Sunday, July 31, 2011

I painted a mural

Today, Sunday July 31st, was the first day I've been able to spend in my classroom preparing for next year.  Since this is my first year of teaching, feelings of fear and panic swell and recede daily.  I'm only just realizing that I took on an overly ambitious summer before my first year of teaching.  Each weekend from June 10th-July 29th was booked with planning and prepping for teaching at the MU Craft Studio and course work for the Curriculum and Masters Portfolio classes I took at Columbia College.  To be honest, however, I didn't finish my Masters Portfolio and I'll still be working on it as I begin the school year (swell of panic).

Therefore, the fact that I was able to be in my classroom from 11:30-5:30 today was a great relief to me.  What did I do with all of this time given the enumerable organizational tasks that lie ahead you ask?  I painted a mural.  The reason that I painted a mural before finishing my lesson plans, organizing supplies, setting up the room and creating labels and signs is that it is very important to me that I have an emotional connection with my room.  In fact, the first time I ever got into my room on my own earlier in the summer when I was dropping off a list of Art supplies to my Principal, all I did was stare out the window for 20 minutes looking at the farmland in the distance.  Maybe I am sounding like a hippie or super New Age or something, but these are the kinds of things I need to do in order to feel calm when I walk in the door to a sometimes very hectic job.  Once I feel good in my room, I have limitless energy for mundane and repetitive tasks.  I also believe that I can't help the children feel good in my room until I do.

The mural I painted is a tree of life.  I don't have an explanation of why I decided to paint this image other than I just pictured it when I imagined what I wanted to see in my classroom every day.  I painted each leaf a different color and I painted the trunk growing up the center (a reference to the tree my dad planted in his garden for my 4 year old niece).  I am hoping that as the year goes along I can have the children make animals and birds that I can hang up in the tree until by the end of the year, it's full of life.        

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

So Much Beauty in Dirt

I have been teaching a children's summer program at the Missouri University Craft Studio this summer.  I want to tell you about why I love the Craft Studio so much but that story begins with my undergraduate experience, so I will begin there.

I went to the Rhode Island School of Design.  This is not something that I like to tell people right up front because I don't want people to construct a meaning from the fact that I went to RISD that I do not intend.  Sometimes when I tell people that I went to RISD, I can see them get this far away look in their eyes and I can already tell that that they are envisioning what I must be capable of.  The truth is so much more complicated than I can explain quickly to someone I've only just met.  I did have an amazing time at RISD, but I also struggled and began a path that diverged (what feels like far) away from that of my classmates.  I also felt that painting, my major, could be incredibly exclusive and at times, pretentious.  I was really turned off by this feeling that painting was only for the elite and this bad taste led me to explore other options.  The truth is also that there are times when I feel really proud of my alternative path and sometimes I feel like a failure.

While at RISD, I was both a Resident Advisor and a Teachers Assistant to Gerald Immonen.  I loved those jobs as much as I loved making artwork and I slowly began to realize that maybe being alone in an art studio all day wasn't really going to be good for me.  So in the years after RISD, I drifted from Americorps, to pre-schools to non-profits, to living abroad; which is to say that I was lost.  Finally, I accepted the idea that their wasn't an ideal job for me.  I decided that if I were to become an art teacher I could support other young people finding solace in art (the story of my life in public education) and I could make a living wage (which I know some people may find debatable in teaching).

So now it's ten years since I left RISD.  I earned my Teaching Certification at Columbia College in my hometown of Columbia, Missouri.  I got a job teaching art to K-2 graders in Ashland, Missouri (15 miles from Columbia).  In this blog I will tell the story of my first year of teaching, while attempting to maintain my own artistic practice.

But back to the Craft Studio.  I love the MU Craft Studio because it is the least pretentious art place I've ever been.  Their motto is simply: Make something.  In my time that I've taught there, I've taught painting to students majoring in everything from Nutrition Science to Entomology.  I love teaching non-artist students because they bring such a clean slate and an open mind to their artistic practice.

This summer I am teaching groups of children by age group and theme.  For example, the first week the theme was "animals" and the children were 1st-3rd graders.  The photograph I included in this post is an outdoor sculpture made by a group of 6th-8th graders.  I showed them the artist Andy Goldsworthy and then I selected a location for them to make a site specific sculpture.  What I love about this work is that the students completely dictated the direction of the sculpture.  They made decisions, delineated tasks, and created a work that in my opinion is really beautiful.

Having decided to become a teacher, one of my favorite parts of this work is baring witness to the creation of something authentic and beautiful.