Bottle Cap Mural, collaborative project

Last week I published an interview with renowned Alabama art educator Laura McCants Reddick-Reichert, who has been teaching for 38 years and just celebrated her retirement. She also has volunteered her time to be a mentor for the new AAEA Mentoring Program this year. 

Thank you, Laura for sharing your thoughts with us! Here is the final question I asked her; 

Q. What is the best advice you have for someone who is starting their first art teaching job?

A. "1. Find the JOY each day: create art right along with your students. You may never finish any of it, but try to paint a little when they are, make a small clay piece when they are, cut and glue when they are...let them see you doing what they are doing. It is fun for you and also lets them see that if it is good enough for you it is good enough for them.

2. Show the work: Make sure each student you teach has art in the big art show each year.  EVERYONE should be represented in that culminating exhibition. Beginning in August, save the nicest student pieces as you progress through the activities of the year. Cross reference the pieces you have with your class roll and in about March you should know at a glance which students do not have show worthy art set aside. Concentrate on making sure those kids work extra hard to complete something that can be included in the art show. 

Laura teaching at the AAEA state art education conference
3. Professional Organization, AAEA: First year art teachers definitely need to get to know other art teachers.  Alabama Art Education Association has been a life saver for me.  Just knowing that others out there were doing what I was doing, and that we embrace the fact that we are sometimes alone in our quest for high quality art education in the schools, makes our job easier.

4. At School: At the local level, rookie teachers need to find someone on faculty they can go to for the day-to-day stuff that needs to be done.  I learned to not procrastinate…if there is a form to sign or an order that needs placing or art that need to be prepared for a show, etc………get it done as fast as you can so that is does not hang over you weighing you down.  Make a little progress each day towards large goals like end-of-year art shows. Rookie teachers need to make friends with custodians, secretaries and financial workers (they tell you when cool stuff is being put in the dumpster, or if they can help you with ordering supplies, or helping with making a gazillion art show labels, etc.), they tend to be more helpful if the relationship is ongoing and pleasant. Remember. It’s not all about you; it’s about them and their jobs, too.  Look for ways during the year to help them make their jobs easier, too. 

*high school student work
5. Remember who feeds you: First year art teachers need to remember that they are an employee of the school system and to remain loyal to that system and to refrain from speaking publicly on social media or in the teacher lounge or at the ball part about things with which you disagree. Keeping things to myself and watching how issues were worked out without my help was a good thing.   More often than not most things work themselves out without your intervening in any way. If asked, I would answer but if not, I kept my mouth shut and turned my thoughts back to the place most important: my students.

6. Be financially good to yourself; think ahead to the future: Take advantage of various ways of saving money. Tax shelter annuities, cafeteria plans, etc., pay attention to them and be good to yourself in the long run by saving as much as you can. We teachers learn to live within our means and if we persevere in saving, in being frugal when possible, our time of retirement will be good to us. By then we are used to not being extravagant and at retirement, NOT working and getting paid for NOT working is fabulous!

7. Keep things in perspective: Your classroom is really NOT yours; it belongs to the school so don’t get too attached. The art supplies purchased with your allocated money, however, belong to YOUR students so do not become the free-for-all supply store for other teachers who have not been diligent in obtaining their own supplies.  Kindly say to those who ask to borrow that you cannot afford to supply materials for the entire school and in the same breath provide them with a little card that has Alabama Art supply phone numbers (or other art supply stores) and employee names to place an order for themselves.  However, if you choose to give your supplies away, do so with the knowledge that you will most likely not get paid back.  If they do pay you back it has been my experience that they do so with inferior supplies bought at the dollar store.

Last but not least; 

8. Find the JOY each day: the first year is the hardest….don’t give up. Concentrate on the small positive steps.
The second and third years are some better…..don’t give up. Concentrate on the small positive steps.
No year is perfect and expect each year to be different……don’t give up. Concentrate on the small positive steps.  Before long, in the blink of an eye, you will have taught 25 or more years and enjoyed a career like none other..."

"Art education has been the perfect career for me and I don't regret traveling this path for the last 38 years. I have learned as much from my students about how to be creative as they have from me. It has been a great ride, indeed!"

high school collaborative painting

Notes on Laura's artwork shown: 

*Bottle Cap Mural: "This was actually done by my husband and myself for a church function. There is much symbolism embedded both Biblical and also about our particular congregation with the water, fish, and the white Cahaba Lilies (seen in the border). We put all but about 175 bottle caps in place before the church event. During worship, the people in the congregation stepped forward and placed the remaining caps, thus completing the image. Our Alabama Art Ed Association has presented several workshops on how to do this over the last couple of years."

*De-Constructing the Flag Assignment: "Take visual elements for the USA flag and create a design using those same elements. However, the end product may NOT look like a flag. 17 x 17 white paper, tempera paint. Art I students grades 9-12. Many of these students have not had art since 6th grade. This activity was done in conjunction with Veteran's Day activities at the school."

*High school collaborative painting: done for Youth Art Month, begun in the fall and finished in March of 2014 (Tempera paint on brown craft paper)

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