The last few weeks have felt like a whirlwind. I really jumped into teaching on my first day with my mentor. Being in the elementary classroom felt so at home. I love the energy and enthusiasm the kids have--and am forced to combat few behavioral issues each day.
Upon teaching my first lesson, the pressure was really on. I came up with a flag design project in order to incorporate visual literacy and history standards into my lesson. The kids have little experience with fiber art, many unfamiliar with what the term even means so I wanted to explore this with them. Week 4 also was a change in schedule. Each group of kids has "specials" for three weeks at a time--so my first week teaching my new lesson was to a room of unfamiliar faces. However, this only motivated me more to learn their names quickly and acclimate to the new environment (including new technology, as that changes room to room as well).
The first class of that first day was honestly really chaotic. I have since learned that the way you break up the time is integral in the group's understanding of what tasks are to be completed and when. Not having much experience with this age group due to covid, I was unaware of just how much scaffolding is required throughout the hour long class. But, thankfully after my 4th grade class I quickly gathered myself back together, thought of a new plan, and changed the way I delivered the lesson to my 3rd graders immediately after. Instead of giving all of the information at the beginning, I split up the hour into three sections where I would "pause" the students once I felt they could move onto the next step. This worked exponentially better than how I delivered the lesson to 4th grade. Fortunately enough though, all of the students have been able to complete the project to the expectation I was hoping--only sacrificing a little of the ideation success in 4th due to my delivery causing a sense of redundancy in their planning.
I was so happy with how the week went in the end though and felt through my struggles I truly grew. I had a few moments of severe doubt and disappointment in myself to deliver the lesson the way I imagined in my head, but quickly regained my confidence to a new height. The kids loved sewing so much that they took their projects outside to recess even after class had ended. I heard remarks such as, "This is so satisfying!!" "I don't want to put it down...do we have to stop? I just want to finish this part!!" and on the last day my sweet 4th grader, Natalie raised her hand at the end of class and said, "Miss Polly, I just want to thank you for making a fun project for us to do. We've really had fun having you here". Success!!
For my art project this week, I created a flag along with my students. The imagery I chose to represent my identify was a plant. The stripe down the center is symbolic of the Colorado flag, yellow coming from the bright Colorado sun that peeks over the mountain out my window. The heart bead in the center symbolizes the importance of love, family and friendships in my daily life. I enjoy gardening and the rejuvenating smells of spring are beginning to float through the air once again. I also told my students I like to think like a plant! I am always growing, making myself bigger, stronger, and better... but this can only happen when I have a growth mindset and take care of myself, both mentally and physically. Being a teacher is taxing in many ways and can really bog down my self-esteem sometimes but just as I expect my students to have a growth mindset and be kind to themselves, eat, exercise, do things that make them happy, etc. I must take my own advice and do the same.
I began my second placement at Coyote Ridge Elementary on Monday, now having one full week under my belt. Teaching elementary is an entirely different ball game than high school. The schedule is much faster paced and you have to wake up earlier--waking up at 6 am always takes a little adjustment period. :) I have absolutely loved the cheerful environment of working with kids. Each day is a new surprise of excitement and adventure for them. Every activity, particularly because I have the honor of being an art teacher, is overwhelmingly fun for the kids. There is a lot of preparation that goes into making sure all of the materials are ready for the students--but the younger content you are creating makes the prep even more fun. I know that the time I am putting in to make the projects fun and meaningful to the kids is worth while. They show so much love and appreciation for their teachers. I've already begun to build relationships with the kids within this first week, finding absolute joy in greeting them at the door each day. I already feel like I've found my niche in teaching elementary.
My mentor introduced me to the entire staff at Coyote Ridge in the first two days of my placement. I am already invited each Friday to a new teacher support group, have my own mailbox, and I frequently get visitors in the art room coming to introduce themselves to me in person. The environment at Coyote Ridge is extremely welcoming and they have truly made me feel like a part of the staff, even though my role here is only temporary.
Coyote Ridge is also an IB World School. I've gotten to learn a great deal about what exactly this means and how it looks when it comes to lesson planning and delivery. When referencing the IB handbook, this style of educational experience is described as such:
"The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right."
I really enjoy how multiculturalism and world understandings are a huge part of the school. It seems the staff is truly preparing the children to be kind adults with a very intense understanding and respect for the world around them. I'm eager to continue working alongside my mentor, as she has provided an extreme amount of support, advice, and guidance for my future endeavors.
For my art piece this week, I wanted to share the first project I created with my first graders. We had so much fun creating prints together--and it was a new process for me. The kids' willingness to jump into projects, make mistakes, and be creative has truly inspired me to jump in head first as well. I've already begun co-teaching lessons and designing my own lesson for week 4. More than anything in this experience, the kids have already had a really positive influence on my mental health. Their excitement for each day is contagious and I end each day of teaching wishing for more time and awaiting the next day eagerly. Teaching young children is a magical experience--so I chose to depict a unicorn for my print.
This week I concluded my 8-week placement at Fossil Ridge High School with my mentor Chelsea Ermer. I decided to conduct a short survey across all of my classes which included one section of Drawing and two sections of Studio Art History. I received an overwhelming amount of wonderful feedback from my students. The survey was printed for each student (so I could have at least a snippet of their handwriting in a world that exists virtually most of the time) and appeared as follows:
The students shared with me very detailed information about themselves, the classroom environment, my performance, and kind/constructive additional comments. I was incredibly pleased to see that my personal goals for the classroom were duly achieved and well received by my kids!! My students were very vulnerable and open in their responses, something I have been promoting and nurturing since I arrived at Fossil. The classroom environment + their relationship with me was placed at the top of my list from day one.
Throughout this quarter, the students have learned a great deal about themselves. I was overwhelmed with joy to read the amount of students who responded with an extreme level of confidence and self-awareness for the first question. For example (from my studio art history class):
"I learned that although I don't have that much artistic ability, I was still proud of the work I created. I also learned that sometimes jumping straight to the project and just trying to learn as I go works better than planning everything out."
"I learned how to have more fun while making art."
"I learned that it's important to take risks + try new things because you might discover new things that you'll really like."
"I learned about how to make art with a deeper meaning. It doesn't have to show a story to everyone but it can show one to the artist."
"I learned that I don't actually suck at art. I learned that I have a specific art taste."
"I learned to let myself express more, and do more of what I want/the first thing that comes to mind. Not overthinking it."
For example (from my drawing class):
"I learned about how to make art with a deeper meaning. It doesn't have to show a story to everyone but it can show one to the artist."
"I learned that I am capable of doing more than I think I can as long as I try."
"I learned that it takes practice and patience for your art to come out the way you want it to."
"Always take inspiration from other artists. Be risky. Do NOT compromise your vision."
For my reflective art piece this week, I decided to choose one of the quotes from my students and turn it into a motivational poster. I think it would be a great idea to continue this process of turning their own thoughts + inspirations into posters they can look at everyday!
The past two weeks have been full of stressful, sad, exciting, and rewarding moments. I have learned about tragedies affecting educators and the detriment it can cause. These occurrences are bound to happen in my lifetime, so I have been seeking advice of how to best take care of myself and keeping up with the pace of being an educator. I received wonderful advice from my university coach, who said, "Sadly there will be things that will happen in your career that are really tough. Just be sure to get the appropriate support rather than sweep everything under the rug." I had realized in many situations, particularly those which included my students' personal challenges and then this recent tragedy, I found myself taking that emotional weight onto my own shoulders. There is a gentle balance between showing your students that you care while also protecting your own well being. I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in two classes which were hosted on an "education development" day at Fossil. The first course focused on mindfulness + the second was titled "rewiring for resiliency". After the stress of that week I was really excited to sit in on these courses with the rest of my team. I would like to briefly present my notes from each class, as I found the information to be extremely important (especially right now)
The speaker of this class frequently posts sticky notes on her work space as daily reminders to practice mindfulness. One should have specific goals in mind when they begin their practice or set wellness goals:
INTENTION + ATTENTION = FOCUS WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
*Let go of the things that no longer serve you + move toward what is precious
*SEWA = tenderness
We can also think about "Soma" yoga. Soma yoga is any number of practices that incorporate the movement healing system of somatics. The idea behind somatics is that slow, gentle exercises re-educate the nervous system and allow the release of tight, restricted muscles, thereby promoting healing. Some specific methods we can use each day include:
>breath (most accessible) requires 2-3 good breaths to calm the mind
What does this look like in practice?
Rest Practice *remember these are your birth right*
1. Stop, be still
2. Slowly come home into yourself/your body (breathe)
3. Practice healing, forgiveness + arrival (What can I forgive + release so I can just "be here"?)
4. Use the breath as a tool to integrate - gather in everything + allow those to integrate into who you are + what you're experiencing. You can also release those that no longer serve you.
5. Move from thinking mind into body - find tension + use your exhale breath to release them.
6. Come to your integrated self - perfect healing of inner + outer self. Come into this moment.
7. Blink eyes back open - come home.
*How can I continue the movement toward what is precious?
-REWIRING FOR RESILIENCY-
+ Rewiring for calm requires repetition and practice
You have to practice when you ARE calm and then practice it later. It is easier to apply when you practice in the moments you aren't upset or angry, but when you can fully recognize the process and how it feels.
REPEAT - PRACTICE - LEARN
+ CALM: take a breath video
"When the storm blows hard you must stand firm, for it is not trying to knock you down, it is really trying to teach you to be strong." -Joseph Marshall III
THINK: It has been a hard week, but it has been a hard week because I care.
The instructor asked the participants to organize a response for the following question:
Why did you go into education? What values led you here?
> Art is important amd I wanted kids to know that it is a valuable passion.
> Some kids need love and support - they may be happiest, safest, and most loved in your classroom.
> I can use my life experiences to connect to people and be able to help someone + myself along the way.
When it comes to managing stress, you can also rewire your brain to view the physical reactions as positive influences that assist you throughout the situation:
FIGHT OR FLIGHT | think about the benefits of the physical reactions when it comes to stress
PLAYMAKERS: Life is Good video
> Trauma can bond people, but so can laughter. It reduces stress, boosts your mood, etc. Keep playing and seeking JOY.
PROJECT BETTER SELF: How to Waste Your Life + Be Miserable
My students in Studio Art History have recently been studying The Renaissance, including egg tempera, oil, and the work of Leonardo da Vinci alongside other big names from the time period. For our most recent project, the students were tasked with making their own egg tempera paints. This project was SO fun to do alongside them! I was able to make paint with the kids and reflect on my own view of the projects. The assignment was a "shrine painting" to depict something you honor, worship, or find great value and comfort in. I loved how this connected with our mindfulness and resiliency courses! :) I included my process images and artist statement in the photos below:
After my last reflection, I truly feel like I am starting to find my place in the classroom. I have noticed I was putting so much pressure on myself to be the authoritative figure, that I was beginning to lose part of myself in the process. There are a lot of pressures that come with being a new teacher that I don't think are discussed enough. There are a lot of uncertainty and self-confidence issues that occur. This can be anywhere from how my voice sounds, how loud I speak, how MUCH I have to talk during class, what I wear and how I can make it align with my quirky personality while being professional, and how to share myself/my identity with my students without sharing too much. I want my students to like me, of course, but I feel there often is so little time in the day to soak up one another and just enjoy being in the classroom together. Times are hectic!!
I've really enjoyed giving the students a good chunk of independent work time during class so that I could begin to have deeper conversations with them--maybe those conversations are about their projects, maybe not. (Side note: making their projects personal and partially choice based has seriously given me so much insight about them) Right now, students have SO MUCH on their plate. I want people to know that. I had a really interesting conversation with a student the other day; I actually lost track of time and dismissed my kids with 3 minutes remaining, but it all worked out and was worth it. We discussed the impact that COVID-19 has had on them personally and on their peers. The student noticed at the beginning of the pandemic, they were finally able to commit time in the day for self care. This is so important and I really related to that. Not every career or lifestyle feels like it allows for that, but in being forced to take care of yourself it was obvious that a priority was being left out in the hustle of just *living*.
This student in particular faces challenges with both depression and ADD, so that dedication to taking care of themself was extremely important. But then there was a shift, students went back to school. For months, these young people were confined in their homes with little contact with people other than their family members. Also remember, not everyone has the perfect home life...many don't. Both factors impacted tons of kids and continues to shoot down their confidence and ability to make their own decisions in school and life. Although many students were eager to return to school + see their friends, over time a theoretical + seemingly insurmountable brick wall was built in front of them. These young adults have fallen so out of practice being social that returning to school was initially exciting but many are facing EXTREME social anxiety. To some, this feeling is nothing new. In this student, they were used to it; some of my friends, they were used to it and have reflected on their coping skills from the past to try to adjust again. However, there are many kids who have not felt this extreme mental detriment before. My student said they noticed many of their peers had turned to medication in a frantic attempt to feel normal again. They were saddened to see the lack of education about holistic methods or coping mechanisms, before resorting to medication. To the student, that was their last resort. They had been through the battles of holistic approaches and came to medication as a last resort. I felt the student's analysis of what was happening around them was beyond my expectation. I knew students were having a hard time...but did I know it was this bad? If so, why didn't I know?
This student really brought to light a lot of issues to me. I often separate myself from my students as if we experience life completely differently. But ultimately at the end of the day we are in the same wormhole with this pandemic and life in general. My point is, I need to lean on the fact that these students are not kids. They are adults. They know the difficulties of life in varying ways--and being aware of that will allow me to best support them and even learn from their battles. I always hated when teachers had a "god-complex" or acted like they had life "all figured out". This simply is not the case and only pushes you farther away from your students. I'm not going to pretend I know how to face a global pandemic + I don't want my students to pretend either. So in the past few weeks, the biggest take-aways for me have been:
In just being open, honest, talkative + kind I have grown relationships with my students that bring me to tears. I already see students coming out of their shells again. I had to redirect the chat on our virtual meeting the other day and I was so EXCITED to have some energy in the classroom, virtual or not. One student even volunteered to always have her camera on to encourage others to do the same. I always tell them I love seeing their faces. I think we all know that reconnecting after being confined, as if we were bound in a padded room, has been really detrimental and we are all struggling and yearning for that social connection. I have cried out of empathy for those struggling, painstakingly trying to figure out how I can just... *fix everything*. That is SO hard. I'm trying to figure out how to make things normal again. My goal is to dedicate even MORE time talking to my students and finding ways to build them back up. I try to begin each day being kind, accommodating, and encouraging--because I know that is what I need too.
I've had three students ask how long I was going to be at Fossil to which I replied, the end of February (which is coming up fast) and they responded, "What? No. We wish you could stay here forever". This was insane to hear. I wondered how I had impacted them this way already and still ponder it to some extent. The student I had the conversation with above ended by telling me, "I just want you to know that I like you and I think you're cool. My sister is student teaching for college and I hear the challenges she's faced at the end of the day and I hear how hard it can be. But you're cool." Despite the challenges my students are facing, one thing they haven't lost sight of is empathy + compassion.
The love you give is the love you get.
I am working toward completing my weaving, combining my experiences from the first few weeks to the last. This has been a great way to reflect on my growth and see beauty in the awkwardness of finding my identity as a teacher. I have chosen to incorporate more colors and shapes, representing individual students. There are portions of black yarn showing the uncertainty and trauma of COVID-19 and its impact on students, teachers, families, etc. The curtains of blue are the overwhelming emotions that can often cover or "blur" other areas. But ultimately at the end of the day, it is not the challenges of the pandemic that are at the forefront of my mind but my students. As I have gotten to know them and discover their glimmering personalities, I've been overwhelmed with gratitude to spend this time with them. This tapestry will hang on my wall and the legacy of their strength, perseverance and love will stay with me forever. The spider plant growing within the cradle of my tapestry will further remind me of the ways I have adapted and grown throughout this time, and will continue to do so.
The beginning of my student teaching experience began prior to the initial start date on January 4th, 2021. I was truly enlightened of the intensity that exists within the education field. I wrapped up an old chapter as I began my final semester of college student teaching. Despite the long days and what seems to be an endless task list, I'm incredibly grateful I am to have chosen this path. I couldn’t thank all of the educators that have helped and motivated me through the years enough, you know who you are, and I appreciate you with my whole heart. You’ve been a very vital soul in my life journey.
For the entire week prior to winter break, I began setting extra time aside to assemble art kits for every single one of my to-be students. I have at least 30 kids per class, 3 classes, and multiple components for each kit. Even with multiple hands contributing, this was not easy work, nor did it go quickly or without confusion and frustration. Many people assume art is a class of all play, no work. Although we have a lot of fun, we also put in ENDLESS amounts of work, now heightened by the pandemic. The lack of student assistance to assemble these kits, due to COVID-19 restrictions, had placed the responsibility of preparing approximately 96 art kids upon the shoulders of myself and Ms. Ermer.
I want people to understand that your (or your child’s) art teachers are extremely vital in schools AND students’ lives. They are the masterminds and creators behind each lesson, the organizers, the prompters, the problem solvers, the therapists, the moms, ... the friend for the kid who needs one. Our work doesn’t end at 4:00, and neither do the emotional components attached to wearing all of these hats. But because of this, it is also one of the most fulfilling and gratifying careers I could ever imagine myself pursuing.
Already in the weeks prior to the official first day of school and the two weeks I have experienced thus far, I have observed a multiplicity of details I hold at the utmost importance. I have seen my team members talk down crying students, work through what seems to be insurmountable stress, persevere through the uncertainty of district decision making, and all the while maintain relationships with each and every student calling upon them by name. It is unbelievable to assume that one day I might have the memory that these women possess. Their emotional strength is something to be honored. On the most stressful days, the shortest break restores their hope and allows them to keep trudging on through the difficulty that remote learning has created. I have found that teaching requires much more physical and emotional endurance than I could have ever imagined. It is not a lifestyle for the weak of mind or body.
The consistency of schedule however, has been wondrous for me and assisted me in simplifying my life into a very specific routine. I am able to eat three well rounded meals, at the same time each day in order to keep me energized throughout the day. I've now gained some traction and have already taken over seventh period art history as well. Initially when Chelsea asked me to take this on, I was hesitant and told her I would prefer to observe longer. I thought, "I'm not ready, I need more time to familiarize myself with the routine and the material". But instantly, I knew I could not be prepared for a career in teaching if I didn't throw myself in now. Eight weeks seems like a long time until you truly begin, and then you are quickly made aware of the terrifying pace in which student teaching comes and goes. I told Chelsea that I changed my mind, and would jump in however she saw fit. I slaved over my journal adding in my daily schedule, three separate calendars, daily task lists, and the same notes my students would be expected to take under my command. I have found comfort in recording all of these details in order to gain some foothold of organization, but find myself still drowning and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that teaching entails.
Something that has helped take pressure of my plate was simply being honest with my students. Certain assignments like their "Question of the Day" are to be completed during the first 5 minutes of class, or the end of the day at the very least. I found myself grading twice a day, once at 4:00pm when school concluded and again around 10:00 pm. At least 5-8 students per day were waiting until night to complete their work. We began the semester being quite lax about turn-in times, but I was really feeling frustrated by the lack of effort resulting in heightened effort and stress on top of what I was already experiencing. After expressing my feelings to my team and mentor, I was given the advice to be very clear about the deadlines and have that conversation with my students. I spoke honestly with them about the stress of being a new teacher, my devotion to them to return their grades in a timely manner, and the support I needed from them. When class concluded, I checked google classroom to see all 31 of my students had completed and turned in their assignment. Although these conversations can be very anxiety-inducing, I've learned they are SO necessary. I will continue to take over more tasks for this course and insert my role into both drawing first period and the other section of art history during fifth. Although I still am experiencing a lot of anxiety about my daunting list of tasks, I remain optimistic about the transformation I am going to endure through this experience. It will all come with time.
In terms of my art piece for my reflections, I have decided to create a weaving which expresses the many trials, tribulations, and victories this experience will entail. Due to the extreme amount of tasks to complete for my student teaching, the beginning of this project will be uploaded at a later date.
Until then, I am uploading photos of the 97 art kits I assembled for all three art classes: one section of drawing and two sections of art history. The materials needed for all 3 classes consisted of 97 hand assembled and labeled art portfolios which contained a total of around 1,455 sheets paper (97 kits, approx. 15 pages of varied papers in each) which were all hand-cut and 324 pages of printed work sheets/note images. We prepared 65 tiles with three coats of glaze, amounting to a total of 195 layers of glaze; 65 bags of plaster specifically 1 cup each; 65 hand-cut foam forms for plaster casting; 65 bars of soap for carving; a total of 97 sketchbooks; a labeled drawing board for each student; 31 tins of colored pencils; 32 ink wells with accompanying writing materials (nibs and holders); 64 pieces of charcoal; 32 eraser toppers; 32 black charcoal pencils; 32 white charcoal pencils; 32 packs of conte crayon to complete the drawing kit. Finally, 65 more pencil toppers, 130 pieces of charcoal, 65 black charcoal pencils, 65 kneaded erasers, 130 paintbrushes, 65 glue sticks, 65 wire loop sgrafitto tools, and 65 needle tools to complete the art history kits. This was an immense amount of work, and I am eager to have time to create art when my schedule allows. I have decided to prioritize my teaching/students before making time for personal work. Adjusting to this new schedule has not been an easy task and the patience of those around me is much appreciated.
For my reflective artwork, I decided I wanted to create a weaving which will eventually encompass all of my reflections into one singular larger piece. I recently received a table top loom as a gift and have been eager to find the time to return to this practice.
In my piece, I decided to begin with a singular color weaving to create an upward sloping pattern which eventually tapers. Initially my experience began with many tasks all laid out ahead of me, with uncertainty of the time it would take. This is symbolized in the loom itself and the creation of this first portion. I was overwhelmed by the work that was to come, but excited by the fact I was going to be doing something I love (i.e. teaching and weaving). Both bring me a great sense of fulfillment although it initially begins with an overwhelming sense of nervousness. Both are daunting tasks with an unpredictable timeline, but both ultimately end up bringing me joy and satisfaction.
The slope of this rectangular structure currently present on my loom symbolizes how overwhelming student teaching felt initially. I was really excited but the amount of work felt like it was continually stacking up with no end in sight. The use of a singular color is symbolic of each day blending together. The schedule of teaching felt like I hardly slept and repeated each day just over and over. But the more I worked and powered through, the more I began to see myself adjusting to this new schedule. At the end of week three now, I have felt myself finding a rhythm and the workload falling into a manageable pattern. I can predict more accurately which tasks will need to be completed for the week and when. As many tasks were completed, each line of weaving was placed. As each week resulted in a list of accomplishments, the weaving began to take shape. And finally as I was able to see the pattern in my tapestry, I have begun to adjust and see the structure of each day fall into place for me.
It has been really important to remind myself to not be overwhelmed by the workload teaching requires, but lean on those around me for support and have faith in the certainty that I am capable of being a wonderful teacher--I just have to find my rhythm. As an artist creates an artwork there are many challenges and uncertainties one must overcome in order to grow and birth their final masterpiece. I have been very inspired by my students' passion and work ethic despite the many emotional battles they are currently fighting. Right now, because of the circumstances, challenges are heightened and I think everyone is just really "going through it" but I have felt so happy to be the teacher that is widely aware of that and am doing my best to support my students during this time. I will continue to strive to be the warp and support my kids, and I am very eager to see what kind of masterpiece ensues.
This blog thread is a synopsis of my experience student teaching during the final semester of my senior year, fulfilling the last service credit hours of my art education degree. I fulfilled the first eight weeks of my placement at Fossil Ridge High School, with Chelsea Ermer as my mentor. The final eight weeks of my placement were fulfilled at Coyote Ridge Elementary school, with Staci Sandelin as my mentor. I have completed a series of written reflections accompanied by physical art works which relate to the written portion of each post.