What went well? What did you learn?
Over the course of the 9 weeks at Conrad Ball Middle School I learned more than I could have ever expected. I learned that I truly do love teaching. I love helping students find their voice in the art room and see them grow through the time I spent with them. I love the chance to work with all different mediums and the possibilities it opens for the students to really explore all that art has to offer. Art is not always a realism drawing- in fact it is much more than that. Through showing students that they can be artists and each of them has something incredible to offer. It was amazing to see that while a student may struggle with one project they jump back with such resilience at the opportunity to explore a new medium or new idea.
One of the most critical things I learned was the importance of collaboration whether it is with other teachers or with administration and district officials. There were frequently meetings with other staff and from the very start it became clear that teaching is not something that can be done independently. I spent many of my plan periods talking with core teachers, administration, counselors, and whoever else may be able help with students who are struggling. There were IEP meetings, ELL trainings, interventions, GT identification, and district meetings. In large classroom sizes collaboration proved to be helpful in managing the classroom and helping students get the support they needed. It was an important lesson to learn as utilizing the people around you can help you to be an effective educator.
I also learned that the most important thing I can do is to build relationships with students. Through the course of the semester I really grew to know the students as individuals not just people in my class. They all knew that I cared for them and whenever they had a problem they could come to me and I would help them either solve the problem or move on. This built a trust between me and my students as a result they were more willing to accept any feedback, criticisms, or suggestions that I had. Suddenly offering a student some advice on how to behave was accepted openly and didn’t end in an argument. On my student feedback sheet this was one thing that was a commonality. Students really believed that I cared and I did. One student wrote that “[Ms. Sather] always made me feel like I am home.”
Another big lesson I learned was in order to get students engaged in what I am teaching is to make it relevant for them. It is very easy to think just because I find something interesting means that all my students will but that is not always the case. Sometimes I really had to get to know my students and adjust lessons based on their interests and even allow the project to be tweaked to fit with what they are interested in. It is much easier to connect with the students if you get to know them.
Classroom management has been a significant area of growth for me while at Conrad Ball. Through establishing effective routines for students and a system for students to lose points if they are not meeting expectations. It was difficult at times to keep students on task in large classes. Certain kids would feed out the energy of others in the class and as a result the class would sometimes be utter chaos. This is something I still need to work on.
I learned how important it is to establish a positive classroom community and environment. From the start of the semester we got to know the students by having them make a pic collage about themselves. This really helped me get to know all the students and connect with them. I also learned it’s okay to share about my life with the students. The students in my classroom all knew about my coffee and cat obsession and it became something that helped them get to know me so I wasn’t just someone barking orders at them every day. It was also important to set up a positive learning environment. There’s a wall in the classroom with “We are Artists” where the pic collages that the students made are hung. Each student felt important in the classroom. Also along the walls are examples of artwork done by students, behavior expectations and vocabulary terms. The room was set up for the most positive learning experiences. While at Conrad Ball I found myself making signs and bulletin boards to contribute to the classroom. This helped to familiarize students with important art vocabulary.
There is a lot of work that goes into teaching a full schedule, full time. There is an incredible amount of planning needed in order to use classroom time effectively. There is a need to plan curriculum- research artists, spend time making examples, and make resources. I also spent a significant amount of time assessing student work and giving them feedback on what they had done. In order to give them feedback that was actually useful I spent a lot of time writing rubrics, reviewing rubrics and providing comments. I also learned through this that there is nothing wrong with allowing a student time to make up points they had lost. If they cared enough to redo it then why shouldn’t they get points back?
In a school with a 1:1 iPad environment it provided a lot of challenges but also learning opportunities. It could very easily be a distraction to the students but if used correctly then it could be an irreplaceable learning tool. Students could use it to research, use resources, and check grades on their own. I had also had adapted PowerPoint’s to be interactive on their iPads so they could learn at their own speed. Students could also use these iPads to document their artistic process. Technology is a really great learning tool; the challenge is using it properly.
What would I do differently?
I would like to, in the future, establish more routine ideation and reflection. I know how important it is to do both of these things. However, there were times that I couldn’t get the reflections done because we needed to move onto something more. In my own classroom I think it will be easier to make sure this gets done if it is something that is routine and students know when they finish things they must do some type of reflection. If ideation and reflection became a routine then the design cycle (investigate, plan, create, and reflect) would become more engraved and therefore students could have more choice in their art.
I would love to allow for some more choice and creative exploration in the future as well. I always strive to have some sort of choice through every lesson but I would love to be able to allow students some freedom in making the art that they feel like they are called to do. In my own classroom it would be more feasible to do this. Given extra time, I would be able to give students the resources to make artistic decisions. Such as, introducing students to a lot of materials and helping them gain the tools necessary to find their artistic voice. If I had all 16 weeks at Conrad Ball it may have been possible to end the year with a completely artist driven project where I could be used to assist students
It is also difficult to manage time effectively so all students have something to do. In the future I would love to have a strategy of providing kids with an extra challenge if they finish early. With all students working at different paces it is extremely difficult to find the proper pace without having some students get bored and some students feel like they are being rushed. I am still struggling with is how to challenge students who just simply want to finish their project in one class period and the students who spend a month at a time on one project.
I have seen myself grow as a teacher tremendously at the middle school. I found myself in love with the environment at the school as well as the students in it. They are incredible kids, so full of joy and wonder. They were, for the most part, excited about art and open to the possibilities that art holds.