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So You Want to Teach Art?
I was initially reluctant to get into teaching, but in my first year, after an internship and a teaching internship in art education, I realized that my personality was perfect for the position. If you don’t like children, teaching is not for you! They will tease, cajole and test every fiber of your patience. Especially if you were a “special subject teacher” like me. “Regular” teachers will be too. My schedule involved teaching art to 1200 children once a week. I was an itinerant art teacher for some of my sixteen years in art. When you enter another class, that’s their domain!
There are special rules that a visiting teacher must follow. Never step on the authority of the class teacher. It’s very humiliating to be a “special”. Some of the kids asked me if an art teacher, a music teacher, and a physical education teacher had gone to college. They often asked me if I was a real teacher. After an art/social studies lesson on ancient Egypt, my students were telling me that I should be a real teacher and teach social studies. Flattered and yet humbled, I wasn’t sure how to take it. Was it a compliment?
After the birth of my fourth child, I obtained a master’s degree in art. It took me twelve years to finish. I was like that bunny that ran around your TV and kept going and going and going. I would tell my students to try something new or something they thought they didn’t like. Some of us have to try harder, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you can do it, or even if you like it. What if a child had never set foot on a stage. Would he become an actor? What if a physicist had never looked at the stars as a child? You know what I mean.
My life as an art teacher has been filled with challenges. The art teacher, in addition to planning and delivering a K-12 art program, must also be a diplomat throughout the school. There are sets to build, decorate the gymnasium for dances and shows, signs for parent-teacher organizations, signs for the principal’s order needs in the building, help teachers with bulletin boards , decorating the windows of the entire school for the changing of seasons, judging science fairs, being invited to children’s study team meetings to show the art of a particular student, giving workshops of art to teachers, meet with parents, draw circles on the floor for kindergarten to sit in, take lessons in assemblies if it is during a teacher’s lesson art lesson time ( preparation), attending assemblies during the teacher’s “preparation” time, distributing the school’s order of art supplies, and filling in for teaching when many teachers were absent. Should I continue? Do you now want to be an art teacher? I had incredible energy, but I got exhausted enough to catch the flu a few times during my artistic career.
When I was pregnant with my fifth and last child, the principal called us into his office and told us that they were doing away with special subjects and that we had better get another certification. Well, with five kids supported by a teacher’s salary, I needed that job! My home economics friend and I bought the National Teacher Exam Prep Book and studied like demons. We have spent! I was an art teacher! Unbelievable! She taught boys and girls how to cook and make clothes! Unbelievable!
My friend got a job teaching 5th grade and they put me in title 1 basic skills program because they were saving money. The government paid half my salary. With my master’s degree, I was approaching the top of the pay scale. In addition, it was easy to place me there since I started in November. My son was born on September 15 after attending the first week of school with a very big belly! I returned to work after a caesarean, with only six weeks of maternity leave. I was welcomed home by my precious new baby boy, four other beautiful children, and my stack of materials for the four grades I was going to teach. Sleep? What is that? Don’t expect to sleep when you have a big family and a full-time job. All I had to carry around now was a handful of books instead of boxes of glue, art materials, and stacks of construction paper. I could also wear teacher clothes. Gone are the splattered abstract expressionist pants, blouses and blouses that had to be thrown away at the end of the day!
I shared my space with another teacher who kept asking me how I could teach reading, writing and math, after teaching art. It was hard ? Well, every day, I checked the homework of my own kids who were then in high school, and I knew the subject pretty well. Our Teacher Editions had the answers. I was confident. I passed the national teacher’s exam on my first try, and after teaching art for sixteen years, I had the experience of relating art to each subject. I explained everything, and she never said another word. I was more than qualified. My new certification was kindergarten through eighth grade, so I was covered.
I had no idea how much I was going to love this new job. The best thing was that my working day ended with my child’s day. So in his mind, I could have been home all day. I was there to pick it up. Sweet. After school it was homework time, with milk and cookies, then outdoor activity while I cooked dinner, more homework, breastfeeding, bottles, diapers, bag diaper and stroller, little league, lunches, finally my reading, then I collapse at 11.30 am to do it again from 6 am. You can do it and you will because children go through stages. They grow up ! I look back on and cherish every spent moment.
So teach the art if you want. It’s fun, creative, and a challenge, but get another certification to protect your job, and hang in there until your pension is earned. It’s worth it. I took early retirement, so I’m off to the river now, with my husband, whitewater paddling in my Jackson Punk Rocker! See you later!
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