Location: Denver, Colorado
College: University of Illinois School of Art & Design
Currently Teaching: High School Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture
Fun Fact: Andrea is much better than you at snowboarding
Her classroom in a sentence: “Surprising, awesome, thrilling, and definitely unexpected.” -Keke M. (GHS Senior)
It’s a cold day just outside Denver, Colorado, and the mountains are beautiful. Andrea Slusarski is quickly traveling down one of them, snowboard strapped to her feet, on her way to finding her happiness. She recently moved to Denver in order to be back in the city teaching in an urban high school. Summers are spent hanging with friends, camping, hiking, and rock climbing; the winter months usually find her snowboarding. With the time in between, she and her high schoolers are making some great art.
Andrea is being featured because I have been impressed with a lot of what she does, especially the way she relates to her students. Her website is strong, the prezis she shares are fantastic, and the more I see from her, the more I know she is quickly becoming a great teacher. Andrea’s students buy in, and it’s easy to tell they take ownership in the art room, the artistic process, and the art they are able to create.
She took the time to share her thoughts with me on a few subjects.
What things do you do to continue to grow as a teacher? How much do you change yourself, your teaching style, or your lessons each year?
In terms of growing as a teacher and an artist, I’m constantly reading, researching, and discovering new things to show my classes–techniques, technology, etc. It is crucial (for me at least) to be on Twitter, Pinterest, and following other art teachers because you never know what is going to spark an idea for a lesson or activity in class.
My teaching style is pretty consistent. I definitely have a ton of fun in class and work to make those individual connections with my students through their art, art making, and interests. The best thing I think you can do is lead by example. I love what I do, and they can see that. I’m prepared, laughing, and attentive, just like I want them to be.
Do you think it’s easier for you to make connections with students because you’re a young teacher?
Yes and no. That first reaction is a double edged sword I feel, where students want to connect with me because I am young, but then also students who want to be little punks because they think I don’t know what I’m doing. I really feel my connections come after some time in the classroom; I don’t have a desk, so I’m constantly moving around. I stand out in the hallway in passing periods, I tell stupid jokes, show kids my snowboarding videos when we have breaks, etc.
It’s hard to explain really, but for a lack of a better word, I’m “real” with kids. They know my expectations, know my boundaries, and I always tell them that “I got their backs”. High schoolers don’t want to be told or bossed around, so I really reflect on why am I asking them to do that? Will this be interesting? It comes down to things like that.
The best thing I think you can do is lead by example. I love what I do, and they can see that.
Tell me about your classroom. What are you trying to accomplish with the way you set up your room?
My classroom is very surprisingly organized for an art room (messes are encouraged) BUT I am a firm believer that a well organized classroom with attention to seating, storage, materials impacts and creates the flow that you want for your classroom.
In my new classroom I have been doing a ton of work this year. I have done some graffiti and quote walls, painted all the ugly orange cabinets a clean light grey, to start bringing a cool feel to my classroom. My room is bright, but with the cleanliness and organization to support learning and progress. I want students to be a “part” of the room and hope to continue with my murals and having students start to take a part in them.
As for materials and my storage, I scare myself sometimes how organized and placed everything is, but it helps me think straight.
Process, Product, or both?
BOTH. I’m here to make art, awesome-proud to take home, ART. So I enforce students to take pride in their product and am a stickler for craftsmanship and presentation. However, the process is a huge role into how you get there. Many projects I begin with a small “process” project where students are encouraged to explore the materials and technique without the constraints of a rubric.
This semester I introduced Bloggers using our school’s set of iPads. Each week or daily (depending on what we are doing) students are photographing, writing, and documenting their process to the final product.
[For people interested in this, I am going to be blogging/posting my materials for Blogger and student iPad usage. It has been a great hit in my classroom this semester so far, as it really gives each individual student their artist “voice”]
How important is art history? What role does it play in your planning and teaching?
I feel that art history just plays that extra cool role in my classroom. With each project I like to expose students to as many artists and examples that can help. I’m not crazy serious about it with writing reports and tons of research, but I try to keep engaging students through just simply seeing it and talking about it!
What do you want students to take away from your class?
First, I want them to laugh. Have fun and start to learn about who they are as an artist. I talk with students about style and interests coming into their artworks so much! After being in my class, I want my students to learn the techniques and knowledge of the specific medium of the class, so they can leave the class with the necessary tools to grow their art and specific style when it comes to creating art. I want my kids coming back, being leaders in my classroom, and taking an investment in their learning.