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Reflections of a first-year art teacher.

Elizabeth waved to us to come in the artroom as she called her students to line up at the door. With the dexterity of a juggler, she delivered the second graders and their chalk drawings to their teacher down the hall. Wiping her hands on her apron, she joined us at a small table at the back of the artroom. This was a reunion of sorts, since she and her former art education professor were meeting for the first time in six months. Elizabeth had been a student in the art education program for three years, and David Barr had been her professor and student teaching supervisor. They looked at each other and commented on how their roles had changed in such a short time. Elizabeth was a teacher now too.

Professor Barr reminisced about the potential of this young, professional art educator. That Elizabeth would experience success in teaching art was evident several years before. She exhibited the drive and determination of an ideal art education student. We had come to see how she was surviving her first year.

As art educators, we have our own personal teaching styles. There is no "one way" to teach art. Art education must be unique to each school, each group of children, and, in fact, each child--every art teacher must find his or her own way. The following interview shows the one way of one first-year art teacher.

The school where Elizabeth teaches is a single-level institutional-type building for second and third grade elementary students. The artroom is located in the northwest side between the third grade and second grade wings. It is a comfortable environment to start one's art teaching career.

David: How many students do you teach?

Elizabeth: I teach 527 children in this suburban primary building. The oldest child in my classes is nine years old.

David: Surely one's start to teaching must have the accompanying sound of trumpets and the adulation of thankful parents and colleagues, but what was reality? Describe what your first day was like.

Elizabeth: I was scared to death. I asked myself what kind of lessons, or should I even do a lesson? The first day I had them do picture books about themselves and it was terrible. I'll never do it again.

David: What did you learn from this first lesson?

Elizabeth: Children come to art with expectations of experiencing something new, different and creative. With this experience came headaches for the first two weeks. I had pounding headaches, especially when the second grade came in the afternoon. It's a long day. I have my first class at 9:30 a.m. and don't have my last class until 3:40 p.m., and then I'm ready to get out of here. At the end of the first day I thought, "What do you do with bouncing second graders?"

David: Describe the artroom the first time you opened the door before the start of the school year.

Elizabeth: I said to myself, "Where am I going to put everything! I have so much stuff!" There was no storage. I bought shelving units and a lot of my own materials.

David: Did you feel obligated to buy shelving and materials, or did you feel that was something you needed to do?

Elizabeth: I needed the organization for myself. Some teachers can handle it when they throw everything in the comer. They can find it. I can't. I have to have it labeled so I can pull it out. I would go on cleaning binges where I would spend two hours each night just cleaning; organizing for myself because it bothers me visually. We didn't have any art shirts, so I hung a clothesline with art shirts. I had to teach the children how to use the clothespins. I never thought about those things.

David: Survival may be an appropriate goal for a first-year teacher, but we know the administration expects more of teachers. As a first-year art teacher, how were you able to set clear goals?

Elizabeth: I'm still setting clear goals. Classroom management was very hard for me and still is. I'm not the type of person who likes a loose atmosphere. I need to know what behaviors I should stop and which ones to let be. I have changed management strategies many times. Now we play baseball. If the class gets three strikes for poor behavior, they're out and we clean up early. That doesn't happen often now. We talk about classroom management in the University courses. They tell you, "Give them logical consequences." Well, theory doesn't work. You have to have hands-on practice managing real kids. It's all trial and error.

David: How are you able to motivate students in your classroom?

Elizabeth: If I'm excited, they're excited. I can see it from the start when a lesson is terrible and I'm not happy. The second time I try a project, it often turns out great. I'll have days that are wonderful too.

David: Describe one experience or art activity that you would redo.

Elizabeth: I had one group of kids do a cartoon strip. It was one of those moments where you don't have your lesson plans written, but supposedly thought it all out in your head. So I said, "We're going to do a cartoon strip. We will first learn how to draw a cartoon character, then we will draw the blocks, and next we'll write the story line." The kids were bored by the second week. They can't deal with long lessons. Two weeks max. I need to work through a lesson and its process before the kids try it. If I try to wing it, I usually bomb.

David: What part of the art lessons do you like?

Elizabeth: I like the process part. I like watching the kids. I like learning while they are learning. Sometimes I feel as if I'm an artist with them instead of the teacher. I really like the relationship better when we're working together.

David: How are you able to select art materials that are appropriate for this age level?

Elizabeth: I'm still learning that. Some things I think they are able to use and do, they can't. I wanted to do batik and stretch canvas. However, they do not have the skills yet. Do I want to do half the process myself before I give it to the kids? No, I don't. I'm looking at what they can do by themselves. They need the process. Whether I think it looks great or not isn't important.

David: Evaluation works well when the evaluator has a stress-free environment and a catered lunch. Since we know this will never occur, how do you monitor students' artistic growth and development?

Elizabeth: In some children I can see their developmental skills growing, and I provide verbal feedback. I hand back projects so that they can get feedback about a project. Unfortunately, they usually get them back four weeks later. I grade it because I have to have something in the grade book. Who wants to grade 300 "somethings"? Often I have to motivate myself to grade. My grades were not consistent in the beginning. The first grading period I should have given them all "S" (satisfactory). I wasn't sure of my evaluation processes yet. Now I'm getting better about making decisions as I'm grading.

David: How are you using the word grading? Is it a process, a mechanical thing ...?

Elizabeth: Everyone has an "O" for outstanding in the beginning. Then I look to see if they followed directions. Is there skill development? Are they going beyond the normal means? Are they doing the best they can? I write personal comments.

David: How do the children react to your evaluation?

Elizabeth: Some took at the report card to see their grades; they don't pay attention to the individual project grades. They don't really notice it. What they notice is if it's hanging up.

David: Talk about differences in grade level.

Elizabeth: The difference is enormous. What I can teach in one grade, just forget about teaching in the other.

David: How did you feel about your first art show?

Elizabeth: We had one piece of artwork from each child. We had candles, drawings banging up ... our plastic bag sculptures. It went really, really well. The only thing that was disheartening was that there was hardly any parent turnout.

David: How would you do it differently next year?

Elizabeth: I would advertise the art show myself. Flyers would be sent home describing the show and asking family members to come to see their child's displayed artwork. Posters would be hung saying, "Hey, this is what we are doing this year." It's not what I'm doing; it's what the kids are doing. The students loved displaying their work; they got excited ... "Oh, let me show my work." After the school show, I took about forty pieces to the local library for display. My goal is to have local businesses provide frames where we can display our work monthly in the community.

David: As the easel supports the painting, our colleagues, administrators, and parents of the students can brace and add strength to our art program. How do you deal with faculty, supervisors and administrators?

Elizabeth: We have a great crew here. Everyone is extremely supportive. We have an excellent principal. She is very energetic and open to new ideas. She gives me the freedom to develop my art curriculum creatively, letting me know help is around the corner. She came into my room and observed my teaching. She said, "I am getting excited about art because you are." I am always looking for positive feedback. Accepting positive praise on a professional basis is very difficult for me. I'm very critical of my work.

David: Are you worried about being stagnant after the first year?

Elizabeth: Yes, I always hear the comments that art teachers do the same thing over and over again, I don't want to do the same project eleven times. Over Christmas I did get some drawing books. I don't spend enough time drawing, and I don't feel like I'm confident in my own drawing. If I can't draw, how can I teach these kids to draw?

David: How have you balanced the demands of teaching with your personal life?

Elizabeth: There is no personal life ... forget personal life. My husband colors letters at night for me. Weekends ... "What are we going to do this weekend?" "Oh, we're going to work on things for the showcase or bulletin board, or things for the kids." I think that is why I'm taking a ceramics class, because I need to do things for myself. I stay here till 6:30 or 7:00 because I have to organize myself. Some teachers just walk right out the door. I don't know how they do that. And they have a really successful program. Personal life--there isn't any, but that's how I make it. Some people call me a workaholic.

David: Describe your worst moment as a first-year art teacher.

Elizabeth: We were using tempera. I had them in yogurt cups--six colors at every table. A second grader, Carl, was telling me a story and he talks with his hands. He swung his hands and they hit the cup. I looked across the room and there was a little girl covered with yellow tempera paint!

David: Describe your own personal teaching style

Elizabeth: Loose. open to a lot of changes, flexible. If a child is not doing something right, we try something else to help this child grow. I experiment a lot when I work. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. You don't want to eat my cooking.

A Memorable Start

We experience the beginning of our teaching career only once. The rush of excitement, the unknown, making a significant difference and the joy of interaction are the parts of the assemblage of our professional stature. For some it ends too soon and for others, it is a moment to be left behind ... but never forgotten.

David Barr and Jacqueline Anglin are Associate Professors of Art Education at the University of Akron, Akron, Ohio.
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Article Details
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Author:Anglin, Jacqueline
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Interview
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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