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Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”

  • Posted on September 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Sometime this last year, one of my previous art students, who is now in college, posted on Facebook:  Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”.  It made me laugh and think.  Ultimately, it became the inspiration for this painting, which I created for my art classroom this summer.

The "Earth" Without Art is Just "Eh"

With all of the emphasis on testing at my school and across the country, the arts tend to be ignored by educators and administrators trying to get students to pass a test.  However, art is an integral part of our world.  Art is all around us.  We cannot escape it.  We are constantly choosing the beauty we allow into our lives from the clothing we wear, to the home we live in, and to the car, we drive.  Color and beauty surrounds us and inspires us.  Life without some form of art, in my opinion, would be dull for most of us.  Most people are inspired by the performing arts, especially music.  We cannot wait to listen to music.  It can both soothe our soul on a tough day and motivate us to action on another.  We can view a painting and be mesmerized by both the detailed brushstroke or loose, fast, moving strokes.  I can remember seeing a Van Gogh painting back in my twenties that I swore the wheat was moving in.  Of course, it appeared as though the wind was blowing and it was just paint, but it was fascinating to me.

When I was young, I grew up in a very large family.  We really didn’t have time for art.  We worked hard and we just were not exposed to the arts in a way that many are today.  The fact that I became an art teacher is somewhat puzzling.  I didn’t have an art class all through my K-12 years.  I had a pencil and paper and I liked to draw.  I didn’t have room in my schedule in high school for an art class until my senior year because I was all college prep.  I didn’t take art.  I took choir.  I really like to sing but the truth is I figured I would be a failure in an art class.  I had never had art, so how could I possibly take art as a senior?  I knew I could sing a bit so I figured that was a safer bet.  However, during my senior year I remember staying up late and drawing.  One time I got out the encyclopedia and drew a picture of JFK.  Of course, I just happened to leave it on the kitchen table so my parents would see it in the morning.  I don’t remember their response but I did keep on drawing.  I went on to college as an undeclared major.  I loved college.  I took many different classes from psychology to philosophy and of course all of the other required courses and I kept on drawing.  Other students encouraged me to take an art course after seeing a drawing I did of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.  I don’t even remember how I discovered that painting but I wanted to draw that beautiful girl.  I thought my friends were nuts, but somehow I found myself signing up for a drawing class.  I was scared to death.  When I went to my first class, the other students were talking about how stupid it was that they had to take this “dip shit” drawing course before they could take anything better.  I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?”  I talked to the professor after class and he asked me if I would faithfully come to class and do the assignments.  I told him I would.  He told me that I would be fine, not to drop out, and to watch as some of those students do drop out.  He was right.  When I took that first class, I knew I had found my home, my center, the place where I felt complete, like I never had before.  Art gave me courage.   Art gave me purpose.  Art made me feel I was part of something bigger in this world.

Even though I missed some early art training, I have never looked back.  I know I made the right choice for me.  I love making art and I love teaching art to my students.  I feel earth without art is just “eh” for sure.  After changing my major to art, I discovered clay.  Throwing on the wheel became a passion so I spent many years supporting myself with that passion.  I truthfully only went into teaching because of my parents.  My mom wanted me to have my teaching certificate to fall back on.  Both of my parents were teachers.  When I first graduated, I taught art at Fowler, Michigan and I loved it but I still wanted to make pottery.  When my husband took a job in Oklahoma, I gave up my job and focused on my pottery.  In a few years, he left and I had to make a living for my son and myself.  I did it with my pottery.  It was tough because I had to make a lot of pottery, not just the things that most inspired me.    However, I did well enough to move back to Michigan and buy a home.  When my son was in Kindergarten, I went up to the school with my pottery wheel and some clay for his class.  I had so much fun working with those little kids that I started thinking about going back to teaching.  It appeared that in order to do this I needed to update my teaching credentials, which meant more schooling.  I had taken courses in Oklahoma but they were all pottery courses with Montee Hoke.  They wouldn’t count towards that update.  It was going to cost about $6000, so I thought I can’t do that!  Of course, with parents like mine, that was not going to happen.  They said they would loan me the money.  When I told them, it had been awhile and I might not do well, my mom laughed and told me I was a good student and I would do fine.  Of course, she was right.  I went to Central Michigan University.  My son started second grade at Glen Lake and then went to CMU with me.  We lived in married housing, which he loved!  He loved it because it was a small apartment and other kids were there.  He ended the year back up at Glen Lake.  I’m lucky he was a smart kid and easily adjusted to the situation.  I remember telling him we were going on an adventure!

That was well over twenty years ago.  After CMU, I taught art at Manistee part time for a year.  Then I was hired at Sturgis.  I have taught twenty years at Sturgis.  What I find amazing is how excited the start of a new year remains for me.  I spent much of this summer working on classroom management, creating art for my classroom, and creating new lesson plans for my students.  I totally revamped my classroom and discipline plan.  I made art to inspire my students.  I have a passion for teaching art.  I want to inspire everyone I can with how important art is in our lives.  Art gives children an opportunity to express themselves.  It can make a child feel like a super star.  It can even do that for adults.  Art can transform people and even nations.  Art is a language that we all can understand.  It can speak to us in quiet ways or loud.  It can teach us to care.  It can help us understand each other.  The earth without art really is just “eh”.


Art Education and High Stakes Testing

  • Posted on July 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Above are artworks created by some of my middle school art students this year.  Keep all of this in mind as you read on about what I’m thinking about today!

It has been about a month since school was let out for the summer.  I have been busy working on curriculum for a new course I will be offering this year.  It is an animation/film class for seventh and eighth grade students.  I am very excited about the plans I am working on for the course and I have received much needed support from my principal.  However, as I sit here thinking about the excitement I will be creating and developing in this course, I wonder about all of the schools that have chosen to dismiss the arts in their curriculums to give more time for developing test taking strategies.  In the infinite wisdom of our federal and state legislators, the bottom line is how students perform  on a standards based test.  This test is basically a multiple choice test about information that the students will probably never use in the most important parts of their adult lives.  We have become a nation of test takers.

If we aren’t testing our children through these standardized tests then we are testing them for ADD and many other worrisome things to try and “fix” them.  Our children are being judged daily on their fitness.  They are told they are stupid and over weight.  The remedy seems to be to make school even more miserable for them!  In the high stakes environment of test taking our children are the human guinea pigs, chess pawns really, in the ever changing education system that tells them that they are failures on a continual basis.  With each test that tells them they are not proficient how does a child cope with this news?  Even in our adult lives we have become test takers.  For many adults this involves being urine tested in order to get a job.  Teachers take tests to prove that they are intelligent enough to become teachers even though they actually graduated from universities and colleges that gave their stamp  of approval.  We seem to be obsessed with testing.  Unfortunately, our adult compulsion is driving our children crazy.  What child wants to be stuck in a classroom where they are routinely told they are not measuring up?  It is a frustrating time in education.  I have said on many occasions that I am glad my child is not in school at this time.  I just want the insanity to stop!

What I know to be true is that creativity is very important for the development of the whole individual.  Frankly, if you are not able to think outside the box, you will not be able to invent and be innovative.  Our growth as a nation has depended on the innovation and inventiveness of its people.  If we teach our children that the only thing that is important is passing a test,  we do them a disservice.  I came across a document this past year called, “Critical Evidence…How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement”.  The document basically explains that testing has been done and there is proof that the arts, such as visual arts, music, dance, etc., help improve the SAT test scores of students that are consistently involved in them.  I just want to say, “Duh!”  However,  many people don’t understand the value of the arts in the thinking and learning process.  While the document stressed that No Child Left Behind treated the arts as important as the core subjects, the reality is that in order to achieve the adequate yearly progress required of NCLB many schools left the arts and made more time for drilling students to try and get them to “learn” the material.

We have been fortunate here in Sturgis as the arts have been an integral part of our students’ learning and have been supported by the administration, board members, teachers, and the community at large.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling the pressure though.  I have had to become more than the visual arts teacher in recent years.  My evaluations will be based on student’s reading scores just like many core teachers’ evaluations.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but after all I’m just one of those creative thinkers that tends to think outside the box of legislative opinion.  I do everything I can to help my students become better students, better people, and over all better equipped for their future but sadly what the legislative body wants to measure is what a student does on one particular day in one particular year of a student’s life to determine not only the student’s fitness and progress but also the teacher’s fitness and progress.  From my point of view I think this is just basically stupid.  I was at the 8th grade awards’ presentation last month.  I noticed that many students that I had taught that are very bright did not get an award for being proficient on the MEAP.  There has to be something wrong with this test when I see students that are top in their class walking away without that word “proficient” attached to their name.  They have been deemed not proficient.  How sad that we have labeled students in such a manner.  I think most people that are not in the education system might not be aware of everything that is going on in schools all across America.  Parents have been told that it’s the teachers fault that their child is doing poorly in school.  Teachers have targets on their backs and I feel it even on my back although I know how hard I work and how dedicated I am to my profession and my students.  From my point of view, the test making and test preparation companies are making a lot of money off education today.

I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in education today.  I just think that the future innovators and creatives in our community are at risk when we expect our children to just regurgitate information on a test without regard for the art and music of life’s challenges.  The divide I see in my classroom has more to do with the economic problems than anything else.  Let’s face facts; students that come from economically deprived families have a bigger struggle than students from the upper middle class and wealthy parts of society.  Over the past twenty years this has become even more apparent.  The answer to me seems to be in fixing the economy as well as always working to improve our education system.  Times have changed and with that change we should be embracing the technology of the 21st Century.  Teachers that do this will probably remain relevant.  Those that don’t may be kicked to the dustbins of the past.  In my own teaching, I have embraced technology in my classroom and in my life.  I think that living in today’s society is much more involved than just taking a state mandated test of proficiency.  We will not know what this grand experiment will reveal until the students of today are the adult citizens of tomorrow.  I do believe if we don’t change this high stakes testing we will create a world full of neurotic adults that will certainly keep the psychoanalyst’s sofa warmed up with their compulsions and obsessions and feelings of inadequacy.

Will all of these thoughts interrupt what I do in my classroom?  I will continue to work hard on my plans for all of my classes including my new animation/film course and I will remain fully engaged and thrilled to be working with the middle school students that I feel so privileged to teach.  However, this past year was extremely stressful for me.  It had nothing to do with the students and everything to do with this constant testing.  If I can feel it when I absolutely love being a teacher, think how the students are feeling when they are faced with stressed out teachers that are forced to jump through hoops to get their students to pass a test.  It is a sad state that we surely must change.

Testing, Matt Damon, and Imagination

  • Posted on August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm

This was painted by Annalisa, one of my students....being allowed to express herself!

As the summer winds down and I am spending time preparing for the new school year, I find myself thinking about my own potential as a teacher.  I feel blessed to be able to teach art in this 21st Century where politicians seem to think the only thing of value is math and science.  It boggles my mind when I think about my own potential as a child.  I have always felt that I had a deprived childhood because I didn’t have any art classes in my K-12 education.  It is truly remarkable that I have spent much of my adult life as an art teacher.  I would never have pursued art in college, if it hadn’t been for the student friends that happened to see my drawings.  They kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I remember drawing pictures and putting them up on my bulletin board.  I had no training.  I just liked to draw with a simple pencil and paper.

I grew up in a large family with 14 kids.  I have always felt that when you grow up in large families with little money you learn to be creative.  Maybe you have to find new ways to play because you don’t have that fancy toy your friend has or maybe you have to fix something because you don’t have the money to buy a new one.  Regardless of the reasons, I feel my family circumstance contributed to my creativity.  In addition to that is the fact that I had good parents.  They both were teachers, but they also were devoted to their family.  The family came first.  My parents would go without many things to provide for the big brood they had.  I can remember my mom coming home from teaching at the end of a long day.  She would lie down on the couch with a cold compress on her head.  She did this almost daily, but then she would always get up and make the family meal.  Everything would be from scratch.  We never went out to eat!

From very early on, I knew I was going to college.  I’m not sure why I knew this as my two older sisters weren’t as fortunate.  Maybe because I’m the youngest, I had a better opportunity as a girl to go on to college.  My oldest brothers all went on to college.  The four oldest each went on for their doctorates.  The fact that both of my parents even had gone to college was quite remarkable.  They didn’t come from wealthy families and they were born in 1909 and 1911.  Education, obviously, has always been important in my family!  This is one the reasons I find the current turmoil in education about standardized testing so ridiculous.  As I grew up in a family of 14 children, we were as different as the day is long.  We weren’t clones of each other.  We all had remarkably different personalities and interests.  Some of us were probably better “test takers” than others, but taking a test could never really determine who we became as adults! Some of us might have even been considered “late bloomers”.   I don’t think any of us ever would want to remember our K-12 experience in school as being about testing!  However, today students are spending much valuable time preparing for “important” tests.  Much of the school day is designed and structured around that yearly test.  Each school has to make adequate yearly progress.  This test taking business is just going to get worse.  Recently, here in Michigan, the governor signed a new bill into law that will eventually require 49% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student test scores.  As a parent there is no way I would want my child subjected to this kind of education.

My son is 27, so he isn’t part of this craziness.  I look at my students much like my child.  Since I had my son so many years ago, I have always felt that I should treat my students the way I would want my son to be treated by a teacher.  I always wanted my child to dream big and be creative.  I wanted him to see possibilities and use his imagination.  I worry for the students of today.  Are we doing everything we can to make them into compliant little test takers?  Is that really what a teacher is supposed to be doing?  As an art teacher, I know my job is a big one in this high stakes testing time.  I have to give my students wings so they can access their creativity and play with their imagination.  So much of time in school is spent with the constant pressure in the back of everyone’s mind to improve test scores.  Now, it will even be elevated as teachers discover that their jobs may be on the line, if they can’t get their students to pass the state test!  Now, most of you reading my blog probably have some reservations about all of this test taking and what it really means for the future.  However, some of you may think teachers are just not doing their jobs today, because you keep hearing about how we have fallen behind in the world!  Truthfully, politicians have chosen to go after teachers because many of us belong to the last strong union standing.   Do you really think it’s the fault of the teacher if a student can’t pass a state test?  There are a lot of reasons students don’t pass tests.  One thing we know for sure is poverty plays a part in test taking.  At our school and probably many others we make sure students have a snack before they take the “big” test!  There are many factors that can affect test scores.  These are everything from poor nutrition, to lack of sleep, to inadequate test taking strategies (Yes there is a strategy for this!), attention problems, distractions, to even daydreaming!  Some days are also better than other days.  Maybe you just had a bad day that day.  Who knows what’s going on in a student’s head on any given day?  I remember a young lady that came into my art room that seemed out of sorts to me.  I asked her what was wrong.  She first said nothing and then she told me that she had been in an accident that morning.  The point I’m trying to make here is that teaching shouldn’t be about just taking a test and yet it seems like that is all the politicians care about.

This was painted by another student of mine, Cleanna. Shouldn't we be opening the door to imagination and creativity in our schools?

If you think back to your favorite teacher, I bet you don’t think about the fact that he or she taught you how to take a great test!  You probably think about the day when you felt special, like your teacher really cared about you!  I hope I make students feel special when they come into my art room.  I really do care about them.  The other day I was at the Three Rivers’ Meijer store shopping and an older woman was so upset because of some “screaming brats” in the store.  She thought she had an ally in me.  She thought the parents were terrible that couldn’t control their children!  She also thought they didn’t care that other people were annoyed by them.  I told her I was a middle school teacher.  It was obvious she wouldn’t want that job!  She told me she likes dogs but not kids.  She could tolerate her own children but even her grand children had better behave or she’d give them the boot!   I let her know that I like all of my students even the ones that frustrate me.  So many people that criticize teachers would not ever want to be stuck with thirty middle school students themselves.  Most of the teachers I know really care about their students just like I do.  We realize that at the middle school level students can bounce around with their behavior.  They have good and bad days.  They need adults around them that really care about them and can help them transition into adulthood.  If teachers are left worrying about test taking it gives less time for teachers to really spend caring about their students’ individual needs.  We are not all clones of each other and the students we teach are as different as my brothers and sisters were from me when I was growing up.  At the middle school I always think it’s interesting because there is no one student that can show us what a middle school student is, as they come in all different shapes and sizes, and interests!  So, I’m left asking myself the question why we have a government that insists on a test where one size fits all.  Matt Damon gets it and I really hope you take the time to listen to his full speech from last weekend.  It’s not that long but at one point he says, “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.”  Truthfully, none of the qualities that I bring to my art classroom as a teacher can be determined and evaluated by a student test score either.

I am so excited about this new school year, not because my students will be great test takers, but because I can’t wait to work with my students and push their imaginations and creativity.  Just like any other year, I have a thousand things racing through my mind.  I’m filled with ideas for lesson plans for the new school year.  I can’t wait to share my ideas with my students, so they can take the seed of an idea that I begin and create something totally new and different from any other person.  As the government has us all “race to the top”, I’ll have my students all chart a new path for their own creativity and learning.  They will learn from each other.  They won’t run over each other racing for some golden imaginary ring devoted to test taking.  My students, for the brief time they are with me, will hopefully have an opportunity to access their imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.  These are skills that will serve them well in this 21st Century!

Google, GAP and Art in My Life

  • Posted on February 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Google has partnered with some great art museums to create an online website where anyone can take a trip or tour around the world’s great art museums.  It’s called the “GAP” for short. It’s a wonderful site and I encourage everyone to check it out.

When I came across this website today I was taken back to my beginnings as an art student at Michigan State University.  It really is amazing that I even ended up remotely connected to the art world.  I never had an art class in all of my K-12 education experience.  This is one reason I so fervently believe in art education.  I feel like in many ways my young life was deprived because I missed out on the creative playfulness and unique perspective the arts provide in a world ruled by math and science.  The most interesting and intelligent people I have ever met are “creative” people.

I remember thinking I was going to college from around seventh grade on.  It seemed to be a “given” that I was planning on attending college, even though I came from such a large family.  My older sisters did not have that “given” in their minds but they were ten and twelve years older than me and times were tough.  I, being the youngest, had more opportunities than they did.  I think I probably knew I was going to college because many of my older brothers had gone to school.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  However, for a few years I wanted to be a veterinarian like my brother Joe.  I really looked up to him and I wanted to be like him I think.  Well, until I saw him go down to Ed and Jessie’s place up north and do something unspeakable to a cow.  That sure put a kibosh on the idea of becoming a veterinarian.  I never even thought about anything in the art world because I never even knew what it was.  Nobody in my family was connected to the arts.  You might be wondering how in the world I ended up involved in art.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus

I liked to draw.  I didn’t obviously have any training and I simply used a pencil and whatever paper was around.  When I was a senior in high school I can remember not sleeping all that well and staying up late and drawing.  I remember drawing a picture of President John F. Kennedy from our “World Book” encyclopedia.  Of course I sort of left my pictures out for my parents to notice like any kid might do.  I remember them thinking they were nice.  There was no real encouragement to pursue art at any time in my life from anyone when I was young.  I took all college prep classes peppered with a lot of math and science.  I didn’t have any room in my course schedule for art until my senior year.  I had one free hour.  I chose choir because I like to sing and because I was afraid to take an art class.  I would have to take the beginning art class and be put in with freshman students which I didn’t want to do but really I was afraid that my secret would be out.  The secret was that I had never had an art course and felt inept!  Heaven forbid that I could take a course that I knew nothing about!  Isn’t that the point of an education?  To learn about things we don’t know?  Oh, well, I digress.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus Detail

I moved on to college not knowing what I wanted to do.  I was an “undeclared major” college student.  I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do possibly because I hadn’t been exposed to what my true passion would become.  Back in the seventies the first two years of most college education was liberal arts anyway, so I took a lot of different courses.  I took quite a few philosophy courses which is amazing because I don’t consider myself to be very logical in many ways.  You know the old “If, then phrases”?  They never made a lot of sense to me.  However, as time went on I continued to draw.  I remember putting up my drawings on my bulletin board in my dorm room.  One drawing I did I really remember well.  I don’t know how I was exposed to the picture, maybe it was through a humanities class.  However, I fell in love with the painting by Botticelli, the Birth of Venus.  I loved the face on Venus so I drew it on typing paper and put it up on my bulletin board.  That one drawing probably created a turning point in my mind to consider taking an art class.  Other students kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I started thinking maybe I should.  I still didn’t have the confidence to take an art course but it kept nagging at me.

During my sophomore year I finally got up enough nerve to take a beginning drawing class.  The first day of class I can remember sitting in the art room waiting for our instructor and listening to the other students.  Most of them were bemoaning the fact that they had to take this “dip shit” beginning drawing course before they could take anything good.  I was petrified.  I thought what have I got myself into.  I was looking for an exit.  The first class was just an introduction.  After class I went up and talked to the instructor and told him my dilemma and how the other students were obviously much more experienced and how maybe I thought I should drop the class.  He asked me if I was willing to do all the assignments and come to class.  I told him of course I would do that.  He encouraged me to stay in the class and he offered that some of those students would end up dropping out because they wouldn’t be willing to do the work.  His “pep talk” worked.  I stayed in the class and never looked back.  I went on to take many art courses, much more than I needed for my B.A. so I earned a B.F.A.

Most people that I know today in education don’t realize how precious I feel a well rounded education is to the development of the whole person.  I think art is crucial in my life and opened up my imagination in ways that never would have happened otherwise.  As a teacher I have high expectations and hopes for my students.  I want to share with them my love of art and creativity.  The feeling I get when I create something with my hands, brain and heart connected cannot be measured on a test.  The push to create something new and original is always in the back of my mind.  As a teacher, I try to help my students reach their full potential and hopefully see that there is more to life than just looking at things through the eyes of some test that they won’t remember thirty years later anyway.  I see the value of creativity.  In our world today people must be creative just to survive in the high stakes of unemployment.  The world of the future will depend on the innovation and creativity of our youth.

Technology today is a wonderful tool for art education.  There are so many resources online that it is amazing what can be learned about art.  Many people even openly share their knowledge on sites like YouTube.  You may have to watch a few bad videos to get to the good ones but it is all worth it.  Here is a man creating a Greek/Roman style vase on Youtube.  It really is exciting and educational to watch him work.

Art touches everyone.  Even people that profess to not care about art carefully pick out their car, clothes, jewelry and furniture.  We all live in a society where we want to be surrounded by some element of what we think is beautiful.  When I watch those “Hoarding” shows, I even see people collecting items that they think are beautiful.  The items may get lost in all the surrounding trash, but they are there.

I encourage everyone to get involved in the beauty of the world of art.  If you cannot leave your home, travel online all over the world and view art from your own private perspective.  If you have always wanted to take an art class but were afraid, go ahead and face that fear.  You might be surprised at how wonderful you catch yourself feeling when you create something with your own brain, hands and heart!  If you don’t have access to an art class, make your own class up.  Go on Youtube and learn something new.  Many people are sharing all of their wonderful artistic talents online.  You can learn about everything from drawing and painting to basket weaving.  The world we live in is amazing and shrinking in many ways.  FDR said the only thing to fear is fear itself.  Don’t be afraid to discover your creative side.  Your brain is more than willing to create new connections to learning as you discover the beauty of pushing your creativity beyond the scope of what you thought possible.  We are all creative beings even those people that profess to not be very creative.  Push yourself to discover all the beauty art has to offer.  You might be surprised to discover your hidden talents and when you do, it will be a wonderful feeling of mental self satisfaction and fulfillment.

An Uncomplicated Youth

  • Posted on August 2, 2010 at 11:58 am

There I am with momma holding me still. Life was uncomplicated.

Uncomplicated Katie

I grew up in an extremely large family, the child of two hard working parents.  We didn’t have a lot of things like most kids seem to have today.  We also didn’t have a lot of one on one “quality” time with our parents.  In many ways you might think that I grew up in a deprived family.  However, we never really thought of ourselves as poor and we never really felt deprived.  I do remember going to my aunt’s house and picking out clothes, after her children had already picked what they wanted, from boxes kept in an extra room.  I think they were donated clothes.  I remember getting a jumper that I wore for my school picture.  We didn’t have much in the way of toys and extras but it wasn’t that noticeable by any of us.

When we moved to Kingston I was going into third grade.  I had never even been on a bike before.  We didn’t even have any bikes.  My sister said at one time the bikes were backed over by a vehicle and never replaced.  The neighborhood girl who was a year older was very nice.  She helped me learn how to ride a bike by letting me borrow her bike.  I’d jump on and fly down the hill and hope I wouldn’t fall off.  It was a blast and we didn’t wear helmets back then!  I did get a bike when I was in seventh grade.  That was awesome.  I remember the freedom of riding around town and visiting my friends.  We used to play games like kick the can.  Sometimes at night when it was dark, we’d even play.  Nobody worried about perverts back then.  My parents were careful about what we were exposed to but everyone kind of watched out for each other’s children.  I’m sure someone would have noticed if a stranger was around.

Summer was a lot of fun even though we worked hard.  We would go back up north to Maple City.  My brothers and I would pick raspberries, strawberries and cherries in the summer.  Picking cherries was a dirty job and tiring too but oh so much fun.  Cherry juice always dripped down my arms and sometimes itched.  When we’d get a little bored we’d throw cherries at each other.  I remember the scary walks to the “out house” to use the toilet.  It was scary because they’re gross and I was afraid of the “Mexicans” as they spoke a different language and I didn’t know what they were saying.  We were generally kept away from the Mexican laborers.  You could hear them speaking Spanish but they were kept by themselves as we were kept with the other “locals” picking.  At the end of the day, we’d take Ivory soap and go to Little Traverse Lake and clean up.  You have to wonder about the outhouse and the cherries.  We didn’t have water to clean up.  Everything was much different back then.  I wonder if people got some kind of bacteria from that!

My education was small town stuff.  I wasn’t exposed to some things that I wish I had been exposed to such as art.  That is my one real regret about my childhood.  I feel like I missed something wonderful by missing all those art classes.  It really is amazing that I am an art teacher and artist today for never having been really exposed to the arts in my youth.  It never crossed my mind as a youngster as I didn’t even know what those things were.  Art, artists, art teachers, I was clueless to all aspects of art.  We did have pencil and paper and I did like to draw when I was in high school but I don’t have many real memories of art when I was young.  I do remember having a watercolor set and painting many pictures of waterfalls.  We visited my aunt in the upper peninsula of Michigan and I think I painted my memories.  My sister says that when I was five and my grandma died I drew lots of pictures of her in a coffin.

I have memories of playing under our great maple tree with cars and other vehicles.  There were roads that my brothers had set up and I’d drive little cars down them.  I also remember playing soccer with my brothers but I always had to be the goalie!  We also played croquet and I remember loving kick ball in school.  My days were mostly filled with school during the school year and picking cherries and fun in the summer time.  I had to help my mom in the house a lot especially on Saturdays.  The boys didn’t do much in the house.  That was the time when it was the girl’s job.  Unfortunately, my sisters were ten and twelve years older than me and were mostly on their own when I was doing the majority of my housework.  Weekdays I might have some homework but never remember a lot of homework.  I liked reading and I remember my favorite show was the “Monkees”.  Davey was so dreamy.  I was more like one of my brothers than one of the girls because I have no significant memory of dolls.  Besides my sister said the boys buried one of her dolls in some kind of funeral service.  I had always wanted a Barbie but my mom thought they were way too suggestive.  I got a fake Barbie when I was probably around a fifth grader.  I had one other doll in my life and it was a baby doll.  As I said, we didn’t have many toys.  Our real goal as kids was to be old enough to play cards.  I remember many fun nights growing up playing euchre and pinochle.  When we were old enough to sit still long enough to sit through a game, we got to play cards.

Life was largely uncomplicated.  Nothing like it is today.  Today’s kids have a lot more pressure on them than I ever felt.  I teach at the middle school level and I am amazed at the pressure our young children have on them.  They have to job shadow in 8th grade.  I hardly knew what a job was when I was in 8th grade.  I certainly wouldn’t have job shadowed an artist as I was never exposed to any.  They have to pick a “career pathway” for their classes when they go up to the high school.  They have pressure to pass tests that are tied to our funding, so you know we put a lot of pressure on them when they are taking the big MEAP test.  We, as teachers, don’t want them to be pressured but it’s unavoidable with the current direction of education.  Many students are involved in a countless number of activities that keep their parents and families in a hectic pace. They spend a lot of time rushing from one activity to another.  My family always had dinner together.  Today it doesn’t seem to be a priority.  Very few have much time for uncomplicated play time either.  Every moment of the day is structured for them.  They have less and less recess type time because more time is needed for “education”.  Students don’t have as much creative type playtime like I did as a kid.  They are on computers or phones text messaging each other because they are lonely.  Many have never had to really and truly entertain themselves.  They have either been in front of a TV or computer most of their lives.  When they aren’t doing that they are playing some structured sport or other activity.  Much is expected of them and I’m sure it must be frustrating at times and I think in many ways they are forced to grow up much too early.

Classes have been pushed down from the high school.  Math is harder than it was when I was in school.  Students at the middle school level are doing math that used to be taught at the high school level.  This year at our school science and language classes are being pushed down to the 8th grade from the high school.  The exploratory classes suffer because of this.  Very few 8th graders will have art this year and I feel sad for those that won’t have that opportunity.  There is more and more pressure to compete and the pressure can be so over the top that it can swallow up some kids.  They get discouraged and drop out of school out of sheer frustration and boredom.  I wish kids today could have some of the uncomplicated time that I had as a kid.  I know some kids probably experience much of what I felt when I did the cherries when they’re detasseling corn but most don’t do that job.  Most have much pressure to win on some team or get the grades in school.  Legislators have no idea what the modern classroom is like and they don’t see the stress that much of their efforts place on these students.

I wish all students would have the time to play and create as I think it clarifies the thought process.  Today kids can pass tests and perform like trained monkeys but many struggle processing the real “thinking” of life.  When something happens that isn’t on the test, they struggle with what to do.  We can’t teach to a test, we must teach how to think.  It takes time to accomplish this task.  It isn’t something like rote memorization with constant repetition.  It’s a thought process and it isn’t something that is automatically measured on a test.  The real test for this process is life.  We all know people that could do the book stuff but fail miserably at life’s lessons.  The true measure of all these tests we are giving our kids today will not be realized until these kids become adults and live their lives.  Will they think they had a deprived childhood much like I did when I discovered art and wished I’d had it as a youngster?  Will they be brave enough to try something new like I did taking art in college when I had never had art before?  Or will they go through life doing what has always been expected of them by living their lives like programmed little soldiers waiting for their next assignment?  Time will only tell

Enough is Enough

  • Posted on June 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Schools in Michigan are under attack from the state government.  We have lost much funding over the last several years.  Over these years we have gone from around $7500 per pupil spending to under $7000.  The effects are really being felt this year by many schools, including Sturgis.  Our administration decided to offer a retirement incentive which gave people retiring a $30,000 401K that cannot be touched until the retiree is 59.  The state matched that with increasing the multiplier from 1.5 to 1.6.  As a result we had somewhere in the neighborhood of around 20 teachers retired this year.  Many of these teachers were very good at what they do…TEACH.  Those of us that didn’t retire are facing the results of the retirements which include paying 3% more towards our own retirement as well as being scared out of our wits about what the state is going to “require” of us next.  There is talk of a 5% pay cut and even a 20-25 % health insurance cost for teachers.  In addition to all of this we are facing larger class sizes and the decimation of programs and the loss of things like library services, exploratory classes and other special activities like traveling to special exhibits.

The Michigan Education Association in an effort to try and get the state legislature to stop the assault on education funding planned a rally at the state capital yesterday.  The Sturgis Education Association chartered two busses to take many of us up to the capital.  Some teachers also came from other local towns like Three Rivers.  When I was talking to our Uniserve director on the bus she said that around 8000 MEA members planned on attending.  These members include teachers and support staff as well as the many family members that joined their parents.

When we arrived at the capital the mayor of Lansing, Virge Bernero, welcomed us with open arms as the MEA has endorsed his candidacy for governor.  There were other people that spoke as well.  The night before some of us went up to the middle school art room and made some handmade signs.  These turned out to attract a bit of attention as we were able to get a few interviews for TV.  One guy saw my Sturgis sign and wondered how far we had come from.  I told him we were south of Kalamazoo about an hour so two hours.  He asked if he could interview me.  I told him our president was right by me so it might be best to interview him as he is our spokesperson.

After the interview our state senator, Cameron Brown, came down to visit with us as Ellen Eisele had emailed and called him prior to this event.  He invited us up to senate chambers and he let us talk about what was on our minds.  Many of us spoke up with clear thoughts about the funding issues and suggestions about how the two parties should come together to fix this issue.  He did not answer any of our concerns directly when we asked questions.  He waited until we were done and then proceeded to explain some things to us from his perspective.  He wanted us to know that the state isn’t doing anything illegal by taking funds from education and giving those funds to colleges and universities as this is in the constitution.  He said the fund isn’t set up to be just for K-12.  He also wanted us to know that he “voluntarily” gave up some of his pay ever since he began his senate career.  I reminded him that the operative word was “voluntarily”.  The most interesting thing he kept saying to us was that he came from the school where the film, “Remember the Titans” was developed.  It’s like he wanted us to know that he wants to get along and that some how this information made him more agreeable to us.  Most of us didn’t feel any connection at all to that statement.  Craig mentioned something that he thought most Republicans would and should agree on as they comment on this stuff all the time.  Craig said that it should be about local control and at Sturgis we have been doing a good job of working with the administration and the decisions shouldn’t be made by the state but by the local institutions as they know what is best for their own communities.  Senator Brown couldn’t argue with that.  The two issues that most affect this are the 5% pay cut and the choice of health insurance with the 20-25% cost to the insured.

I don’t know if we had any real impact.  It is doubtful that Senator Brown will vote any differently based upon our visit.  However, I know that most of us will be voting in the coming election and we will, once again, make our voices heard.  The state of Michigan needs to fix these problems.  We are bleeding jobs and nothing really changes.  The tax revenues are down and it is obvious.  Each year valuable programs are lost while the two parties twiddle their thumbs and cry, “The sky is falling.”  I don’t want someone giving me any more excuses.  This is much of what I felt from Senator Brown, that old “blame game” thing.  I want someone that can “lead” this state to its rightful place in the world.  The children in our schools are the future.  Unfortunately, many of these young wonderful students graduate from college and leave Michigan as they cannot get a job here.  If Michigan is going to rise above this we must educate our children and create a system so they can find their opportunities right here in Michigan.  This is a beautiful state with many natural resources.  We don’t have to be a “one trick pony” based on the auto industry.  We can develop many other job sectors including biomedical research and green jobs.  If we continue to cut education funding our children will suffer even more than they already are suffering.  Our first priority should be to provide a quality education for our children.  The people of Michigan have to stand up for their children.  I know the economy is tough for everyone but public education still works here and even if you aren’t working you always know that your child will get their education.  In the state of Michigan we provide everything for the children including paper, pens and pencils.  Parents don’t have to worry about providing these items for school.  If a parent is out of work they can still rest assured that their child will be welcomed in public school.  Schools will not be able to maintain this level of education if cuts continue to happen across the state.  It’s just that simple.

We already see the “pay to play” mentality that has been happening with sports.  Poor families just cannot afford to let their children play sports as they cannot afford the cost to play or the cost for insurance on their child.  I sure don’t want to see this happen with other parts of the school day as well.  It is frightening to think about what will happen next.  Being a school teacher shouldn’t be about fear and loathing but about hope and inspiration.  These young students are being faced with a lot of stressful situations from over testing and parents out of work to now whether the programs they love, like art and music, will be there tomorrow.  Our children are the future of our country and the future of our state.  We must do everything we can to create a quality environment for them to learn and grow.  Our schools need to be top notch and fully funded.  The state of Michigan needs to prioritize school funding and fix this on going problem immediately.  Seriously, enough is enough!  The legislature needs to get creative and fix the funding problem for schools!

Bravo’s Work of Art

  • Posted on May 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm

As if we needed another reality show!  Okay, so we might, if it involves art.  I love the concept of an art contest in the manner of “Project Runway”.  I don’t know what the artist wins exactly, maybe a special exhibit somewhere.  As an art teacher I know it is hard to tame the creative mind and lump it into a time frame for anything.  Creativity isn’t something that switches on necessarily at will.  I have a student right now in my advanced 8th grade class that is super talented.  She probably wouldn’t do well under this kind of pressure as she has a hard time meeting deadlines with her artwork.  How will these artists be challenged to create art and who will be judging the criteria for great art?  Those are the two questions that I have in my mind.  Don’t worry as I’ll be tuning in to see what happens with this show.  I hope it truly is creative and not some “staged” creativity that feeds the masses what they think art is all about.  Today art can be almost anything from realism to true fantasy to the fatally ugly.  Making a statement in art isn’t always beautiful and sometimes is political and at others it merely mocks reality.  I haven’t a clue what kind of art this show will have produced for it.  I find it mildly interesting that it is being produced by Sarah Jessica Parker.  I haven’t a clue what qualifies her for this.  Is she an art lover?  Is painting her secret passion?  I know she’s been featured lately on some shows like that ancestors, genealogy thing.  I really don’t care why she’s involved but I’m wondering why it’s being played at eleven at night.  I’ll still have one more day of school but knowing me, I’ll probably watch it and suffer through that last day!  I’m going to get my art on and have my art fix.  I hope this show pumps up the volume and pushes the envelope on creativity.

Sturgis Middle School Annual Art Show

  • Posted on May 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Another school year is almost finished and I’m busy with the end of the year art activities.  We recently had 6th grade orientation for next year’s sixth graders.  I put up an art display for that.  I’m putting up another display for the board meeting and orchestra concert on the 18th.  The show that I really look forward to is the annual art show at the Sturges Young Civic Auditorium.  I just set up that show Monday night.  Two of my students helped me set it up.  Every year I always think about how I’m going to put this together and every year I am filled with excitement at the talent my students exhibit.  This year was no exception.  I always think I don’t have enough variety of quality work to fill the show and of course I end up with enough to fill two shows.

There are about 140 artworks in the show by around 90 students.  Both two dimensional and three dimensional works are represented.  There are pencil drawings, colored pencil, watercolor, acrylic paintings, collage work, sumi-e painting, scratch art, sculpture, pottery and both oil and chalk pastel.  This is but a few of the shots that I took.

The show will be up through May 24th.  I encourage anyone that is in the Sturgis area to stop in and see it.  Here are some more three dimensional artworks.

As I said these are just some of the many artworks in the show.  Be inspired by the young people with artwork represented here.  I am.  I love working with these young students.  It is a thrill to see them develop their artwork under my tutelage.  I take great pride in what they accomplish and great ownership in the work that I do to get them to this level of development.  As I have said in past posts, “You got to have art!”  I can’t imagine my life never having explored the field of art and art education.

Kalamazoo Art Institue, West Michigan Show and 8th Grade Art Students, What a Thrill!

  • Posted on May 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm

The artwork above received the Grand Prize.  It is Michele Shelton, A Moment to Remember, paper, fabric, metal, beads.  This picture is credited to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art website.

I am inspired.  Thursday I took my advanced eighth grade art class to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art.  None of my students had ever been there before.  We had a great time.  On exhibit was the “West Michigan Area Show”.  It is what inspired me and my students.  We were all blown away by the diverse collection of art in the show.

The exhibit was selected by Chicago artist Gladys Nilsson.  Her selection showed much diversity from realism to abstraction.  Many pieces were an explosion of color but all seemed so unique and able to stand on their own let alone be part of this wonderful exhibit.  Many pieces begged discussion and wonderment as to what drove the artist.  Gladys Nilsson’s art really explains how she was able to select such a wonderful show.  Her artwork is full of color and while it is representational in its subject matter it is full of elongated shapes, disproportions that create whimsy and a sense of borderline abstraction.  Her work reminds me of Marc Chagall although there really isn’t a connection.  I love the rhythmic way her work is full of movement.  She uses color to saturate ones mind as though one is standing outside in a warm mist of color filled rain.

It is no wonder that this talented artist was able to select such an interesting exhibit for the West Michigan Show.

When I went home I marveled at the awesome ability of these west Michigan artists.  I thought that many of them probably benefited from a great public school education.  It is this creativity that has to be nurtured in our schools today.  In out effort to become the best we can be in our schools with test scores we sometimes lose sight of this much needed creativity.  It is the creativity in our country that develops new products that forces us to think outside of our limited boxes that we put ourselves in.  We must nurture this creativity through the arts.  Whether it be the visual arts, music or drama all of the arts nurture that creativity that is so necessary to the continuation of our own humanity.  It is this spirit of creation that drives us all to be unique enough to not blend into the sea of humanity that just goes with the flow.  These are the people that just continue to follow whatever they are told to do like mindless sheep.  The spirit of creativity makes us stop and think about what we are doing and how we can make improvements to our lives.  It is this spirit that I believe built our country and made it strong.

I enjoyed this show even more than some of the exhibits I’ve seen of famous artists.  This exhibit inspired me and my students to come back and make art.  I know my students are now anxious to get to their final painting that they will do this year.  Many found inspiration in the colors and shapes and subject matter they saw in the show.  The hour of our tour zoomed by and the students were very curious and inquisitive.  When I talked with them individually I know they were excited about what they saw.  This was a visual treat for all them and myself.  I hope anyone that reads this that has an opportunity to see this exhibit will attend the show.  It is well worth the drive.  You will be inspired and you will go away feeling like you participated in something special.  I say, “Kudos” to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art for bringing such a wonderful exhibit to the public and finding sponsors to make it free to the public.

We’ve Gotta Have Art

  • Posted on April 2, 2010 at 11:11 am

Teaching middle school art today is very different from when I was young and just out of college.  I remember the enthusiasm I had for teaching my first class in Fowler, Michigan.  It was so exciting to be out of school and to finally get a job.  I graduated in December of 1977.  It was in the middle of the school year and there weren’t any jobs really available.  I started working at Sugar Loaf Mountain resort as a hostess for the restaurant.  It didn’t pay very much and I didn’t stay long after they wanted me to design wine labels for the same pay as the hostess job.  I also found it very elitist in their attitude.  As an employee we were not supposed to fraternize with the tourists coming to ski the mountain.  I didn’t have a problem with that but they really didn’t want us to even go to the bar or restaurant.  It felt more like the hired help wasn’t good enough to sit next to the wealthy establishment.  I found the place rather stifling with their rules and expectations for the “hired help”.  They found out I had an art background so they wanted to use that.  Regardless of their motives I soon found employment at Kmart in the camera department.  I really enjoyed working at Kmart as they put me in an area where I had a lot of expertise and they respected my intelligence.  In the summer when I was interviewing for a teaching position the management was overwhelmingly supportive.  I was given the time I needed to interview and people were very happy when I snagged my first teaching job.  It felt like a family at Kmart as everyone was very encouraging of the young people that had gone to college and were looking for jobs in their fields.

When I arrived at Fowler I got right to work on working with the young students to create art.  We had so much fun together.  At the end of the school year I organized an art show while the gym teacher organized a dance and the music teacher had a concert.  We had a great turn out from the community and this was established for each year until I left a few years later.  I did manage to paint an eagle with two boys, with scaffolding, on the gym wall.  What an experience that was for someone who is afraid of heights!  I took a break from teaching and devoted myself to my art, making pottery and traveling to different art shows in Oklahoma and Michigan.  For many years I was happy doing this but when my son started kindergarten I volunteered to bring in my pottery wheel and demonstrate for the students.  I fired pottery pieces the students made and fell in love with the idea of teaching again.  I decided to update my teaching credentials.

A lot had happened in my years away from teaching.  Something called D.B.A.E (Disciplined Based Art Education) happened.  I was out of the loop but I easily got back into the loop.  However, teaching art has to be more about art production than anything else.  The art history, aesthetics and art criticism are all important but working with young people today it is so important to actually get their hands on the art materials and help them experience what it feels like to produce art.  In this age of text messaging and quick technology fixes I think it is more important than ever to develop creativity within my students.  So many students don’t have a clue how things are really made and why we buy the things that we do.  While art is all around them in designs that they purchase from their shoes, totes, mp3 players and phones so many of them are clueless about the thought that these items are purchased because of their interesting design concepts.  Some of them think that a computer spits out the design.  They don’t think about what person may have put the idea into the computer.  I try to point this out to my students because there is vast ignorance from most people about these issues.  Art is so important in all of our lives today whether we are aware of it or not.  We are surrounded by art in many forms and we make decisions about art on a daily basis whether it is decorating our homes or buying a car.  Art surrounds us in ways we don’t even think about!

I had an opportunity to review my art curriculum this year.  I was able to add a document camera and a projector to my teaching tool box.  This has resulted in a major change in my instruction delivery.  When I would show students how to do things in the past they would have to look at a mirror placed strategically over my head.  Now it’s projected.  If I’m doing something very detailed I can even zoom in for the students.  That student sitting in the very back of the room can now actually see what I’m trying to show them.  I marvel at this new technology and how computers have snuck their way into the art classroom through art programs and even online galleries.  Some people might think art is a thing of the past but art really is evolving and is the future.  We, as consumers, will always be drawn to beauty and grace.  Art will be in our future designs and really the creativity of our nation is dependent on the continued exposure to all the arts in their many forms.  Without art we become a mass produced society, plastic in many ways, without a heart.  It is art that nourishes our souls and completes our craving to be unique, to know that we are original beings and that we aren’t just one of many but one in a million!

When I was young and a beginning teacher I never thought about how teaching art might change.  It was all pretty basic in my mind.  You draw, paint, and sculpt; whatever medium you use art remains fairly unchangeable in its end result.  However, now I realize that art and its medium is constantly changing.  Today we have artists creating art through recyclables, computers, videos and much more.  Art is never stagnant and never stays the same.  Art is truly the most original thing that one can do.  Art continues to allow our imaginations to soar and our creativity to flourish.  Today there is more to art than ever as we search for new ways to express ourselves.  The importance of art in this rigid testing structure of education cannot be overly emphasized.  If we are to truly think, dream and imagine we must have art in our lives and we must nourish our souls with the making of art.

A video from our high school art teachers and the 2010 Scholastic Art Awards

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