Construction Work

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Combine an excess of scrap cardboard and 6th grade art students. Ask for them each to build a house that has a roof, four walls, a door and at least one window. Shake well and add end-of-the school year energy, paint and about thirty glue sticks. You get a small cardboard city and a lot of fun.

Lots of good discussions about hinges, doors, roof lines, balconies and interiors. The best part is the creativity my students showed in bringing their house to life. Good choices and problem solving were encouraged.

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Clay Rams

#mwisdmatters

Being a Mineral Wells Ram has its advantages. Like creating a great little pinch-pot ram to remind you of your great school. Travis 4th, 5th and 6th graders are starting to finish up this fun clay project in art class. Glazed with our school colors and created with a lot of enthusiasm and imagination some little rams are making their way home today!

Drawing on the Heart

4468580706There are certain things I do each school year that are not just part of a curriculum. They are necessary to me as person. Necessary as part of what I want to teach children. I’ll tell you a secret. Every teacher teaches some things drawn from their heart. It’s part of the same package; teacher as a delivery system of a predetermined set of knowledge and skills and teacher as a human that filters teaching through their experiences, beliefs and communication skills.

In my realistic moments I understand that very few of my fourth, fifth and sixth grade art students will go on to be famous artists; if fame in that sense even matters. What I do hope is that I leave behind a legacy of kindness and commitment.

Kindness, in that from something I’ve said or shown to my students that they realize there is a common thread of good, decent behavior that runs through people, no matter where you were born or what life has dealt you. This presents the age-old question, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty when you are looking at humanity?” I want my students to choose half-full. Be realistic, yes. Cautious, yes. But giving, trusting and being kind is a risk that should be taken. No matter the outcome.

Commitment, in that seeing people as essentially good is a choice, and sometimes a tough choice. In the sea of negativity that my students face every day in the media, online and sometimes at home, choosing to create your own atmosphere and point of view is your right, really your obligation. It does not mean being a push-over or wearing blinders to the ugliness that exists. But choose to see the up-side. Choose to take a stand on what you like and don’t like. Choose to be kind.

So how does this connect to teaching art? What got me thinking about this is a story that I tell my fourth-graders each year. I told it last Thursday. It’s called “The Coming of the Bluebonnet” and is from a wonderful book called “Texas Tales with a Twist”. (https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Texas-Twist-Original-Enduring/dp/B0064XN59UThese are all short stories, tall tales and legends meant to be read or told aloud. (Spoiler Alert) Each spring when the bluebonnets first appear I tell a story to my fourth graders about a little Comanche girl who gives up what she most values most to save her people from a drought. She sacrifices her doll as a burnt offering and spreads the ashes to the four corners of the earth. She asks for a sign from the Great Spirit that her offering was worthy. In the morning, wherever the ashes of her doll touched a sea of bluebonnets appear. Then it begins to rain and the people are saved from the drought. The little girl gets her name, She-Who-Loves-Her-People.

I tell this story because it makes children think about giving. I tell it because it teaches about legends (I am careful to explain this is a legend) and interpreting the ideas presented in the story. Then we draw bluebonnets and talk about our state flower.

This is the concept that I really want children to understand. Visual art, like all of the arts, is a way of communicating what is important to people, a record of the good and bad ideas and events since our recorded history began. The stories, the ideas represented are what draws me to art, whether the ideas are abstract and mysterious or simple and obvious. I love the sophisticated artist and the folk artist all the same because of the thoughts that they show me. And I choose to teach that kindness, compassion, wonder, humor and understanding can all be taught through art. And that most of the wonderful ideas that humanity has cast upon the world are created, struggled for and born through the imagination and drawn from the heart. It is that idea that is important.

Drive Time

sunset picture#mwisdthankful

I was thankful today for Delmar Day.  I remember he was in charge of Human Resources when I was hired. He knew I lived in Weatherford and told me during my interview, “You’ll have the sun at your back when you drive to work and the sun at your back when you drive home.” I also remember something else about Delmar. He never forgot your name once he met you. What a gift. It made me feel pretty special when he called me by name whenever I saw him.

Simple

#mwisdthankful

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Today I am thankful for the simple things that can make a teacher’s day.

  • My husband packed my lunch for me.
  • I actually used the right key to my classroom door instead of trying to open it with my car key like I did yesterday.
  • The copier was working and had toner and paper in it when I got there.
  • There are Oreos in the snack machine in the teacher’s lounge.
  • It didn’t rain today so there was no indoor recess, in fact it was beautiful out there today at the bus circle.

Life is good.

Speedy

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You just can not beat kid stories. I am so thankful when they make me laugh.

A  student steps up to the plate with something to tell you with “that” look on their face. (“Oh this is gonna be a good one, you think.” “Swing, batter, batter……”) Every one of these is true. You can’t make this stuff up.

“Yeah, my mom just got a new puppy. It’s real little and hairy, I can’t remember the name but it starts with a P. Oh yeah, it’s a Parmesan.” I said, ” I think you mean a Pomeranian. Yes?” “Yes.” Close, he was very close.

“My mother was in a car accident and lost a leg.” I said, “Oh I’m so sorry. Is she ok now?” Child says “Oh yes, she’s ok now, she has a prostitute.”  I said, ” I think you mean a prosthetic. A leg made for her by the doctor, yes?” “Yes.”

One child to another: “Well you know, if you use your inhaler when you don’t need to, you can get ammonia.” I said, ” I think you mean pneumonia. I don’t think you can get that from using an inhaler improperly.” “OK, but that’s not what my mom said.”

“Now what was the name of the artist we studied yesterday that used the pointillist technique of painting?” Student, waving hand wildly says, “I know, I know…Sewer Rat!” I said, ” I think you mean Georges Seurat, yes?” “Yes.”

A few years back a student in my 6th grade art class tells this story as his “one Good Thing that happened to you this weekend” story. We are talking about Thanksgiving dinner at the time and this young man says, ” My Dad likes turkey but he doesn’t like to shoot them, so he catches them in a bag.” I let that sink in for a minute and then said, “Really?”  ” Yeah,” he says.

“We have some property that’s fenced in with tin and we corner the turkeys. But this one got out and it chased me and pecked me.” Laughter fills the classroom as he is enjoying the telling and I’m thinking, “Probably so.” He goes on.” So we kept that one as a pet.” “Really , the one that pecked you?” I said. “Yep.” he says. ” I named it Speedy.”

Priceless.

What Does Art Mean?

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Today, Friday November 10th, I am thankful for the experiences my students give me.

As an elementary school art teacher, I get asked a lot about the meaning of art. What does this abstract art mean? What is the purpose of my child taking art? What did the artist mean when he or she painted that? My reply is,” What does it say to you?”

You want to know what art means?

Today it means a tall, timid shell of a girl, with wispy hair, standing at my desk with a paper card in her hand. “Today is my birthday.” she said quietly, not seeking the ranting Happy Birthday song that usually follows that news into a classroom. “Well, Happy Birthday!” I say, “Are you doing anything special?”

“I don’t know.” she says, eyes darting away from my face. I sense I’ve said the wrong thing. “But my Dad made me this.” She is holding out the card. “You want to see?” “Sure.” The card shows a princess in a Disney–style gown; a scroll proclaiming “Happy Birthday Princess” in elaborately hand-drawn tattoo letters. The card is a much folded piece of white paper, the image beautifully drawn in delicate pencil.

“My Dad is in prison. He made me this for my birthday.” Her eyes search my face for any sign of disapproval. I mentally bless this father who loves his child.

What does this art mean?

When I look at this card I imagine time melts away for the artist as he works and the air takes on that super-charged feel at the edge of a storm. That moment when the summer air is replaced with the cool rush edge of the weather and the first round, fat drops splatter your face. This art says all things are possible. It says “Child, you are loved in this world.” It says, Child, wait and see and don’t lose hope. Ever.”

“Tell your Dad I think this is wonderful and he is very talented.” She smiles at the father that is miles away, but here in the room as she folds the card carefully into her pocket.

That is what art means for me and for this child today.