SchoolArts Room

Why We Teach

By Nancy Walkup, posted on May 23, 2011

When someone asks you what you do, what is your immediate answer? I suspect, for most of us, the answer is “I’m an art teacher.” It is the role with which we most identify. And we all know that teaching art successfully is not an eight-hour-a-day job. I’ve always thought of it as a 24/7 profession. We’re forever thinking about teaching art -- searching for more effective approaches, looking for ideas for interesting art problems, and translating the world around us into meaningful art experiences for our students.

Naturally we identify with and share the ideals of other like-minded art teachers. We may even need this connection more than classroom teachers, as we are often the only art teachers on a campus, especially at the elementary level (all the more reason to join your state organization and the National Art Education Association). Having the support and assistance of your fellow art teachers is priceless. I was poignantly reminded of this at a student art exhibition this past year.

Our local art education association, the Denton County Art Education Association, has an annual student art exhibition at a local art center, the Center for the Visual Arts, during Youth Art Month. Though it is open to all grade levels, the elementary students and their parents are the most likely to attend the opening reception.

At the opening, Kay Adamson, the art teacher at Ginnings Elementary, couldn’t wait to introduce us to two of her students, Luis Valdez and Uriel Alvarez, to show us their artwork, and tell us their stories. She was so proud of them and wanted them to see that other art teachers were also impressed with their work (one had even brought his sketchbook).

Kay told us that the boys are from wonderful families who speak little to no English. They are both very hard workers, well liked by other students and considered to be leaders.  Yet art is their refuge. Both boys have been at Kay’s school since kindergarten so this was their 6th year with her in art.  
Kay shared their stories:

“Both boys are very detailed artists.  Luis enjoys drawing anything and everything and Uriel loves drawing people, especially his sport heroes.  When they come to art, they explode!  They are on fire and their faces shine with joy! I have invited them to come to the art room anytime during the day that they have free time to draw.   They feel so grownup walking in during another class, as they open up the sketch drawer and get out supplies with which to draw.  I wish you could see them! Luis and Uriel do this often.  I am praying that both boys will get the right teachers in the years to come and that they will be encouraged, supported, and guided in becoming creative and industrious men, and most of all, terrific artists!”

Watching Kay with her students, I was reminded that when we look at a student’s artwork, we see the student and all we know about his or her life, in ways that no one else might possibly see. We see the challenges, the effort, the process, and the progress. Can there be any better ideal than to hope for the best from every student? This is why we teach.

The photo shows art teachers Rhonda Sherrill, Kay Adamson, and Nancy Walkup with Kay's students Luis and Uriel at the Youth Art Month reception at the Center for the Visual Arts in Denton, Texas.