Friday, October 28, 2011

Time flies!

There I was, preparing for eight days of fun and sun in Mexico when I got a call that I was needed for a long-term sub position at two elementary schools for a veteran art teacher. Oh, and the assignment would start as soon as I returned to the States! I drafted some beginning lesson plans on the flight back home and packed my teacher bag of tricks the night before. The reception I received at both schools was heartwarming and I couldn't have asked for better coworkers and students to work with at the beginning of the school year (oh, did I mention that?). My first week was a simple introduction of me as an artist/teacher, why I love Art, and what students should expect from my forty-five minutes of class every week. As fun and engaging as I am, I'm tough, and expect only the best work. As a new educator with only three years of experience, mostly in private institutions, I learned two valuable lessons this past month and a half.

Lesson #1, Time Management

I've always been organized, but bustling from class to class, each with twenty of more students can be a (fun) challenge. It became more important than ever to get the point of the lesson, explain the directions of the project, highlight the day's objective, pass out materials, and zip around the classroom assisting those who required aid or had lingering questions. As I got into the groove of the weekly schedule I knew what materials to have laid out or packed on the art cart. But more importantly, I learned how to filter through student enthusiasm or silliness to bring attention back to my main points so work could begin more quickly. A friend and mentor of mine, Kathy, has been closely observing my progress for the last year and visited me at various times during my assignment. Each time she came, she left me with suggestions as to how to better improve the efficiency of each class. Often times her suggestions were something I knew to do, but somehow neglected in class. It's understandable I know, to forget something when one is pressed for time, but it's particularly important to make sure students understand just why they're making making fish, board games, or constructing self portraits that need to be mounted. I always try to segue from one lesson to the next, so that each is tied to one another and students can see the progression as their work builds, based on lessons they've learned in the past. When a student begins to put this link together in their head, they get excited at their progress and are eager to move further. At least, that's my hope. Kathy stressed that I should reiterate the objective and explain how the project performed this at the end of each class. Reinforcing the lesson can only help the following week when I start a new project connected to the last. This is a great strategy that I know was introduced to me in college and it works well when I have the students explain everything back to me. In the end it also speeds up instruction for the next week class. It's important to have a fresh pair of eyes and ears to give you a perspective other than your own when it comes to your work. I'm grateful to have this for both my teaching and painting.

Lesson #2, Working With Students With Severe Disabilities

I was unaware I would be working with students with mental and physical disabilities. But instead of shying away from the idea, I embraced it. Everyone, at any age, needs Art in their life, but especially children and these students are no different. I knew that the lessons I prepared for their intended age group would be past their level of comprehension or physical capabilities, so I chose to use lessons for a younger age set. I focused on simple shapes, using those to build works of art, and color exploration, starting with the primary colors. I quickly learned not to have preset expectations of the students, many of whom would have as many great days as they did bad days, more so compared to someone who would be judged an average student. And by bad days, I'm not talking about behavior necessarily, their frustrations or disparagement of an activity could stem from something outside of art class. I did try to get every student as involved as possible, working hand over hand with some, paying close attention to and encouraging any interaction a student made with the task at hand. I judged our success based on their reaction to the final products we produced. It was challenging  because with these groups there were greater scopes of learning/understanding between students. The students' regular classroom teachers were a wonderful resource and I would often pop in throughout the week and throw ideas at them for future projects looking for input. It was always uplifting when I saw everyone's face light up when I walked into the classroom -- I knew I was doing something right, especially when students became more and more involved.

Most of this blog has been lifted from notes I made following a conversation with Kathy after she had spent a morning with me. I felt it was important for me to review and share these notes and see how I can use these lessons that I learned for future classes to better myself as an educator. More to follow in the future, I promise!

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