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So You Want to Teach Art?

So You Want to Teach Art?

I was reticent to go into teaching at first, but in my Junior year, after a practicum and Senior student teaching in art education, I realized that my personality was perfect for the job. If you do not like kids, then teaching is not for you! They will tease, cajole and test every fiber of your patience. Especially if you were a “special subject teacher” like I was. The “regular” teachers will too. My schedule involved teaching 1200 children art once a week. I was a traveling art teacher for a few of my sixteen years in art. When you go into another classroom, it is their domain!

There are special rules that a visiting teacher must follow. Never step on the authority of the classroom teacher. It is very humbling to be a “special”. Some of the children would ask me if an art teacher, music teacher, and Physical Ed teacher had gone to college. They would often ask me if I was a real teacher. After an art/social study lesson on ancient Egypt, my students would tell me that I should be a real teacher and teach social studies. Flattered and yet humbled, I didn’t really know how to take it. Was that a compliment?

After the birth of my fourth child, I achieved a Masters in Art. It took me twelve years to finish. I was like that bunny that ran across your TV set that just kept going, and going and going. I would tell my students to try something new or something that they thought they didn’t like. Some of us have to try harder, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you can do it, or even if you like it. What if a child never stepped foot on a stage. Would he or she become an actor? What if a physicist never looked at the stars as a child? You know what I mean.

My art teaching life was filled with challenges. The art teacher, besides planning and delivering an art program for kindergarten to grade twelve, must also be a diplomat throughout the school. There is scenery to be built, decorating the gym for dances and shows, signs for Parent Teacher Organizations, signs for the Principal’s needs for order in the building, helping teachers with bulletin boards, decorating the entire school ‘s windows for changing seasons, judging science fairs, be a guest at child study team meetings to show a particular student’s art, give teacher art workshops, meet with parents, draw circles on the floor for the kindergarten to sit on, pick up classes from assemblies if it is during a teacher’s art class (prep) time, attend assemblies during teacher’s “prep” time, distribute the school’s art supply order, and substitute teach when many teachers were absent. Should I continue? Now do you want to be an art teacher? I had amazing energy, but did get worn out enough to catch the flu a few times during my art career.

When I was pregnant with my fifth and last child, the Principal called us into his office and told us that they were cutting the special subjects and we better have another certification. Well, with five children supported on a teacher’s salary, I needed that job! My home-economics friend and I bought the National Teachers’ Exam prep book and studied like fiends. We passed! I was an art teacher! Amazing! She taught boys and girls to cook and make clothes! Amazing!

My friend got a job teaching 5th grade and they placed me in the Title 1, Basic Skills Program since they were conserving money. The Government paid half of my salary. With my masters, I was nearing the top of the pay scale. Also, it was easy to place me there since I was starting in November. My son was born on September 15th after I attended the first week of school with a very large belly! I returned to work after a C section, with only a six weeks maternity leave. Greeting me at home was my precious new baby boy, four other beautiful children and my stack of material for the four grade levels I would be teaching. Sleep? What’s that? Don’t expect to sleep when you have a large family and a full time job. All I had to carry now was a handful of books instead of boxes of glue, art materials and stacks of construction paper. I could also wear teacher clothes. Gone were the slacks, smocks and splattered abstract expressionist blouses that had to be tossed at the end of the day!

I shared my space with another teacher who kept asking me how I could teach reading, writing and math, after teaching art. Was it hard? Well, every day I checked homework with my own children who were then in high school, and I knew the subject matter quite well. Our teacher editions had the answers. I was confident. I passed the National Teacher’s Exam on the first try, and after teaching art for sixteen years, I had experience in relating art to every subject matter. I explained it all, and she never said another word. I was more than qualified. My new certification was from nursery school to grade eight, so I was covered.

Little did I know how much I was going to love this new job. The best thing was that my work day ended with my child’s day. So, in his mind, I could have been home all day. I was there to pick him up. Sweet. After school was homework time, with milk and cookies, then some outdoor activity while I prepared dinner, more homework, nursing, bottles, diapers, diaper bag and stroller, little league, lunches, finally my reading, and then collapsing at 11:30 to do it all again starting at 6am. You can and will get through it because children go through stages. They grow up! I think back and cherish every worn out moment.

So, teach art if you like. It is fun, creative and a challenge, but get another certification to protect your job, and hang in there until your pension is vested. That is well worth it. I took an early retirement, so I’m off to the river now, with my husband, to paddle whitewater in my Jackson Punk Rocker! See ya later!