Events during the week before Thanksgiving break gave me a valuable glimpse into my colleagues' attitudes toward my art program. There is normally a tremendous environment of respect at the school where I work - I consider myself blessed that I don't experience the same exploitation described in this article from the blog "Art Teachers Hate Glitter". As a matter of fact, my colleagues support me, encourage me, and take time to admire the artwork that I hang up next to the Art classroom. Last week, one 6th grade math teacher borrowed 4 containers of glitter for her classroom and then graciously offered to pay to replace what they had used. An 8th grade science teacher borrowed a few pairs of scissors, politely returning them the next day before school started. Then, a 6th grade teacher (for whom I have the highest regard) emailed me to make sure it was okay for a student to miss my class because of a discipline issue.
Say what? That one made me stop in my tracks. Since when is it school policy for students to miss their elective or P.E. classes because they are in trouble? Do teachers or administrators say to a student, "If you don't behave, you won't get to go to your English class?"
I responded by saying, "I care about you and your program, and I really want to be a team player. I understand that there is a disciplinary issue, but I don’t understand why (the student) is being kept out of Art class. I am concerned that we are sending the message that Art doesn't matter, that it isn't important, and that kids don’t really learn anything of value in the class. This will have a detrimental effect on my program that I have worked hard to build. Yes, it is just one student, and one class period. However, I just don’t feel comfortable saying it is okay. Thank you so much for taking the time to check with me. I really appreciate it!"
She explained to me that the situation started when an administrator with very good intentions told some students that if they couldn't behave they would not get to go to P.E. or their electives. She said this wasn't a "slam about art;" it was about following through with a consequence. She was right! If it was said, it needed to be followed through. There was nothing more I could do, and the student wound up missing my class.
When the 6th graders arrived in Art class that day, I took a moment to remind them of the importance of what they were doing. I started by saying, "This class is different from your other classes. We don't usually work out of a book and then write. However, what you do in here is brain work, too!"
"What projects have challenged you in Art?"
One student said it was drawing a deer skull, another said painting, and another said the yarn designs were difficult. I said, "Yes, but you overcame that and solved the problem, you figured out what to do to make it right. You are always solving problems in Art! You are also learning skills that will help you later in life, especially if you want to become an artist. You can be a video game designer, or a studio artist who paints portraits. You could get a job in the entertainment industry and design costumes or puppets, just like that poster of the bird puppet from the Lion King stage show. You could be a photographer, or a graphic designer who works for a magazine. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't learn anything of value in Art! You are using your brain every single day when you work on art projects." The students all listened to me wide-eyed, nodding in understanding. They were serious the rest of the class period, really focused on applying the paper mache smoothly and neatly to their mask armatures.
Sometimes I forget that I am responsible for teaching kids about the value of art, for advocating the importance of creativity and problem solving as well as bringing beauty into the lives of others. I get carried away with the busyness of life. I am glad that email conversation was the catalyst that sparked a great conversation with two 6th grade classes. Maybe they needed to hear it, maybe I needed to say it.
|6th graders showing off their paper mache mask creations|
article by: Mrs. Anna Nichols