Finally Time to Brag About Work Work

Odd as it seems since I teach art education for a living, I rarely write about “work work” in this space. I enjoy teaching and there’s a lot I could write about it, some of which I have, particularly the online aspects which so many of us educators are adjusting to these days. I guess I generally just like to think of this as a space to explore other things, my own ideas and interests, rather than my students’.  The past few days, however, I have been taking time to stop and smell the professional roses; to honor the students I’ve been working with this fall on their culminating projects.

Students in the Master of Art in Art Education program at the University of Florida can design their final projects to be pretty much anything they can imagine, so long as it is doable. The topics are as diverse as our students. They pull me outside the lines into new intellectual and creative territories that I really didn’t recognize until now. I’m grateful for their direction.These projects were all critical, meaningful, and transformative for the student/researchers. My hope is that some of them my prove inspiring to you too.

An art teacher from southern Alabama examined his teaching practice in his very particular Southern, Black, and overwhelmingly poor school community. Jason is a self-described “privileged white man” who graduated from the same high school where he is currently teaching. Through self-study, he discovered that in order to reach his students in meaningful ways, he needs to attend to his manner and modes of communicating with them, as individuals, within a specific cultural context. Conducting this research required some difficult conversations about race and opportunity  which bring to mind Jonathan Kozol’s work – in the field, in our committee meetings, and within his own mind. Jason reported his findings through an altered field journal that can be seen on his website.

“Teaching in a culturally responsive manner takes time and dedication to research and reflect and build interpersonal relationships with students and community members.  For me personally, it means that I have to acknowledge my limitations as a white male teaching to an all-Black student body as well as the importance of introducing culturally relevant topics that my students may not have previously found to be of importance.” (Oulaw, 2013, p. 28)

Hilary, a student from California confronted conflicting facets of her identity in MIrror Changed to Glass. Using expressive arts-based research she interrogated what it means to her to simultaneously be mother, artist, and lesbian. The resulting drawings are hauntingly beautiful, mythic, and engaging as art, not just research.

“LGBTQ educators can benefit from examining the position they hold in society and how the lifestyle expectations placed on teachers affects their identity. If we are too scared to be ourselves, how can we truly model empowerment for our students? If we are too scared to examine our social conditioning, and the ways it has invaded our self-concepts, can we truly lead our students in examining social justice issues?” (McLean, 2013, p. 8)

Trish wondered what homeschooling families in Central Florida were doing in the name of art education. She visited with and interviewed three families, accompanying some to alternative settings for art education where they receive instruction. She wrote descriptive narratives contextualized in a discussion of how these cases compare to the kinds of critical comprehensive art curricula she’d learned about it the UF program. She shared her findings on the self-publishing site ISSUU. In the future, she hopes to develop her own art program for homeschoolers and has already started a  Pinterest Board dedicated to “Contemporary Art Teacher-Approved Lessons for Homeschoolers.” I meet so many people homeschooling their children these days, have thought about homeschooling my daughter, and imagine ways I might play a role in that movement in my own region. I appreciate the background research Trish offered in this study.

“The Internet and ambitious web-users have put sharing and accessing art education right at the tips of our fingers. The issue is in training the user to find the resources relevant to visual arts learning aligned with the NAEA national standards and contemporary art education objectives. This is why I firmly believe that it is in the best interest of art educators and the NAEA to provide high standard contemporary art education programs and resources that are relevant to homeschool students.” (O’Donnell, 2013, p. 58)

Ana conducted research that will form the foundation for a community-based art initiative in her New Jersey town. Through interviews and surveys of key stakeholders, she learned about the history of arts programming in her community and identified opportunities and challenges for future developments. Most exciting for me, were the low-cost projects she developed for drop-in participation at an arts festival and the public library, the latter remembering Super Storm Sandy one year later.

“It is not enough to have public agencies interested in revitalizing the arts in the area if there is not a committed individual, or group, with community-based art endeavors. The challenge would be to find passionate people who would like to commit their time to the town and create, little by little, more community-based artistic projects. From my perspective, by creating small collaborative art projects––such as the one I put at the library––people with the same interest will get to know each other and might foster communication, engagement, and finally support each other in the mission.” (Robles, 2013, p. 26)

Kelly has become a curriculum revisionist, leading her colleagues on a quest for a more comprehensive, contemporary art curriculum. An elementary art educator in Texas, Kelly surveyed her colleagues (members of her professional learning community), about their experiences engaging curricular reform through backward design. She plans to use this information to continue district-wide reform efforts and to help folk sin other areas interested in reform to make changes. She’s starting by submitting a version of her research paper for publication in a national art education journal.

“Surprisingly, teaching experience or length of time in the school district did not become a major factor in the participants’ wiliness to change. Though the art educators involved in the project had different teaching experience, their acceptance of the art curriculum relied on their readiness to change not upon their understanding of their past teaching experiences.” (McGee, 2013, p.29)

Daniela introduced students at the Montessori school where she works to critical visual culture through discussion and analysis of advertisements, documentary films, and artists who employ culture-jamming. While she didn’t get the results she had hoped for, she planted seeds in these kids minds that they may bear fruits later in their lives. Her research  and curriculum ideas are published on her website.

“Popular visual culture is a powerful force in American society. Adolescents have a sophisticated understanding of popular culture, but need mentors to guide them in navigating ethical issues and complexities inherent in its content. Popular culture offers sites of subjectivity, pleasure, and identification for its consumers, who in turn create meaning that are not fixed to them (Sturken &Cartwright, 2001). In the art classroom, these sites can offer rich possibilities for student engagement in critical thinking practices.” (DeSousa, 2013, p. 9)

It’s no wonder I’m tired. I’ve been around the world and back with these students in the past few months. I’m glad we are all now settling in for a long winter’s rest.

Note: References for this page will be updated once these papers have been published through the University of Florida.

1 thought on “Finally Time to Brag About Work Work

  1. Pingback: #NAEA2014 | Outside The lines

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