Reflective Learner to Reflective Teacher
I grew up above an ice cream parlor that my mother owned in Bridgeport in the 1980s, a working class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. I remember sitting at a round and wiry white metal table at the end of the ice cream freezers every afternoon after pre-school at Holden Head Start. Our version of an after school program on most days was painting in the parlor so my twin brother Michael and I could be close to Mom while she waited on customers. We painted on our imaginations with a watercolor palette, the kind that came in the white case where each color looked like an oval piece of taffy. I guess one might say this was the beginning of a studio practice that would later develop into my career as an artist. After pre-school, our neighborhood was changing rapidly and crime was rising, so my mother, a single mother at this point, chose for us to move to an apartment that our grandparents owned on Chicago’s East Side, a small neighborhood of high rises overlooking Lake Michigan and Grant Park.
I attended William B. Ogden Elementary from the late 1980s until 1994, a Chicago Public School in the heart of the Gold Coast neighborhood. Art and teaching came together for me as two inexplicably tied disciplines at a very young age at Ogden. Ms. Gray was my fourth grade teacher, and it was in her classroom that my first inklings of becoming a teacher came to me in the form of a monthly task: I became the designated bulletin board artist. I had already begun to associate art with teaching and academia when I was designing and making art for the boards. I understood the capacity of art to cross the line into becoming a device and design used to visually systematize and illustrate facts and ideas across the curriculum. In the meantime, Ogden’s art teacher was Ms. Adams, and the program was art-on-a-cart in its most functional form. Her cart was a moving symbol of joy for many of us, as there were several gifted young artists in the school. Ms. Adams came together with Carey South, a community salon owner, and the Palette and Chisel Academy, to form Art Attack, a summer art program held at the salon’s location where students could attend art camp instead of summer camp from grades six to eight. My obsession with painting and drawing materials began to grow; I was becoming very particular about the integrity of art materials and media. I embraced every chance I was given by my teachers to make art in school. By the time I graduated from William B. Ogden Elementary, I knew I was born to be an artist.
Mrs. Chou, my fifth grade teacher, gave me the first learning experience where I noted the extent to which a teacher inspired me to succeed not only in my studies, but to apply this success to a good attitude and life goals. Today, I realize that it was her teaching style- a combination of behavioral and cognitive teaching styles- that I learned from most effectively. As a teacher, she required students to synthesize the knowledge she taught; she worked to instill curiosity; she wanted us to question doubt; and she wanted us to forge our own path to the answers through practice and presentation. She required more discipline and she often quizzed each of us in front of class, and she loved to correct us in a humorous and warm manner. Some children were intimidated by her methods; her teaching style set the foundation for the inquisitive artist and academic I am today. She drew both answers and evaluations from us, and we were inspired.
My mother was a link to my developing interest in educational psychology. Throughout my time in elementary school and part of high school, Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, a foundation established to conduct aptitude and IQ testing for all ages, employed my mother. My brother and I spent many Saturdays there, taking IQ tests and aptitude tests. It was discovered that I had a high aptitude in writing and vocabulary. Years later, my mother conducted a study at the Franklin Fine Art Academy elementary school in Chicago that found students who are immersed in art courses beginning in elementary school tested higher in vocabulary on standardized tests. The tests were fun and challenging; the excitement that I might discover my intellectual calling in life felt like a visit from a fortune-teller.
Classroom dynamics and social structures shifted each year at Ogden. Students became more competitive, and there were cliques and many peer pressures. Around seventh grade, student cliques began to form around race and socioeconomic status. Delinquency became more prevalent and bad study habits became insurmountable for many. I went on to test into two of the top high schools in the State of Illinois: The University of Chicago Laboratory School and St. Ignatius College Preparatory School. That summer and for the next several years into high school, Gallery 37, a summer arts program offering paid apprenticeships to inner-city youth, employed me as an apprentice printmaker. At Gallery 37, I studied and created under teaching artists, and the experience further developed the inexplicable tie from my art practice to my pursuit of education, as many of my classmates from St. Ignatius were employed at Gallery 37 as well.
After financial difficulties, family hardships, and a change in demographics, I transferred to and graduated from Trinity College Preparatory High School in River Forest, IL. Mrs. Victoria Siliunis and Ms. Jill Fortman were my high school art instructors. I earned membership to the National Arts Honors Society and I was a first place winner in several state art contests during my studies at Trinity, and my art was shipped to New York for several national competitions. The art department at Trinity surpassed that of St. Ignatius in both size and instruction, and I was finally challenged both academically and artistically. The art room became my refuge and lesson objectives became clearer. It was in high school that I grew very particular about the art studio and classroom environment. I wanted to work independently, and I still was not convinced that one could realistically pursue art as a career. As important for many young art students as it was, the career avenues down which art students could travel were not commonly taught or explored by high school art teachers at Trinity. Years later, while I was teaching art at the high school level, I worked diligently to impart this knowledge to my students and I asked them to synthesize it through projects with content ranging from graphic design to scientific illustration. Mrs. Siliunis gave us her assessment rubric with each lesson, and I treated them as little report cards where the path to obtain the best grade was made clear. I appreciated the concrete values the rubric gave my art projects; I began to seek a continuity between my own ideas about creativity and what was asked of me as a student. I became an industrious learner of art, and this helped me as my artistic and academic career led me to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue my Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Before attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, my artistic skills, abilities, and creative dispositions were formally assessed through state and national standards. SAIC offered up a new teaching philosophy to learn from: the humanistic approach. I completed one year abroad in Rome, Italy, and this experience furthered my belief that only a practicing artist and art educator with a progressively evolving definition of contemporary art and visual culture would become the best art teacher candidate.
My first experience as an art educator was in January 2007 when I began teaching art as a full-time faculty member and art teacher at Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie, Louisiana. Chapelle revitalized my teaching practice through the art and science of applied strategies and philosophies. I was surprised to find my enthusiasm for art-making was revitalized by the act of teaching. It was a way for me to share and impart creativity in both a mentoring and subjective capacity. I believe that art is a core curriculum, as every academic curriculum may be taught through art. This was my second experience contributing to society and visual culture. Prior to teaching art in New Orleans, I began a career as a painting conservator for several years after Hurricane Katrina. My learning experiences as an art teacher and painting conservator in New Orleans reaffirmed my strong belief in art as an indispensable part of community, culture, and society. Art education is a necessity and an aesthetic facet of cultural literacy.
I have studied under several model educators from elementary school to college and they possess the following specific attributes: providing an engaging dialog of the curriculum being taught, assembling an amalgamation of resources for students to learn from, respecting the diverse social and political values of each student, providing progressive educational philosophies to learn by, and exploring theories of visual culture while embracing our ever-changing society.
The learning environment- inside and outside the classroom- facilitates students' self-esteem, academic potential, and resourcefulness in retaining and applying new knowledge through everyday experience. During my teaching experience at Archbishop Chapelle High School, several creative leaders re-established and rebuilt the quintessential educational setting. Dedicated to realizing the creative potential in youth, the Chapelle administration and faculty educate an increasingly diverse student body due to the relocation of thousands of students without schools in devastated New Orleans neighborhoods.
President Jane Ann Frosch, Principal Mary Beth Drez, Chapelle faculty, and the Chapelle community optimized the potential in technological and art curricular advancement with a new facility for the Fine Arts Department. All art department faculty and I revised course binders and syllabi, preparing for more challenging, integrative, and interdisciplinary learning experiences while adhering to the increasing expectations of school, community, and educational standards. I created projects encouraging study and early pursuit of art careers such as interior design, illustration, graphic design, art conservation, furniture restoration, and film. I addressed the urgency in art education to preserve visual culture and foster innovation, perseverance, and success.
Upon my acceptance to the University of New Orleans Master of Fine Arts program, I left my position as an art teacher at Archbishop Chapelle High School and realized that I wished to pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching. Pursuing an MFA makes an artist accountable for his or her work and allows for the artist to become a part of a community of scholars. It is the ultimate dynamic of peer-to-peer evaluation, social learning, humanistic teaching approaches, and trans-disciplinary content. My identity as an artist and my studio practice as a painter inform my teaching, and my teaching informs my studio practice. Intellectual curiosity, a more rigorous and concentrated course of graduate study and career advancement are several reasons I am pursuing an art education program at the graduate level. After obtaining my Master of Arts in Teaching at Columbia College Chicago, I will continue to advance as an art educator and develop a well-rounded, innovative teaching philosophy of art education and art to benefit children and adults. As an art educator, I aspire to utilize teaching strategies that combine constructivist and humanistic approaches with diverse instruction and reflective assessment. I wish to cultivate unparalleled learning potential in my students through rigorous assessment, dynamic curriculum design, and my knowledge and participation in society as a contemporary artist.