Soap box time

I am a teacher on hiatus. I will be back at my job next year where I will teach art to approximately 650 kids ranging in age from 5 to 14 at one of the poorest performing schools in Colorado. As an art teacher I have a unique perspective on teaching. I teach a subject that some view as vital and that others see as just plain fun, like recess or study hall. However, I am expected to know materials, appilications, art history, the latest ELL strategies, the latest math, the latest technology, literacy and science instruction. I am expected to teach all of this in a neat little package that supports the “core” academic subjects (did I mention I only see each kid for 45 minutes a week). I also need to know all of my students’ names, special needs, family situations, languages, reading levels, etc. And you know what? for the most part I can handle all of it. I love teaching. Being an art teacher, my job is to teach kids how to explore their worlds, find problems and seek answers, to appreciate beauty, to form opinions that they can articulate with confidence and reason. I do not teach craft time. I teach creativity. Art makes us human, and by making it, embracing it, and identifying with it we express our humanity.

We forget that education is meant to teach children to be good citizens, to be thoughtful, and to take care of themselves and their communities. Being able to read and do math well aids in the process but without the ability to think critically we are dooming our children to a life where they allow other “smarter” people tell them what’s best.

At the first school I worked at, at least 50% of the kids who came through the doors would be gone again by the end of the year. Poverty, unstable families, immigration status,  and migrant work brought our kids in and out. It is hard to quantify the effect you have on a child when they are only in your care for a few minutes a week for a few months. I like to think I impact every child who walks into my room no matter how small.

So-called low performing schools are inevitably situated in areas with high poverty. With poverty comes parents for whom the educational system has failed and who may not have the means to help their children navigate a system that is entrenched in white middle-class structures. The determining factors in successful schools are yes, good teachers but more importantly parental and community involvement. It is inappropriate to expect that teachers are the sole reason that many of our kids are failing. I’ve come to understand that in order to have successful schools and successful kids we have to cultivate our communities. We have to work with our families not resent them or hold our knowledge of the “system” over them. So I implore you to do something for the school down the street. Volunteer your time and your skills. Giving your energy will do far more than giving money ever will (not that giving money won’t help either). Mentor a kid, be on PTO, help out in the art room, be a guest lecturer, have student interns. Complain and blame less and do more.

This is an RSA animation that so clearly explains some of the unique issues that we face in our current educational paradigms.

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4 responses to “Soap box time

  1. Geeze, I’m trying, I’m trying!

    What school do you work for? Is it public? I have a meeting with one the physical education director next month for our program but if you know any teachers interested in our program, I would GREATLY appreciate it! We are also scheduling a meeting next month for people that expressed interest in helping with the non-profit. Wanna come?

    I agree, it’s not just the teacher, it’s a million other things, mostly how you are raised and your support system at home and sadly the parent part can’t be changed.

    On another note, the only thing I remember from 4th grade really is my art teacher teaching us how to draw a dog. Seriously, I can still draw the dang thing just like he showed us!

  2. Oh, I love you Delaine Holton-Fessler!

    I was just talking about this issue with my accountant recently, and he said, “You know, we can’t expect teachers to perform well when we are holding a knife to their throats.” And for those of you who don’t teach, that means tying employment to test scores, because, as Delaine notes, there is a lot more happening in the lives of our students than just their teachers. Teachers are not responsible for the ills of society.

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