Our last class of the semester! The last day is always bittersweet for me. It is a celebration of all we have accomplished this semester but also the last time we will all be together. The sandcastle my students and I have built will soon be washed away by the tide. In a month or so, a new one will begin. While there was nothing being turned in and nothing going on in class that day that the students would be held responsible for later, I was delighted when I saw that every student (except for two recovering from surgery) had chosen to attend! For me, this was a subtle but significant endorsement of the time we’ve spent together this semester. They were there because they wanted to be - not because I had coerced them with grades or penalties (and very very few had enough absences that missing the last day would’ve penalized them). For this, I’m grateful.
For our last day, I planned a potluck while we enjoyed a make-up presentation and completed course evaluations. I brought coffee and donut holes the first day to take the edge off our first meeting and a potluck on our last day was their chance to reciprocate. We enjoyed a wonderful sugary feast! I wanted feedback, the university wants feedback, and on top of that my department wanted feedback - and of course we all had our separate tools! Hopefully the snacks helped prevent what I’m calling ‘eval exhaustion.’
Much more importantly for our last day, I invited fabulous guest speaker. Duarte Brown is a local Columbus mixed-media artist that is passionate about working with young people and community. Mr. Brown is an artist-in-residence for the Ohio Arts Council, a publicly funded program that places artists in schools for as little as a day or as much as once a week for a semester! It is a wonderful program that enables young people to see working artists in action and a chance for artists to share their inspiration and gifts with others. Hopefully some of my students may wish to have an artist-in-residence in their future classrooms! I wish more art teachers would invite artists into their classrooms to provide real working artist role-models and create connections between the classroom and the community.
I knew that my students would love Duarte when I had the opportunity to hear him speak at the recent Ohio Art Education Association conference. He was passionate, sincere, and funny as he accepted a state award and spoke about his work with local art teachers like Melinda Staley and sharing his art with young people around Ohio. He graciously accepted my invitation to speak to my class on the spot. The day of his visit, he had left another conference just to make it to my class. As he spoke to my students, they heard that same passion, sincerity, and sense of humor I had heard weeks before. At the core of his talk was love, especially his love of making art and using it as a way of connecting with others. He spoke about resistance and challenges and the complexity surrounding race, masculinity, and trauma that permeates our students’ daily lives. And he also expressed the vulnerability required for both artmaking and teaching and spoke on the importance of being fearless and meeting our young people where they are, free of presumptions and judgments. This for me is the essential work every teacher must practice and something I continually work towards.
As future teachers, I believe Duarte’s words resonated especially strongly with them and I know that many of them found the experience moving (I won’t see their feedback until next week to know for sure). I know it resonated with me as a person who lived through a great deal of childhood trauma, was homeless and repeated 5th grade, but that went on to use art to connect with others and is now a teacher seeking a PhD. I have little doubt that he further inspired them to inspire others. I’m incredibly grateful for his selfless generosity in taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to these young teachers during this critical time in their studies. I’m thankful that they have such a memorable example of creativity in the classroom that they can draw on in their future work with young people.
Sorry this week’s post is so short, but finals are beginning this week and I’m under the gun. However, next week I’ll be back to talk about my student conferences in which we will be meeting to mutually determine each student’s final grade. Stay tuned!
I'll mostly be blogging about my experience teaching pre-service teachers about creativity and artmaking. I teach a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers for undergrads planning on becoming classroom teachers. Among other things, I'm attempting to "Go Gradeless" while experimenting with more effective approaches to teaching visual art integration.