Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mythological Animals and Fall Leaves

What can I tell you about this month that's just passed with alarming speed?  Is this how every year goes as a teacher?  Simultaneously overwhelmingly fast and in the slowest, minute detail?  Simultaneously mundane routine and unpredictable from moment to moment?  I find that whenever anyone asks me how this year is going all I want to tell them is a string of contradictory adjectives, but I mean all of them.  As I write this, I am experiencing new levels of exhaustion.  Almost on par with my first year of art school.  But I'm still happy.  When I greet my students getting off the bus in the morning and I see their tired, earnest faces, I know I picked the right job.

Last week, a second grade class finished their project early.  One student began gluing pieces of scrap paper together.  Normally I don't allow children to use so many pieces of scrap paper, but I could see that he was really feeling what he was making.  Another student at his table began to help him glue.  Eventually, more and more students began coming over to add to the project.  Finally (and completely independently of me), the entire class decided to sign their names to the project.  I promised them that I would hang it in the hallway for everyone to see what it looks like when people successfully work together on an art project.  I do so much planning for lessons, and I really believe in the value of what I teach in those lessons based on state standards for Art.  However, I equally believe in the value of what children make when the decisions are left up to them.  I love the moments when I watch a child make an illustrated book about Cheetahs just because he loves Cheetahs, or a student who makes a paper compass complete with a paper case.

The photographs I've included this week are as follows:

1.  My example I created for a first grade Mythological Creature project (I had a lot of fun).
2.  First Grade student example (I LOVE the colors).
3.  A kindergarten student example of a leaf rubbing project.
4.  Another First Grade student example of a Mythological Creature (notice the name of the creature).
5.  A close-up of a fall colors tree project I'm making with all the Kindergarteners.  I'm teaching them about warm and cool colors.

Thank you to everyone who follows this disjointed, sporadic blog-journal.  It feels good to know that even when I'm tired and imperfect, you are out there to encourage me and remind me that you feel these things too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Approaching October

So, It's been a few weeks.  I knew that it would be hard to write weekly once things got going and I can honestly say that things are now going.  Meetings have sprung up across my calendar, there's new lessons to be written, principal observations, the school website to maintain (or begin, really), there's project examples to be made, supplies to be cleaned and managed, behavior forms to be written, projects to be graded.  I'm not listing my tasks in order to complain, I realize that this is what I signed up for.  Most of the time I love it, too.  I'm getting to know my students a lot better.  I'm finding real joy in watching the first grade boy who typically misbehaves in art getting really into making paper beads.  I'm loving the field guides I've asked my second graders to make about our school's garden, drawings complete with often misspelled words such as "seed" or "tomato plant."  The photos I've included in this post are as follows: A photo of me in front of the tree of life wearing the new apron Ashley gave me for my birthday to wear in school, A photo of a monster by a second grader (Which I think looks like fifth grade work), A photo of a first grade "stained glass" window project, and a photo of a kindergarten "AB pattern" snake project.

I can't mislead that it's all going perfectly, either.  I struggle so hard with clean-up, especially with my kindergarteners.  Yesterday's clean-up of a tissue-paper and glue project went so horrendously that today I changed the project to oil pastels.  I still feel like getting kindergarteners to follow more than one task during is enormously challenging, and this is difficult because there's often four or even five steps to a clean-up.  Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to chase feral cats around the classroom, and they've definitely got the upper hand.  Sometimes I also feel like I have to work with every ounce of my being to command the first and second graders to stop being so chatty when I'm giving instruction.  Sometimes I literally have to stop every thirty seconds to say,"if you have something to say, please raise your hand."  Wait thirty seconds, and someone else is calling out again.  Thirty seconds later, someone else.  It could be so much harder.  Many of the children I student taught would cuss at me and had problems so big, they couldn't fit within the walls of a classroom.  Still, as a first year teacher, I'm struggling with normal, first year teacher struggles.  I like calling teaching "my teaching practice" because I am definitely practicing.  I'm trying different strategies, brainstorming, and most of all, trying to write meaningful, exciting art lessons that will hopefully put my kids on a lifelong creative path.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Tree of Life finally has some Life

Last week was long.  I wasn't feeling well for half of the week and I had my first experience teaching while feeling ill.  It was a valuable experience in the end because I ended up altering one of the projects I was doing with the Kindergarteners because I felt too ill to face all of the steps the project required.  Although the altered project wasn't as rich as the original project, everything worked out fine and it was good for me to see that I could improvise when I need to.  This week was also challenging because both the First and Second graders were at the tail end of a project.  I am in the process of teaching each grade a clean-up procedure because clean-up is one of the biggest challenges for me as a new art teacher.  I have always find that when I lose a class, it's at clean-up time.  Therefore, I decided to make a very clear clean-up procedure to teach each grade and to keep reinforcing this procedure until they know what to do.  I hope it works!  I'm new at this, so I can only imagine what I hope my students will be able to do with a few more weeks practice.

A part of the clean-up process is the Tree of Life.  When the children finish early and clean-up their spots (and pass my inspection), they can choose to free-draw, read a book, or work on a piece of art for the Tree of Life.  This past week, I wanted to teach the first and second graders what this might look like.  Therefore, the students who had already finished their projects were required to make something for the Tree of Life.  I'm a little worried that by the end of the year there will be so much paper on the Tree of Life that it won't look like anything and there won't be any wall left.  Honestly though, even if that's what happens, it will be fun.  I want the children to be involved in an ongoing art installation.  I want the entire school to participate and I want them not to care who made what- but just to marvel in what we all made, all of us together.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Joan Miro and Life Skills

These images are from some of the first projects I've taught this school year.  The first two images are from a Coat of Arms project I did with first and second graders.  The next three images are from a kindergarten project I taught about non-objective art and the painter Joan Miro.  I was so proud of the first and second graders for coming up with original ideas for their Coat of Arms and it was so satisfying watching how thrilled they were with the books I checked out from the public library about Knights.  I was also so excited to see the results of the Kindergarten non-objective project.  I had a lot of fun hearing the children tell me their feelings when they saw the power point I showed them about Joan Miro.  I love how you can see the Miro influence on their paintings but how they also made them their own.

Another thing that's been on my mind this week is the passing of my old swimming coach from Stephen's Lake, Greg Scott.  I was probably 12 or 13 years old the last time I saw Greg Scott, but I've been thinking this week about how he taught me a skill that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  The reason I bring up this thought in my blog is because today I was working with a first grade student in our school who was recently adopted from China.  I am not sure of the situation she came from in China but she was not educated, possibly because of the fact that she has Cerebral Palsy.  Therefore, even though she is in the first grade, she is learning to write her name for the first time along with many other basic skills.  As she works on these skills, she is also learning English.  What a brave and joyful girl she is!  Today in art class, she was working on her Coat of Arms.  She finished coloring her design and it was time for her to cut out her Coat of Arms.  As soon as she picked up scissors, it was evident that she had never used them before.  I took a little bit of time and showed her how to hold the scissors.  We worked together to cut out as much as she was able and I helped her with the rest.  She was completely enamored with cutting!  After she finished her project, she spent the last 15 minutes of class using the scissors to cut her paper scraps into smaller and smaller pieces.  As I watched her work, I was thinking about the value of this skill.  I was thinking about how powerful it is to witness a child learn a skill that they will use for the rest of their life.  I was thinking about how thankful I am to Greg Scott for teaching me how to swim; a skill I will use many more times for the rest of my life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Still Standing

I completed my first three days of teaching and I'm still standing.  I met every child in the school last week, all 320 of them.  I think I had this idea going in that if I just read up enough on starting the school year, and just created enough clear rules and procedures that everything would go perfectly.  Everything did not go perfectly.  I had many of the same struggles that I had when I was student teaching.  I still find the Kindergarteners very difficult to manage, especially since I have them at the end of the day when they are very tired.  Last week I found that I could be successful in gaining the kindergartener's attention, but not in maintaining it.   I had some of the feelings I've felt in the past; namely that I'm fighting against a current rather than channeling it.  My goal for this year is to learn to direct the energy of the children rather than to fight against it.

Even though I had hoped (erroneously) that I would be able to start the year with everything in perfect order, I came away from my first week feeling encouraged.  The children were so sweet and earnest, I loved watching them become animated when they engaged in their artwork.  My mantra for this year is to be kind to myself as I experiment with ways to best manage the children in my classroom.  The art lessons do not worry me; this is the part that gives me so much joy- coming up with what to do next and creating examples for the children to see.  It's that management that's always been a challenge for me and that will be my focus this year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Two Days Before the Students Arrive

This was my last weekend before the start of the school year.  I worked in my room for many hours this weekend creating a seating chart and artwork storage system for my 17 classes.  Thanks to an unexpected and very generous donation from some dear friends, I was able to buy two rugs, a beautiful plant, and various organizational/storage items.  My mother and father drove out to my classroom with me on Saturday morning to help deliver the large rugs and items I'd purchased for the room.  My father went to work putting sticky traps in the corners of my classroom to catch some of the brown recluse spiders I've been seeing.  The spiders are just one reminder that although our school is relatively new (built in 2000), even it's newness can't guard against the kinds of pests one finds when one is living in the country.

Last week for new teacher training the Southern Boone County School District sent the new teachers on a bus tour of the Ashland school district.  We saw everything from decadent and innovative architect-designed homes to tiny trailers nestled deep in the woods.  Once, when we were driving on a single-lane gravel road, a three-legged dog ran up to the bus.  The driver told us that the girl who lives in that home can't see the bus from her house so he honks when he reaches the driveway and she comes running.

I loved seeing where my students are coming from.  Compared to Ashland, my own community of Columbia Missouri is a big city.  I know that when I'm working with the children of Ashland, I'm going to have to open up my mind and give up any ideas I have about what it's like to grow up in a rural community, because the truth is that I have no idea what it's like at all.  This coming school year will be an exercise in listening to my students and with any luck, this listening will be reciprocated by my students.

I am scared and excited and full of nervous energy about the coming year.  I look forward to hashing out my ideas, my mistakes, and my successes in this blog.  This is it.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why I Do This

I've spent about 15 hours in my classroom over the past few days.  I'm trying not to feel discouraged by how much left there is to do.  The first day of school is August 17th, in ten days.  The teacher who had the room before me really left it in amazing shape, but in order to feel like I know my way around, I've taken everything out of each cupboard and re-organized every shelf.  I've created labels for every cabinet.  I've painted a mural, made a bulletin board about Rules and Procedures of the Art room, made a welcome sign.  I've laminated, cleaned, organized, and planned, but there's still a thousand things left to do.  Still, I believe that this time I'm spending in my room is helping me develop a positive feeling towards the coming year.  I'm envisioning how I want things to run when the students are in there.  I'm daydreaming and getting excited about projects I want to do.

These pictures I'm posting are from lessons past.  Some are from projects I taught during my student-teaching at both Russell elementary and Hickman High School.  A few are from the summer program at the craft studio.  The work shown spans students between the ages of 7-18.  When I look back at these pictures it reminds me of why I'm excited to teach.  Since I've been taking Education classes at Columbia College I've gotten used to reciting my educational philosophy on demand.  I've written it eloquently in papers and portfolios and presentations.  However, while I've been working in my classroom, I'm thinking back to when I was in elementary school.  I remember one monday, waiting in line outside the school after recess, thinking about how art didn't come until friday.  I remember feeling as though an ocean of time lay between that moment and friday.

I want to teach because I believe that the process of making art is restorative for children and I want to help dispel the myth that art is superfluous.  When I think about how art helped guide me through public school and ultimately to a higher academic performance, I want to be an advocate for more art in our schools.