Go with the desires of the principal and follow the money.
Our edict from the county, from the Ford Foundation was five year longitudinal study. Anchor Schools, started with 12. First 12 principals who said yes, they were elected to have more money. Follow the money . . .
I was at one of the elementary schools in our county when Ford Foundation money came through for a five-year longitudinal study. The school got $2000. I had 425 students a week with each student having 50 minutes of art. So I bought 8 videos, and they drove my curriculum for 2 years for grades K thru 5. The videos, were targeted to 8th grade curriculum but I purchased them anyway and made modifications- expect more- They were mostly European classics, Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach based on her paintings. I also got magazine subscriptions for the teachers so they became more knowledgeable. You have to educate the teachers. The arts teacher becomes an advocate to the teachers.
In high school, I didn’t teach the way the other teachers did — I had the kids do conceptual thinking. E.g., I gave the kids an empty white cigar box, a crafts box, told them to create their outer personality on the outside and inner personality on the inside, with any medium, anything they wanted. These kids knew how to think — so each box was a work of art. Kids knew how to get logos, or information from computers. They infused infomation from computers with their own style — so for them a conceptual piece was a problem to solve.
In October Katrina hit — artists think about real things, and so when a memo came asking us to address the tragedy of the victims, we thought about it and came up with the idea of pulling images from the computer, flowers for homage, observational drawing, torn paper and chalk to accentuate the water. The kids liked doing this.
The administrator didn’t get it. That was really hard.
A different administrator saw my work and told the administrator, “You’re so lucky to have her.” So they kept moving kids in my direction I had more art students than the other three disciplines on campus. Working in collaboration is important. The school had an artist working on a sculpted fence project and I wanted to send students outside to work with her, four students at a time. The Principal said, “That’s her work, she won’t want that. Sure enough, however, the artist loved it, the students loved it. The artist got more of the work up than she intended. The Principal was amazed.
The first year I had a bunch of seniors who had to complete the arts requirement for graduation but had had no art and drew like a third grader. Some were talented but most weren’t. The Principal would come by and see primary activities, so he was completely unimpressed — but developmentally you have to take people from where they are and move them up. Unfortunately, he didn’t come periodically and evaluate their progress — he had too much to do opening a new building.
Block scheduling is key at the high school level, even for the inexperienced artist. Once they get the materials out, as a studio-based class, they have to put them away almost immediately. Especially in a school that’s serious about education — they have to get back to class on time, not go out and wander or have a cigarette. There’s no excuse. But in art class, you want to take one more stroke of the pen, you need adequate clean up time. Fifty minutes is tight, tight, esp. when meeting once a week.
Our school is such a great role model for other schools — we do arts integration in every class to some degree without taking away from academics. I had 6 teaching periods and 1 common planning period for conferences, for my own planning, and for contacting parents or kids. The school became known for this scheduling. In actuality, we, arts teacher had 6 teacher periods per day and all the academic teachers had 5 with a common planning period. This bothered me as it was not equitable professionally as the arts teachers were delivering information an additional 4 hours per week– Art 1, Art 2, Advanced Art (broken up) —was simply in theory as we are such a small school. There was so much more to do so I moved my energies onto other things.
The arts teacher works with various materials; whereas dance teacher only need a room, where students just come out in their leotards. So it’s hard when the administrator says, “No materials.” Not at this school but a previous school when I was not issued material I just used copy paper — because that was available to all teachers. I just had the kids draw, draw, and draw. I had them paint with tempera on newspaper. I will still teach even without materials!!
It’s like a scrap yard- use whatever you can get. Artists who blow in — they come in with a fresh look. I always appreciate student teachers coming in — they learn from me but they also have new crisp ways of doing things — it’s good, you have another pair of eyes in the classroom.
I taken the curriculum from high school and have adapated it down to elementary and vice versa — those concepts can be generated through the developmental needs of those students.
For example, I had a student teacher present a lesson with observational drawings of sea shells on paper and later copy their favorite images on transparencies —and arrange them. They used “Sharpies” directly on the transparencies —they put texture behind drawings of shells. I suggested to the student teacher “Why don’t you grab some sandpaper and juxtapose the transparencies with sandpaper” — that way the kids were able to feel the texture of the sandpaper — art is very experiential for the kids.
Many inner-city kids can’t get out of the city — you sometimes have to bring it to them. Greatest retention of memory is from experience. That’s another reason to have an arts program within a school.
Field trips are important — going to outlying areas — I’m the only one who takes kids on trips (!). You can get a bus for free and bring the students to the gallery and admission is free also — some galleries let students in free. I took the students to a gallery that paid for the bus, paid for our entrance fee to an exhibit called the “Metamorphosis of Graphite” — they gave the students half an hour of pencil instruction on how to explore pencil drawing, all for free. I read about it in an airplane magazine.
The more kids have experience, the more it builds some kind of foundation in thinking. If they’re not exposed to anything, they never know.