Jen Carlisle


Location: Norfolk, NE

College: Wayne State College

Currently Teaching: 5th and 6th Grade at Norfolk Middle School

Fun Fact: Jen has a Master’s Degree in Counseling

Twitter: @Carlisleartclas


Her classroom in a sentence: I believe each student is extremely capable, but it will take faith in yourself and hard work to accomplish good things.

It’s early morning on Friday, September 20th in Wayne, Nebraska. I wake up early, because it’s the day of my presentation to the Nebraska Art Teachers’ Association during the annual Fall Conference. I leave my motel room quickly, mostly because it’s a Motel 6, and make the short drive to the conference. I begin to set up for my presentation with plenty of time to spare. Little do I know how lucky I am that I decided to arrive early, because the next 90 minutes will be me stuck in a circle of technological hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I literally spend the entire hour and a half arranging and rearranging cords and computers, running around campus, begging for help, getting passwords, failing, getting other passwords, failing again, getting more passwords and still continuing to fail. It got to the point that we had the Director of Technology for the entire college in the room giving me his personal login information in some desperate, misguided hope to try to make things work.

By some act of God, I was able to get everything set up and ready to present about 10 minutes before I was scheduled. The team of 11 people who were in the room helping me were finally able to get back to their lives. They exited the room with a lot of audible sighing, and I couldn’t decide whether I should cry or punch someone. Not 30 seconds later, an unwitting someone has the audacity to stick their head in the room and ask “is the projector and everything working okay? Will it be ready for me?”

That someone was Jen Carlisle.

Serendipity, I suppose, that we were scheduled for the same room and that I was able to meet Jen that morning. She was presenting directly after me, and sticking around to hear her was a great choice. I learned a ton from her, I was introduced to her great blog (Art in the Middle . . . School), and it was quickly apparent how good of a teacher she is and how much I could learn from her.  She was even nice enough to inadvertently set up a Feedly account for me! Her blog is a wonderful read, and she has been a great resource to help my teaching.

So, all in all, I’m really glad I didn’t punch her that day, because she probably wouldn’t have been willing to take the time for this interview.

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 love to paint and create with paper and fabric.  I know that my classroom teaching has strengthened my skills as an artist and I know that my passion for creating has increased my creativity in the classroom.  Art is my own personal “me time.”  Without my time to be creative I become a bit crabby… even just making a school example can help me feel more fulfilled.


What are your strengths as a teacher? What do you do best? On the flip side, what are you trying to do better?

I think that my number one strength is openness and understanding.  I have my master’s degree in counseling and I think that helps me keep in perspective the stuff other teachers and students are bringing to our school.  I also think that the fact I am outgoing doesn’t hurt.  I rarely feel out of place (not that that is always a good thing) and love meeting new people, trying new things, etc.  I am also no afraid of trying something or letting my student try something, it just might take me a little time to figure out how we are going to do their idea.

I am working on doing a better job of keeping up on my grading.  I struggle with some parents need to micromanage their child’s grades but I also can appreciate that it is a lot easier for them to monitor the one student vs. my ability to monitor 600+ students.

What would be something that you’d like to teach, or can’t/don’t do it? What is holding you back?

I don’t teach a lot of sculpture because figuring out a way to store 300+3-D projects from week to week is very challenging. When I started teaching, drawing was very intimidating for me.  As time has gone, I am getting much better about that and drawing in front of my students.  I was also very nervous about doing clay as I had never loaded a kiln.  I did only plaster projects for the first 5 years of my teaching; now I would be stressed about doing a plaster project.  The biggest thing that holds me back is maintaining balance in my life.  I have 3 kids at home that require my time also…

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? Where do you think you will be as a teacher in 5 years?

I really enjoy reading blogs and staying up to date with my national chapter.  I try to never repeat a lesson exactly the same way.  The only exception I have is a clay flower project in 6th grade.  Moms have come to expect it and every kid is super successful with it.  I think that there are things I did better 5 years ago (writing out full lesson plans) and I know there will be things I do better in 5 years.  It sounds weird but I hope to be doing the same thing I am doing now in 5 years.  I like that I am willing to tackle new things while still keeping the focus on the fundamentals of art. I would like to see myself continue to set and reach personal goals… like presenting at the State conference, illustrating a book, etc…

What influences you as a teacher? Where do you look for inspiration?

I look to my school kids, their t-shirts and ideas are amazing.  I love blogs (I follow over 108 on Feedly).  Pinterest can be good.  I love the website for upcoming/current artists.  I am getting to appreciate my district’s PLC time more and more for the interaction with my fellow art teachers.

Where do you stand on the neverending art teacher debate: Process, Product, or both? Why?

BOTH… I think the process of creating things is the most important but I also think that a part of teaching process is how to create quality products.  I would rather see a super creative project that is a little sub par vs. 300 perfect projects that all look exactly the same.  Business and colleges want us to make sure students can create a quality product but more importantly they want students who can think, problem solve and create.  Those skills only come through process.

I know from reading your blog you have a ton of kids coming through, and you have some great organization ideas to deal with that. But exactly how crazy is your classroom?

I have 675 different students come through my classroom every week.  The number one thing for my classroom is organization.  Keeping track of current projects, past projects, art show work and art supplies is number one priority.  I would say my room is organized but might look messy.  Keeping track of at least two different projects happening all the time can lead to a a lot of “piles of stuff” sitting around.  I have two display boards, one for 5th grade and one for 6th grade that focus on our current projects.  I have my “art”cabulary board and we have a display space in the hallway for finished projects.  I also try to have every 5th grade class create a collaborative project when they enter the middle school.  It helps them invest in the room and with 300+ pieces it usually fills up my large blank wall perfectly.

What traits, habits, or skills do you value most in your students? Why?

Thinking about how THEY want to solve the project.  I rarely tell the students they have an assignment.  I more often give them problems with a list of requirements.  We then spend time brainstorming ways they could solve the problem.

I most value the ability to put their first name, last name and class code on every project :)

For you, what determines your success as a teacher? How do you determine success for your students?

I am successful as a teacher if none of my students ever says, “I can’t even draw a stick person.”  I would love them to know that they can think and figure out how to solve problems as they present themselves. Honestly, if they leave after my time with them and are really proud of at least one project we have created, I am successful.

Leave a comment


  1. Anonymous

     /  January 29, 2014

    A little bit about the author?????

  2. I know! Look at me, writing all about myself, like it’s my blog or something . . .

  1. 14 for 2014: Jen Carlisle | Art Class With LMJ

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