Location: South Milwaukee, Wisconsin
College: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Master’s Degree from Marian University
Currently Teaching: Elementary Art in South Milwaukee Public Schools
Her classroom in a sentence: “Work Hard, Be Kind, Amazing Things Will Happen!” –Borrowed from Conan O’Brien.
I grew up in Fort Atkinson, WI and went to college at UW Milwaukee. Originally an Architecture major, I switched to Art Education after taking figure drawing and painting classes. A professor told me I could draw, and I believed him. It was that simple. I had never even taken a high school art class! I also studied Spanish in college which helped me land my first position in Milwaukee Public Schools. I was there for 10 years at a bilingual k3-5th grade elementary school. I taught Art on a cart for the first 4 years to 900 students. Whew!
I received my Masters in Urban Education from Marian University. Now I’m in my third year in South Milwaukee Public Schools teaching elementary art to about 425 students. I never received a divine call to be a teacher, but I can’t imagine being anything else right now!
What are your strengths as an artist? What role does your personal artmaking play in both your classroom teaching and in your own life?
I’m going to twist this into a strength: I have numerous projects going at the same time and never finish anything! So, I suppose I have the ability to return to the process and continue working. Perseverance is something I try to push with my students. I also have to force myself to practice observational drawing. It’s fundamental, and I have to practice what I preach, right?
What do you do outside of school to keep yourself happy and healthy (physically and mentally)?
I am blessed with pretty stellar people in my life who build me up and value my efforts as a wife, mother, and teacher. My 3 kiddos at home are growing and changing week to week so, I try to see the world through their eyes in an attempt to keep our joy and excitement for learning alive! I’m also learning to say no. This is the first year in 13 that I haven’t served a recess duty and holy smokes– I get a lot done now.
What things do you do to continue to grow as a teacher?
I try to take risks by stepping out of my comfort zone. I attend workshops and take graduate courses to up on keep current trends. I attend museum events and participate in PLNs on Twitter and Facebook. Applying new techniques that I learned at such venues keeps things fresh and exciting. I change my lessons frequently by listening and reflecting on student feedback. What do they want to try? What do they need to learn? How can I guide them to be successful?
What are the ideas, or who are the people, that influence you as a teacher? Where do you look for inspiration?
Being connected to the movers and shakers of the art world is so valuable and awesome! Sharing ideas, philosophies, technology, techniques, etc. in such an immediate manner like Twitter is incredible. That’s usually where I go first.
Here are just a few teachers on Twitter I really admire: @artwitholiveri @mrsleban @iansands @campbellartsoup @ArtClassWithLMJ @theartofed @pernilleripp @ArtLadyHBK @artsmartie @GreenwoodGirl @sepersky
I am also influenced by the work Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Diane Ravitch.
What does your classroom look like, and what are you trying to accomplish with its setup?
My room is organized with some piles here and there…Bright colors! Walls display student art, personal art, handmade posters, artist posters, art word wall, inspirational words, Goals/Outcomes/Essential Questions, “Get Art Smart” on easel in hallway that states what each grade level project is.
I want students to see their own art or their peers’ art on display; I believe this sends the message that they are important, and so is the art they create. I like to share my own work, too. It gives me a little validity as an artist.
What are your strengths as a teacher, and what are you trying to do better?
I think I’m very flexible. I adapt and adjust to change. Whether the change is Art on a Cart vs. Classroom or teaching in Spanish to a urban demographic vs. teaching in English to a suburban demographic, the ability to grow with it has helped me.
Also, reflecting on my practices through documentation is eye-opening. Building relationships with students is the most important. Once students trust me, the walls come down and they are free to take risks and happily learn from mistakes. Culturally relevant teaching drives my philosophy.
Currently, I’m allowing students more choice in their projects. This allows them autonomy and I have to trust them. I’m working on letting go of some of the control.
Where do you stand on the neverending art teacher debate: Process, Product, or both? Why?
In the spirit of making mistakes, I’m all about process, at least at first…Once students can reflect on their process (rubrics, critiques, and self-evaluations) I expect an exceptional product! Like a wise art colleague told me, “Unless there’s a vacuum in it, it shouldn’t suck.” Of course, I would never repeat that to a student, but it’s kind of funny!
What do you want students to take away from your class? What do they learn, and how do they develop after spending time in your classroom?
I want my students to take away confidence, pride, and joy in themselves. I want them to be able to transfer the perseverant work ethic that art-making requires to other areas of their lives. Art is an on-ramp for many students to attend school, I hope to spark the love of art in those kiddos.
What traits/habits/skills do you value most in your students? Why?
Open-mindedness. When students listen to others and their ideas, they learn from each other. When they pair an open mind with a positive attitude, they are more willing to try new things. Curious kids are really fun, too.
For you, what determines your success as a teacher? How do you determine success for your students?
When students are genuinely proud of their process and product my heart swells. When they can articulate key concepts they’ve learned, I feel grateful I’ve done my job.