Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why I Teach Art

Those of us that teach in Ohio have probably heard about the Ohio Department of Education recently voting to eliminate the "5 of 8" rule that mandates Ohio school districts to have at least 5 staffed positions from the following - specials teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, and nurses - per 1000 students.  Lots of us in Ohio are worried that if this language is eliminated, districts may be less likely to keep these staff members that provide vital support services and a well-rounded education for students.  Particularly at risk are those districts who are already struggling financially, and it's those districts that may need arts education the most.

As an art teacher, clearly I have some thoughts on this.  I won't necessarily get into a lot of detail with the benefits of arts education in relation to test scores, attendance, college-readiness, or career goals (although you can read about them here, here, here, here, here, or here).  Instead I want to touch on a few things that inspired me to be an art teacher.

Growing up I loved to draw.  I loved cartoons and would draw on anything and everything for as long as I can remember.  I doodled on homework assignments and notebook pages, covering every square inch of paper and sometimes getting frustrated that the notes I was taking were getting in the way of my drawing.

My art education experience growing up was largely developing skills and vocabulary.  I came a long way.  I learned all about perspective, space, composition, the elements and principles.  I graduated high school with a portfolio of technically-sound artwork.

A first grade project by me (top) and my twin sister (bottom)
I feel like I was lucky.  I liked art.  I loved to draw.  I was good at it.  It was much easier for me to get better.  For a long time, art education was focused on developing skills and techniques.  Art classes studied the old masters and refined abilities to imitate the classics.

Portrait by 18 year-old me
But I got most excited about Art when I went to college and discovered contemporary artists that made me view the world differently.  Art that made me think and challenged my ideas.  I realized what Art could be - intellectually engaging and ultimately eye-opening.  I realized that great art wasn't necessarily made by artists who could paint like the art teacher, rather by artists who thought about life in an original, critical way.  

I was so inspired by the direction I saw Art Education heading by the time I got to Ohio State to get my teaching degree.  I knew I wanted to get back into schools and add contemporary art and critical thinking skills to grade school curriculum, and was thankful to see I was not alone.  Not by a long shot.  Art education is focusing on investigating visual culture and problem solving as the wave of the future.

So now to the main reason I teach Art.  I've basically made it my cause to develop positive relationships with new ideas, originality, and taking risks with my students.  I tell them all the time that I'm most concerned with developing their ability to problem solve, come up with their own ideas, and understand that they have ideas worth getting excited about.  I'm always there to help them get technically better, shade properly, and build vocabulary.  But at the end of the day if my students get better at decision making and problem solving, I can rest easy.

A 6th grade blind-contour drawing
Being specials teachers allows us to do just that.  In Art, we can practice making mistakes so that we can really celebrate our successes.  We can practice looking at the world from different angles, practice being silly and weird, and practice spending time outside of the "test mode" that so rarely applies to real life.  We can provide an environment and an experience for our students that few other classrooms can.  

And we get to use crayons, paint, paper mache, clay, colored pencils, markers, scissors, construction paper, glue, and cartoons to do that.

Click here for the link to ODE's contact information on the subject.

1 comment: