Tagged: teaching

Artist Statement; for an example/demo assignment


Graphite & pencil on 18×24 newsprint, 2017

Students had 5 days to work on their final self portraits. Between helping them and getting piles of grading for other other classes done I had to force my self to spend a class and a half to work on one myself. I kinda like the funky angle. What did we do before cell phones? Maybe I need to back off of telling them they should use mirrors instead of phones.

Below are my responses to some of the “self-critique” reflection questions that I assigned to my students for their semester final self portraits.

PRODUCT: What do you like most about your drawing? What are you most displeased with or disappointed in about your drawing?

I like this one much more than the one I did first semester with the mirror. That one is much less realistic, not to mention more static and flat. I love the from-above angle and the 3/4 view. I think that the shading helps it have a sense of form. While I kind of like the contrast between the linear texture of the hair and the shape/pattern of the flannel shirt, I think that without legs or hands, the shirt kind of becomes just an amorphic blob holding up my head.

PROCESS: What did you enjoy most about making this drawing?What was the most difficult challenge you faced in making this drawing?

It was an escape from the pressure of entering grades at the end of the semester and the chaos of eighth graders who are so excited about the end of the school year. If anything, I wish I’d been working on this with the rest of the Drawing class for the whole five days, and not just a day and a half.

PROCESS & PRODUCT: If you were the Art teacher, what grade (A, B, C, D, F) would you give to this drawing. Please explain or defend your choice. Why does it deserve that grade? What about it earned the grade you’d give?

I guess I’d give myself an A-/B+ It’s accurate an engaging, but just imagine how much better it could’ve been had I given it my full attention and commitment.

DEVELOPMENT & GROWTH; How do you think this drawing demonstrates that your drawing skills &/or perceptual skills are improving? In what ways have your skills advances since the beginning of the year?

I’m not sure it’s fair for me to answer this question since I’m not a student and I’ve been an Art teacher for 24 years now, but I am always amazed at how I can continue to learn and improve no matter how old I get. I also think sometimes that the less I think about what I’m doing and just do it, the better my results. I’ve heard baseball/softball coaches talk about this for pitchers- some thinks are mechanical rather than cerebral and you just have to “trust the process, don’t over-think.” Obviously my expression reveals how weary and cynical I’ve become in middle age. I had hoped that the unique angle, besides being thinning, might counter the curmudgeon with dynamic, even energetic angles and eye-flow.

EXIT SURVEY: What do you think are the biggest breakthroughs in your perceptual skills this year? How did your drawing skills improve? What are some things you feel like you learned this semester or will be able to take away from this class?

While I do feel like I’ve had some breakthroughs this year, I’m having trouble putting them into words.

But I have to say that I am very grateful for my high school Drawing, Painting, and Photography classes this year. I’ve been blessed with students who engage, participate and learn- not to mention many who have enormous amounts of talent! The icing is that almost all of them are just great people that are fun to be with. I feel like they’ve allowed me not only to continue to grow as an artist along with them, but to grow as an educator. I think many of them have taught me a few things, or at least reminded me of some things that teachers need to keep in mind while they’re teaching. There have been many very difficult and discouraging things about being in this profession this year, but none of them have come from the kids in my high school Art classes.

I truly hope and pray that many of them can continue to take Art classes the next year or two. Even if they can’t, I hope to use what they’ve taught me and the momentum they’ve given me for teaching 6-12th graders NEXT year. Thanks Drawing 2 Class- have a great Summer!


Teach Anyway

The following is based loosely on a poem by Harvard professor Kent M. Keith, which was painted on the wall of Mother Theresa’s mission in Calcutta, India:

Students are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Teach them anyway.

If you teach, students (& sometimes their parents) will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Teach anyway.

If you are teach rigor, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Teach rigor anyway.

What you teach today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Teach anyway.

Transparency, integrity and candor make you vulnerable.
Be genuine anyway.

There will be days when you feel like you’re throwing pearls to the swine.
Teach anyway.

Doctors and lawyers and CEOs and politicians all get paid more than teachers.
You’re teaching future doctors, lawyers, CEOs and politicians.
Teach anyway.

What you spend years teaching may be destroyed overnight by drugs or alcohol or just bad choices.
Teach anyway.

Some students who really need the most help may attack you, offend you, or resent you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give students the best you have every day and they may not appreciate it, they may let you down, you may go home more weary than you could ever imagine.
Give them the best you have anyway.

Teaching Relationally

ASSIGNMENT: While there are a number of factors that influence the development of character in our students, having a positive, supportive, well modeled relationship with a teacher can be one of the most powerful game changers. However, in a time when class sizes are getting bigger and educator responsibilities take longer than there are hours in the workday, relationships that were built naturally in the past are now pushed aside as a result of trying to fit everything in and get it all done. In an attempt to stay on top of it all, we sometimes become all business. In the forum below, share 3 techniques/strategies with your classmates that educators can use to build positive relationships with individual students. These can be strategies you have researched or from your own experience.

Coach and Moe

Professor Russ Moulds at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska painted a vivid picture in our minds as pre-professional teacher candidates. He read us John 14:2-3 where Jesus tells His disciples that in His Father’s house there are many rooms and that He was going on ahead to prepare a place for them. Moulds then explained how each year we’d be taking snapshots in our minds of our students and classes and that someday the walls and mantles and end-tables of our Heavenly homes would be filled with these pictures. What a beautiful image. I try to remember Professor Mould’s word picture when I am discouraged or wonder if there is some other way I could make a living.

I have been fortunate that many of my most rewarding adult friendships are with former students who’ve grown up. I’ve been blessed to attend several weddings. Alvin sends me pictures of historic events when they happen in Washington D.C. where he owns a restaurant on Capitol Hill. Nyasha and Xela keep me updated on their lives in India on Facebook. Christian comes to almost every home football game even though he’s been out for years now, just to stand in the cold and catch up with me (who cares about the game, he doesn’t know these young kids anymore). I try to get together with Kenny at least every couple months to have dinner or a drink. Leon posts odd art photos from his studios in Mexico City on Instagram and never fails to leave comments on my pictures when I post them. Justin offers to speak to my Photography classes when he’s around, sharing his own images from Iowa sporting events, trips to Alaska or even his tour of duty in Iraq. We encourage one another, laugh together, challenge each other and pray for one another.

That’s the thing though- if you don’t care, you probably shouldn’t be in teaching. If it’s just a paycheck and you don’t care about kids, get out.

But if you do care, they’ll break your heart:

“You’re the first person I’ve told, I think I’m pregnant.”

“I just can’t wait to get out of this hell hole, how can I take online classes so I can graduate early.”

“I don’t care, my parents know I don’t care and they don’t care, they’re letting me drop out as soon as I’m old enough.”

“Gawd, that was so fun Friday night, I was drunk off my ass.”

“She’s such a bitch, I swear, if she snap-chats that kind of sh** about me again I’m gonna kick the f***ing sh** out of her.”

“This is stupid, I hate this class.”

So be prepared, teaching is not for the faint of heart, at least not if you actually care about kids.

The three things I recommend are based on another Bible verse, but I assure you that (so long as you’re not taking advantage of your class being a captive audience in order to proselytize them,) there’s nothing in the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment which would prevent you from applying these in a public school. The verse is Micah 6:8.

  1. Act Justly- Kids will often complain, “that’s not fair!” and administrators will admonish, “you’ve got to be consistent, the key is consistency.” Both of them are talking nonsense. Experienced teachers know perfectly well that you can’t treat every student or every situation absolutely the same. But you can and should always strive to do what’s in the best interest of every students so that they can have the best chance to learn and grow. This won’t always be easy. It not only means that you won’t always make them happy, their peers happy, their parents happy, or your administrators happy, but it will mean using your best judgement. Worst of all, sometimes you won’t get to be happy.Two things are just as true for teachers as they are for parents- one is that you can’t really be their friends, not equal friends anyway, not till they grow up. Nor should you be. The other is that sometimes “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.” They won’t believe it even when they see it, but love hurts, anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

    This also means that not every kid will let you into their world or their heart. That’s okay. Not only will you not be able to befriend or mentor every student because there are too many and too many demands on your time. You won’t be able to connect with every student because they don’t all want to, they don’t all need to, and they won’t all “click” with every teacher. To act justly means that you give everyone a chance and you try to treat them with dignity and respect even if you don’t quite “get” each other, and even if they’re hostile, belligerent, or indifferent.

  1. Love Mercy- One of the things we’re hearing a lot of buzz about these days in our field is failure. Maybe it’s backlash to all the pressure kids feel to achieve and be perfect from their parents or the disproportional emphasis on standardized testing, but more and more experts are telling us that it’s important to let kids fail, teach them to fail, and even encourage them to fail. Failure is how we learn. So if there’s anything we need to do for kids it’s to offer them an infinite number of second chances. In one breath we hear about differentiation and how kids should learn at their own pace, but in the next we’re warned about how holding them back stigmatizes them or makes them imagine that they’re incapable of achievement. That’s why we need patience and kindness in our line of work and to model perseverance for them and to tirelessly encourage them. Above all, to never give up on them. It doesn’t mean that we abolish deadlines or consequences or abandon standards. But it does mean that we help them to realize that there are more than one way to skin a cat and that if at first you don’t succeed- wear a parachute!One of the things that I bend over backwards to try to get across to kids is that there’s a distinction between a person and their actions or inactions. Just because you got a poor grade on an assignment doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or incapable. By the same logic, teachers don’t “hate” you, but perhaps some of your choices and behaviors prevent them from trusting or enjoying you. Everyone needs to be patient with everyone because no one knows what the others are going through. Even without any spiritual or religious context, forgiveness is powerful, especially when you learn to forgive yourself.

    Teachers could be angels of mercy if we would commit to helping students learn how to succeed at failing.

  2. Walk Humbly- Justice enforced without humility can feel like tyranny. Mercy applied without humility can feel like patronizing condescension. Teaching about equality and justice will ring hollow if it comes from someone who’s conceited or arrogant. Teaching about perseverance and resilience in spite of setbacks will ring hollow if it comes from someone who believes that they themselves can do no wrong. Students won’t really respect you if you try too hard to be one of them, but they will want to be “one of you” if they perceive that you are human and approachable.This doesn’t mean constantly over-sharing everything about yourself. It doesn’t always have to mean making yourself vulnerable. It certainly doesn’t mean berating yourself or not having any boundaries. It does mean having integrity and a level of transparency that includes being honest about mistakes and apologizing on occasion. They won’t learn how to cope with failure if you never let them see you fail. It also means that it’s more important to be able to work together than to win every argument.

And if you do happen to be a person of faith, it never hurts to include your students in your prayers. Even if there is no God, it builds feelings of altruism and compassion for those students in your mind, which just might help you have more patience with them and be kind toward them. They may never know, but they don’t have to.

If all that fails, give ‘em candy. I hear some teachers think that works.

New Year’s Eve

Well that’s over. Three hours of chaos and bedlam. Students and athletes need you to sign their check-out sheets, but not much else. I handed back the finals and tried to visit a little bit about what kids’ summer plans were. Knuckleheads tried to get away with as much mischief as they could, assuming they wouldn’t get in trouble since its the last day. Every girl made sure they got a “selfie” with each and every “BFF.” Contents of lockers and backpacks overflowed the trash barrels. Music played and laughter roared. My aid lined up every girl in the Eighth Grade for a group picture. In short, it was a little like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

In a way, it is New Year’s Eve. This is the last day of the school year, after all- its just that New Year’s Day (the first day of the new school year) is 12 weeks away, instead of a minute after Midnight.

Like the police and sanitation crews in NYC, we teachers, administrators, and custodians and maintenance crews are left to clean up the confetti while students go on to the next party and sleep in past Noon.

Every New Year’s we make resolutions and set goals. But often, if only because we’re exhausted from the stress of the holidays, its hard to not break those resolutions the very first week of January.

As I wrote about last week, I don’t know about other teachers, but I’m excited about planning for next school year. Unfortunately, there’s cleaning and year-end paperwork to do. I also have to put together the district newsletter and finish up the yearbook.

If teachers are honest with ourselves, I think there may be more reasons for today to feel like the post-holiday let-down instead of some joyous day of liberation. Teachers teach. Who and what we are is dependent on our students. So when we’re unneeded, and essentially unemployed for the next 10-12 weeks, well, we feel a little adrift, our moorings untied.

Are there any other teachers out there who feel like this? Maybe you’re too busy with your own families (softball, 4-H, camps, VBS, vacation, yardwork, etc. etc.)

Does anyone else out there want to work on revising their curriculum for next year instead of tying up perennial paper tigers?

What do you do that keeps you learning and developing as an educator? Master’s classes? License renewal classes? Teach summer school? Catch up on your reading?

Needless to say, here I am blogging (procrastinating) instead of tackling those tigers. How do you stay focused this last week of teacher-meetings, etc.?

3 Core Democratic Principles

BOOK REPORT; ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’

 I read it two or three years ago now but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. This is a book that stays with you for years after you’ve finished it. 

Recently I’ve been reading a couple of books on teaching with methods of inquiry and conceptualization. Pirsig’s constant struggle is between what’s measurable and what’s meaningful. In this novel that tension seems to have led him to a breakdown. I feel like this is the same struggle we have in American schools today. 

Teachers want to challenge students to become intellectually curious and develop into whole, healthy, principled individuals capable of participating in and contributing to society- whereas politicians, administrators and officials have been stressing accountability based on data from standardized test results. 

Really it’s a false dichotomy, we need both differentiation and standardization, but the tension and dissonance are putting enormous pressure on professional educators and their schools resulting in frustration, confusion, and perhaps even an identity crisis just like Pirsig has to recover from in ‘Zen.’

But my identifying the central conflict with education really minimizes the book. Hit resonates on many more levels. It’s got plenty so say about self awareness, self acceptance, relationships, and parenting.

Riding from Minnesota to Montana on back roads and county highways with his son, Pirsig has hours to experience, contemplate, and think. This book is his “chautauqua,” hoping to help us deepen some of our channels rather than blaze new trails. Interesting so far. I think this is what I had hoped that Kerouac’s, ‘The Road’ was going to be like, but it wasn’t 

What books have ‘stuck’ with you for months or years after you’ve read them? What books have had a major impact on your life or profession, or personal world-view or outlook on life? How did they effect you? Why did you relate to the characters in those books?

Anyone else out there read this book? What did you think? How would you compare it to ‘The Road’ by Jack Kerouac?

TEACHING; Final Destination

I had them take a pre-test at the beginning of the year. I distributed a review sheet last week. It’s been on the board. We’ve talked about it. I’ve drummed facts and concepts into their heads every way I know how for the past 36 weeks. now its up to them.

Typically- some of them have been fretting all night as if their whole grade and their entire future depend on these these 27 questions (they don’t). Meanwhile some of them looked at me with a vacant expression asking “Test? What test? There’s a test tomorrow?” And a few others won’t bother answering even one question, convinced they don’t know any of it despite participating in class discussions and (albeit reluctanltly) sitting through 48 minutes of Civics every morning this year. They’ve resigned themselves to the reality of summer school, so why even bother.

So how important are should tests be? Are formative assessments more valuable than summative ones? How can we get some kids to take tests more seriously while easing other kids’ irrational anxiety?

What tests & trials do we still have to face as adults? What’s the best attitude to have for any tests and trials?