"What an Art Teacher Brings To a School," by Mrs. Anna Nichols, visual art teacher, grades 6, 7, 8

8th grade ceramic visual puns: 
"Palm Tree," "Hand Ball," "Deviled Egg,"

         The other day, a member of our school staff said to me (offhandedly), “You know, we need to stop teaching these kids all this junk they don’t need to know! All they need to learn is how to read, write, add, and subtract.” My response was, “They need to know how to think, too, not to mention learn how to communicate visually and in a variety of other ways!”
There are approximately 1500 public schools in Alabama, and 2/3 of these schools did not have art teachers listed as part of their faculty. We have 22 counties in Alabama without art teachers as well. 
What does this mean for our students? That 2/3 of our public school students are not being provided with high quality “enrichment” opportunities? In my opinion, art is not an enrichment class. It is not a “fluff” or “play” class. It is not just a time for kids to take a break from their "core" academic classes and socialize. Art is central to academics. No other class weaves together content from every subject area like visual art does. Art is the nexus where all other subject areas intersect. I had a 7th grade student several years ago who wrote, “Without art, everything would fall apart like a Yahtzee tower.”

So, exactly what does an art teacher bring to a school?
1. An art teacher gives his/her students the opportunity to learn how to communicate visually. The power of an image is beyond description. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” right? Students in an art class can “say” things in their artwork that cannot be “said” with words. We are the catalysts of communication, working with kids to get them to communicate verbally, symbolically, visually, and in writing while they increase their vocabulary exponentially. All of what we see in the media, whether it is television, internet, magazines, newspapers, etc. was created by an artist. Students need to be taught this power of images, and how they can be used to manipulate.
2. In art class, students have the opportunity to learn to think creatively. An art teacher provides lessons to students that facilitate many so called, “higher order thinking skills” such as designing, analyzing, and inventing. Each and every art class is like a little science lesson, full of problem-solving, predicting, and experimenting. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard or read that in today’s global society corporations are looking to hire people who can think “outside the box.” What other class can teach that skill but art class?  
8th grade "Egyptian Parody" tempera painting
3. An art teacher can often reach and motivate difficult students. We work hard trying to find ways to bring out the best in our students and to show them how valuable they are. We were the first to “differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners!” Studies have shown that sometimes art classes are the ONLY reason many secondary students show up to school at all. All in all, we are serious about helping kids and we are making a difference every single day.
4. An art teacher helps students to bring beauty to the community. I believe that the highest purpose for visual art is to provide beauty to the world, ministering to and uplifting all of us. It is vital for our emotional health to create and to serve others. Many of my students tell me they love coming to my class because "art makes them happy." 

Excerpt from an article written by Sabrina Holcomb;  "State of The Arts," from NEA
          “With study after study showing powerful links between arts education and student performance—especially for struggling students—why are the arts still expendable? Because fine arts are traditionally viewed as “affective and expressive, not academic or cognitive,” says Nick Rabkin, executive director of the Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College in Chicago. That conventional view is beginning to change, however, as organizations advocate for arts instruction in public schools and educators develop new instructional strategies to integrate arts across the entire school curriculum.“By recognizing the arts as cognitive, the field of education is starting to acknowledge the academic value and potential of arts instruction,” says Amy Duma, director of the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA), a Washington, D.C.-based professional development program focused on arts integration that was established with a pilot grant from the NEA Foundation.”

          With all the focus on testing in our society and the pressure on schools to increase scores, there has been an attempt to show that students who have art classes do better on standardized tests, which they DO, of course! So do students who have P.E., but isn’t it enough that the students’ bodies are strengthened, and thus their minds, through physical activity? Isn’t it enough that students in visual art classes have the opportunity to improve problem solving (i.e. creativity) skills, learn to communicate visually, and use their minds and hands to create? Michelangelo once said, "A man paints with his brains, not with his hands." 

Every single product being purchased right now to go under the Christmas tree was designed by an artist. Every article of clothing, jewelry, video game, toy, piece of furniture, automobile, etc. was invented, designed, and marketed by ARTISTS. 
To be human is to create!

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