-neutral with a light, un-offensive scent.  Also, you’ll have kids visit you in the morning because they forgot to put on lotion etc. etc., and it feels good to be able to help someone out who is having a bad morning. J

5.       Buy deodorant
 You will teach smelly kids; it will happen.  I think there must be something about the on-set of adolescence that makes body odor especially rank.  I’ve had kids with odors so strong they could clear the classroom. One memorable year, I had to periodically stand in the doorway to my classroom and gulp down fresh air. Sometimes, you talk to parents (gently, oh-so-gently) about body odor and they understand and are appreciative. But, more often, you talk to parents (gently, oh-so-gently) about body odor and they dismiss you by saying, “my kid wears deodorant!” (my inner dialogue: do you actually seem them put it on?) or they don’t believe the smell is their kid, “I never smell any odor at home” (my inner dialogue: omg is your sense of smell impaired?!).  

Legally, you cannot give deodorant and/or soap-products to students because that can be construed as you making a judgment about that child’s home-life and can lead to litigation; I know this from experience. Instead, I have a little basket next to my hallway passes with body sprays. Students are able to take the sprays to the bathroom and/or into the hallway for a quick spray.  It becomes a non-issue because so many students indulge in the sprays because they want to stay fresh. I never make the suggestion for the kids to use the sprays, and that makes it fair as there is no singling out of students.

6.       Band-Aids are a cure for hypochondria
I’m forever getting students coming to me hissing, cringing, moaning, crying, groaning, and/or just being dramatic about paper cuts, old wounds, almost healed scratches, and minor issues that really don’t merit my (or the school nurse’s) notice. These students are usually repeat-offenders, and they are my darling, emotionally-needy, hypochondriacs. They love dramatic attention, but I often don’t have time for it. I long ago solved this issue by saying , “ohhh. Do you need a band-aid?” The answer is usually “yes.” I give them a band-aid and then they go on with their day. Mischief-Managed!  I only go through about one box of band-aids a year (but went through more when I taught elementary school). 

Band-aids can cure A LOT of problems in elementary settings. I was helping the after-school teacher watch some four year olds one afternoon, when a little girl wet her pants. We only had clean boy underwear for her to put on. She was really upset and didn’t want to wear the boy underwear, and started hysterically crying once we had her all fixed up.  So, I said (knowing that she did not), “Do you have a boo-boo?”  She hiccupped, got really quiet, and pointed to a spot on her wrist and nodded. So, I put a band-aid on it, and off she ran to play with her friends. It was a physical way of saying I understood her pain, and a way for her to be special with her friends. My colleague was really impressed. Band-aids are a huge untapped resource.

7.       Incentives are important
I don’t hand out candy, stickers, or other small items. I believe learning is its own reward, but I’m not a fool. I work better when I have an incentive, and so do my students. When I taught elementary, I gave students a “smelly” on the way out the door. I made all the student line up when we finished class, and put one hand flat on top of their heads. I would take a yummy smelling chapstick (devoted to this purpose) and rub it on their hands in recognition of their good behavior.  The kids LOOOVED this! It is a wonderful incentive because it doesn’t stain hands (like stamps) and is really inexpensive. One day, years ago, one of my middle school classes saw me giving “smellies” to my elementary students and insisted I do the same for them.  It is random, but they love it too. In fact, I still use “smellies” with my 6th grade students!

I also use classroom behavior incentives to earn credit towards making special projects with my middle school students, and have written about it here:

8.        Lock your stuff up
Art classrooms often come with lots of lockable cabinets and doors; keep them locked when not in use. It is sad, but I don’t have to keep my stuff locked to prevent student theft; I have to keep it locked to prevent colleague theft.  Colleagues will sneak into your room when you are not present, go through your shelves, and grab what they need.  Mine do not do this anymore because 1) I keep my door locked when I’m not present and 2) I’ve trained them to know better.  But, often the teacher before you didn’t care, and/or had been worn down by requests and permitted this behavior. Since the teacher before you allowed it, everyone operates under the concept that is okay. Now, they know it is not okay, because they know it is not okay for you to treat their classrooms in that manner.  You will have to put your foot down. I usually wait until I’ve had two-three break-ins and then I put my foot down in a polite email: 

“Dear colleagues, The Art curriculum relies almost totally on consumable resources. My budget is small, and once materials are exhausted I cannot teach my subject. I understand you many need Art materials from time to time. While I never mind you asking me personally for materials, please respect I may not always be able to share.  Thank you so much for respecting the needs of the Art classroom; you are awesome!”

Try to keep most of your paper-based (the most likely to be swiped) materials in lockable cabinets. If you do not have lockable cabinets, you can (or your school) purchase little metal strips that enable locking through cabinet handles.

Also, if you are going to be absent:  Everything must be locked.  You never know what will happen with a substitute and/or what a student might tell a substitute. It is best to have everything except for the materials needed for sub-work locked up.  It is good to get into the practice of locking everything every day in the event you have an unplanned absence.

9.       Don’t waste your money on tissues
It isn’t super classy, but I keep a roll of TP in my classroom for noses; it works.  I’d rather spend my money, and parents spend their money, on things like pencils, erasers, and paper.

10.   You can never have too many pencils or too much paper. EVER.
Anytime these items are on sale, pick some up. If your school offers pencils to teachers, make sure you grab a pack.  If you have all the items on your “donate to our classroom” list, ask for pencils and paper. Those things walk off!

Bonus: How to get this stuff for free!

Check out your local grocery store, credit union, food bank, and similar institutions for back-to-school teacher give-aways.  Typically, if you show your school ID card (or proof that you are a teacher), you are eligible for all sorts of free materials on special days. Usually these items are paper, pencils, soap, hand-sanitizer, and band-aids (hey, all of those items are on this list). Also, many school districts have a “warehouse” wherein old materials and furniture is stored. These places are a treasure-trove for teachers.  I’ve gotten a lot of free paper and textile materials from my district warehouse. Never underestimate the Craigslists “free” item section; I’ve managed to grab a lot of paper and other awesome materials through this resource.  Finally, a shout-out on Facebook and/or your social media platform of choice may surprise you.  I have a small budget and have been so impressed with the friends, family, and colleagues who have bought materials to help me through the years. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Candles, Mirrors, and Intellectual Property in K-12 Education

This past Spring, I attended a juried Art exhibition for students at a local gallery. Several of my colleagues’ students and my students had artworks displayed in the show.  I was irked to see that the student submissions from my colleagues featured projects I had taught them how to teach.  It was surprising to me to realize I was perturbed by this fact. In my mind, my students’ works were competing against very similar artworks, which put them at a slight disadvantage.  Annoyed, I thought to myself, “Well, I need to quit teaching everyone else all of my secrets.”

At the museum during my 2nd year teaching

When I graduated high school, I borrowed a line from Edith Wharton for my senior quote, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” I had no plans, at that time, to be a teacher. In fact, teaching as a career didn’t occur to me until nearly six years later. I chose the quote because it sounded intellectual and educated. In an interesting series of events, this quote had come to define who I am as an educator.
My siblings and I during my senior year of high school (I'm second from the left)
 The simple truth is I don’t have that many original ideas; most people don’t have that many original ideas. Original ideas, you see, are rare.  And, we inherently understand this fact as humans.  We revere those purveyors of originality and celebrate their ideas and accomplishments. We quote them, admire them, and emulate them.  Original ideas have far lasting consequences, and as such, originators of ideas have thought processes that are long-respected.

Fydor Dostoyevsky recognized that many original thinkers struggle against the status-quo, and often have ideas that aren’t fully understood by humanity until a generation or so later. He called such people “second category persons.” Dostoyevsky writes, “The second category all transgress the law; they are destroyers or disposed to destruction according to their capacities. The crimes of these people are of course relative and varied; for the most part they seek in very varied ways the destruction of the present for the sake of the better.“  This quote can be misconstrued as the concept is used as defense in the novel Crime and Punishment, for a murder. But, destruction isn’t necessarily negative. Destruction is often the impetus for renaissance. Sometimes, some things, need to be destroyed. The Berlin Wall was torn down, Gandhi starved himself to fend off colonialists, Dr. Martin Luther King marched against racism, people self-immolate to bring awareness to ideas and circumstances, and revolutionists founded America on the idea of rejecting their home nation.

So, no. Emphatically, no, I do not have many original ideas.

My colleagues and I at our B.F.A. Senior Exit Show (I'm second from the right)
What I do have, is a specific skill set and talent for acquiring and dispensing information. I can build almost anything with my hands, and can break down how to teach others to build the same thing with their own hands. To use Wharton’s metaphor further, I am very seldom a candle, but very often a mirror.  And, I am a pretty good mirror.

Our current, modern society reveres originality and celebrates it as something to be coveted. This covetous relationship can be seen in how we dress, how we behave, how we prepare food, and even how we permanently mark ourselves as different and therefore, original.  My grandfather used to say, “There ain’t nothing new under the sun. Only new people doing it.”  And, he is right; true originality is few and far between.

Artwork from my college senior exit show. I was desperate to be original.
When I realized back at the Spring Art show that I was really “just” a mirror, my response was to be upset.  My society deems originality is important, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so original.  It was distressing, and I felt an appropriate action would be to share my ideas less, so I can be more original.  But, let’s break down that idea.  I’m a teacher by training, by trade, and by choice.  Teaching is sacred to me; I feel there should be an oath all teachers take similar to the Hippocratic Oath of physicians.  Even though I have taken no verbal oath as a teacher, there is the oath and commitment I have made to teaching in my heart. I believe teachers are some of the most important people in a society; I believe teachers possess the ability to offer true equity to people through the sharing of concepts and ideas.  So, to keep an idea secret, to not share an idea for fear of a vain idea of not being original is tantamount to breaking that oath, no?

Two of the most talented students I've ever taught discussing a group project(Yes, they are arguing. No, they didn't get along at all)
 As humans, we tend to prefer to do things we are good at. I LOVE teaching; I am very good at it. I enjoying sharing things I have learned with students and adults alike.  At what point did we, as a society, decide that those who reflect ideas are somehow less than those originate them? Originators of ideas are often geniuses, they are often misunderstood, and sometimes they even have a hard time socializing with others. Originators of ideas depend on mirrors to share their ideas.  Original ideas are all great and fine, but if there isn’t someone to share those ideas what good are they really?

You know how artists and art teachers like to say, “Art cannot be created in a vacuum”?  Well, original ideas cannot be created in a vacuum either. Second category persons need teachers (mirrors) whether it be through books, technology, or other people in order to possess enough knowledge to generate anything new.  Second category persons also rely on those same entities to share original ideas; it is, when people are brave enough to share, a very fulfilling cycle.

This artist was just 13 when she drew this (18 x 24 in, colored pencil on black paper)
Who am I, as a person who takes teaching as a sacred service, to break the cycle by not sharing ideas? I don’t have original ideas, but I am able to build upon the ideas of others. I share these ideas with my students and with my colleagues.  Early in my teaching career, I realized that I would be (and have) teaching artists whose skills, talents, and accomplishments would far outpace my own.  This fact has never bothered me; in fact, it has given me a great deal of joy to know I was able to participate in such an illustrious journey. Why then, do I allow the accomplishments of my colleagues, when they are brought to fruition by some semblance of something I taught them, to bother me? I allow it because, in short, I am insecure and afraid of being anything less than spectacularly original. 

But, we can’t all be candles.  Candles are brilliant, wonderful things, which spread light brightly in small, confined spaces.  It is, however, the mirrors, that spread light beyond boundaries.  It takes both candles and mirrors to spread light throughout a large space, and it takes both originators and teachers to spread ideas throughout the world. 

one of my newer illustrations (9 x 10 in, gouache on bristol)