Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The art room smells weird.

If I had a quarter for every time I heard,  "It smells weird (or insert adjective of choice here) in here," I would have my kids' college tuition paid.

This conversation just happened today with one of my art students. "J, it is always so quiet over here in front of my desk. Then you decide to move here and chaos is ensuing." And my chaotic student just turns and looks at me and says with a big grin, "Awww, thank you!" I can't help but laugh.

I feel pretty blessed because most of the time, I really enjoy what I do. I get to guide students to create and figure out problems and I get to see them light up when they have made something really cool and they know it. Sometimes during a pure work day, they just let go and become immersed in what they are doing. They forget I'm there just because they are creating.  And... the best part of the job is... they are hilarious.

These are actual comments I've heard just in this week:
"Wow! That is amazing and scary at the same time!"
"Look at what my grandma let me have for my art project, isn't it cool?"
"Have you ever thought squirrels look like ninjas? I saw one do a roundhouse kick."
"He may be cool, but there is no way he can hold a chihuahua like I can."
"Who named it a smock anyway? It sounds like a disease that gives you warts."
"Did you see M's project, it is really awesome. You have to go look at it."
"That is straight-up creepy. How did you do that?"
"Is my clay on fire yet? Can I see it?"
"You are so weird sometimes, but I like it."

It is an amazing place. We discuss interesting topics and current events and we listen to all different genres of music while we work. Sometimes we work quietly, sometimes we work outside, sometimes we stand, and sometimes we are on the floor. I wish all classrooms could foster this kind of environment. It makes learning memorable. Unfortunately, it isn't conducive to the rigorous schedule of testing that looms over many a teacher's plan book.

I tried a new project this term. I was cleaning a closet at school and found two giant garbage bags that contained old boxes for a fundraiser. At first I thought "just recycle them," but then the artist in me shouted, "What!? what!" So we have been literally going "outside the box" to transform their boxes into something else. It has been awesome to see what they come up with and very cool to see that an open-ended project where the possibilities create so much interest for them.

This isn't a job for everybody.

First of all it is messy and you have to be able to both encourage chaos while keeping chaos under control. I breathe clay dust and cough for weeks, I get covered in paint and ruin my work clothes, and I have found glitter in places I won't name. I write grants every year for materials because the small amount of money I get each year doesn't begin to pay for what we use in the first nine weeks of school. I come in on nights and weekends to make sure a kiln has shut off and make runs to get a specific paint color that a student needs to finish their masterpiece.

Students have gotten angry with me and me with them. Students have come to me with problems and all I could do is give them a hug and let them cry  and be strong for them and then I go home and cry because I wish I could just take them with me or do more. At the end of the day, regardless of what has happened, they know I care.

Secondly and sadly, this profession is under fire in ways that I would have never imagined when I chose to pursue a career in education. The things that really bother me are mostly coming from people who haven't really spent much time in a classroom, have no intentions of doing so, and really just want things to look good on paper so they can take the credit if they do and then have the safety-net that blame can be placed elsewhere when it doesn't (Take that run-on sentence, fools!). In the words of my retired teacher mama, it inhales greatly, but sometimes I just think it SUCKS.

The bottom line is... I work hard and I teach because I love it. I enjoy my students, they ARE the reason I teach. They are not trying to increase or decrease my pay based on their test scores, they just want know that when they come to school someone cares that they are there and wants them to learn something. They don't want to be bored and they want to know that what they are learning will be applicable in their lives beyond the school day.

I may not the best teacher they will ever have, but I will do the best I can and I will help and encourage them to do the same. And occasionally, I may spring for a new air freshener.

Art is prettty baaaaad! (the good kind of bad!)

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