INTERVIEW WITH MRS. BETSY LOGAN; Alabama middle school art teacher and former Middle Level National Art Educator of the Year

by: Mrs. Anna Nichols (The following email interview took place over the course of several months - I greatly appreciate Mrs. Logan spending the time writing these emails to allow us to get to know her a bit and for her words of encouragement and advice! I hope to post future interviews with other influential art teachers, soon. I am a firm believer in learning from the wisdom of others, and I hope you enjoy reading her words as much as I did!)

Dear Betsy,
     As one who has not only “survived” our public school system but “thrived,” going on to be a leader in our teaching community, can you tell me how you did it? So many teachers can’t handle the pressure and quit after only a few years. I would love to sit down and interview you and others (who have made it to retirement)! How can the rest of us learn from your example and conquer the challenges we face?
     "I am fortunate to have a very understanding family who knew how important it was for me to help advance art education.  I guess I am a very patient person.  I enjoy when my students get excited about art. Granted I have had ups and downs, several students who just didn’t gel with me, but the good outweighed the bad so much I forget about that part of it.  When I see students I have taught they always hug me and tell me how much they enjoyed my class, and when I see the many students who have become artists, art teachers, or still dabble in art, I am so proud. I have two students who met in my class, went to SCAD together and are now married and working artists in Atlanta! 
     You need to get to know your students, hear them when they talk, get to know their families (not personally but know enough to let them know you are interested in them as a person).  After teaching for so long this just tends to happen because you have taught parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and you naturally get to know the families.  It was hard the first few years I taught but I taught with 2 other art teachers who were of great help to me.  Having a mentor and someone to go to when you get down helps as well.  Having a supportive administration helps, sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t but I taught my art and did what I knew I had to do to get my students where they needed to be in their art making and learning.  Everyone has student apathy, you try your best to engage them and sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t so you move on.
student work: Chris Youson, The Mighty KIng

      I pray a lot!!  Jehovah God is  a great person to help you in times you need someone to talk to and no one will listen.  I make sure I fight for my program and speak up when necessary, of course if you aren’t tenured that is kind of hard , so you get a tenured teacher to help you.  I love to mentor new art teachers and will do what I can to help them.  I am also fortunate to be in a school district that values the arts. When I started teaching there were only 3 art teachers in our district, now there are 15 and every single school has one or more.  You have to be an advocate for your program and by serving in leadership capacities in state and national art organization I have shown the administrators that I do care about my program. They see that and it moves them to support me when I ask for things or have suggestions. 
     You can’t just be in your own little world as an art teacher.  You have to go outside the box and see what others are doing, work with other art teachers and organizations.  I feel it is very important for every art teacher to be a member of the Alabama Art education Association and the National Art education association.  These groups have helped me so much in connecting with other art teachers, artists and groups all around the country.  It is one of the most valuable things any art teacher can do!!  It wasn’t always easy and there are still times when I feel like I am not a good teacher but something happens, a student hugs me, a parent tells me about their former students, or I see someone who tells me how much they learned from me or how I made a difference in their life and it makes it all worthwhile."
How do you manage your own classroom day to day?
     "My number one management technique is actually a lot of things, I have what you would call an orderly class room.  Students are assigned (they can pick where they want to sit, but have to stay there unless I move them) seats with numbers on the tables (I have individual art tables) all supplies are numbered according to the tables and students are responsible for them. I check them each period to be sure they are cleaned correctly and put back correctly and not damaged.  I have a list of students who help with clean up for each unit, this cuts down on everyone trying to get to the sinks or clean at the same time.  All my supplies are labeled and students sign out what isn’t on their desk if they need to use things.  Students are required to sign in and out of class as well.  Teachers need to hold the students accountable for all the things they use in their classroom.  I give a rules test and it includes the use of materials on it so when they mess up something or misuse it I remind them that they passed the test I gave so they should know how to take care of my materials.  Putting the kids in charge of things is a great way to get them back in one piece too. I have a card for every student that contains contact information and if they break a rule I write it on the card and they sign it that way if I have  a parent or administrator conference I can used them to back it up, with their signature it proves that they knew what they did wrong and what the consequences were/are."
student work by Lauren Little
  Tell us a little bit about yourself – why did you decide to become an art teacher?
I have been teaching art for 33 years, all in the middle and junior High school level, with one year at an elementary in the morning and middle in the afternoon.  I graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Art Education which sadly they do not offer any more.  I have a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston – Victoria, TX.  I am a National Board Certified Art Teacher (Early Adolescent Young Adult) I was the first art teacher in Alabama to become Nationally board certified and the first one to renew my certification. 
      I started Auburn as a Graphic Design Major (when I went it was called Visual Design) to become a Children’s book illustrator.  But the more I got into the courses for this the more I felt I needed to go in a different direction. I was in the Auburn University Band as well and I was able to teach some band camps in the summer.  I found I really liked  working with kids but that music wasn’t where I wanted to work with them, I wanted to work with them in art.  I met Christine Danner, she was the art education coordinator at Auburn and also the art teacher at Auburn Junior High school.  She was an inspiration to me and got me so interested in teaching art. 
     I always liked teaching, I used to teach all of my dolls and play school all the time when I was little.  My favorite teacher was Everett Campbell (now Everett Studdard, who I am Face book friends with) in the 6th grade.  She had a love for kids and teaching that I always admired.  I was a shy girl and she did a lot to help my self esteem and was the first one who really thought I could draw.  She entered one of my pieces in an art show and I won a ribbon, I was hooked.  

student work: Sonya Lee, So Sweet
      I student taught with Tana Branch at Auburn Junior High School and she showed me how fun it was to work with kids and how rewarding it was to share my knowledge of art with them.  I wanted to share my knowledge and talent with students so they would learn to appreciate art and let it be a part of their life much like it was mine growing up.  I love the curiosity that kids have and the excitement in their faces when they draw something that they really like.  I love it when I share stories about artists and art work with them and they come up with really cool questions or funny comments.  I enjoy entering their work in competitions and share the joy and excitement with them when they see their work on display with other students from around the state. 
      The students keep me young and always searching for new things to do for them.  I have been able to keep up with the latest computer programs and share new things with them, sometimes they even teach me how to do things as well.  I feel that I have had some kind of impact on their life and love it when they come back and see me and tell me things that they have done or seen that they learned in my class. I have several former students who are art teachers, animators, professors in art, or have jobs that involve the arts and that makes me feel like I had a part in shaping their future.  I don’t expect all my students to be artists when they grow up but hope that they have enriched their lives by letting art be a part of their lives and by being in my class."
What was your biggest mistake as an art teacher? Mine was to give 7th and 8th graders glass baby food jars to store their paint colors. The kids kept dropping them (at least one or two every day we painted canvases) and I was the one who had to clean up the glass shards – I wouldn’t let the kids touch the broken glass. The jars had been donated, they had lids, and initially I thought, “What great individual paint storage jars!” BIG mistake!

    "Well, as far as art projects go, probably the first time I ever used clay when I first started teaching, I had the kids make masks.  We made armatures out of newspaper (even had an artist in residence visting us when I taught in Texas) The kids were so excited about their masks and we put them on shelves to dry.  When we came in the next day, the masks were as flat as pancakes.  All the newspaper was soaking wet, soggy and stuck all in the clay.  One of the students said "Hey, Mrs. Logan, we should put plastic over the newspaper next time".  Well, I took his suggestion and have been doing that ever since (this was in 1982).

     The other biggest mistake is not keeping better tabs on the students who really liked art after they graduated from high school. I had another former student die this weekend and I always think back to what I might have said to him that stayed with him and hope that I did.  He was murdered and I am so sad about that.  I have had several former students pass away and it always makes me wonder if I had any impact on them at all and feel that maybe a small part of me did."

What is the best idea you ever implemented to help your art program grow and/or what was the most valuable lesson you learned as an art teacher?
     "The most valuable lesson I learned as an art teacher is to appreciate the work (done by) my students not based on their talent or how artistic it is, but by the love and passion that they put into the work. Sometimes a student loves art so much but can't draw really well and saying the wrong thing can scar them for a lifetime so I always try to find something positive to say about each piece a student creates.  Another lesson was in my art education class and that was to make friends with the janitor and the school secretary because they would be the ones who would help you the most.  That is so true!! My janitor and the school secretary/bookkeeper are awesome and I always compliment them and help them in anyway I can.
     As far as projects I feel that my 8th grade animation project is one of the best ones I have done.  I have 4 former students who are currently animators because of what we did in art.  My students love this project, we vote for Oscars and they see who can outdo the other but are learning so much in the meantime.  Cooperation, team work, patience, hard work and the thrill of seeing their hard work on the big screen!! I do this project at the end of the year and I never have the end of year doldrums and complaining about not wanting to do the project.  The results are always so much fun to watch."
student work: Merrell Bowden, Pointilism

Mrs. Logan's awards and accomplishments include:
  • Alabama Middle Level Art educator of the Year in 1995
  • National Middle Level Art Educator of the Year in 1996
  • Alabama Art Educator of the Year
  • National Marion Quinn Dix Leadership Award in 2011 (Also the Alabama Marion Quinn Dix Leadership Award as well)
  • National Middle Level Division Director 1998- 2000
  • Southeastern Region Vice President 2006-2008
  • She was the first nationally board certified Art teacher in Alabama in 2000 and the first to recertify in 2010
  • A finalist in the National Teacher Hall of Fame in 2005
  • New York Times Media Literacy award recipient in 2005
  • Mrs. Logan is currently on the writing team for the NCCAS (National Coalition for Core Art Standards) She says, "We have been working for 2 ½ years writing the new voluntary national standards for art. I am on a team of eleven visual arts educators who are writing the next generation of voluntary arts education standards for the Visual arts that build on the foundation created by the 1994 document, they support the 21st-century needs of students and teachers, and will ensure that all students are college and career ready, and affirm the place of arts education in a balanced core curriculum."
Betsy, thank you for everything you have done to serve your students, our state, and our country! We as art teachers are indebted to you for working so hard to strengthen our profession! I am so glad that we have people like you making decisions at the national level, and we wish you every blessing!

No comments: