Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Seven Months Later...

I deviated from my art/technology post topics in this blog after I left graduate school. For my readers that are looking for more of those posts, I promise to get back to that topic soon. In the meantime, I think I need to tie up a few loose ends. In my last post from January 18th I discussed my struggles returning to the middle school classroom. Since that post I had many replies offering advice, voicing concern, and in the case of the reply I posted, sharing similar struggles in the classroom. With those replies in mind it is with mixed feelings that I update my current work status.
The day after my last post I was notified that my younger sister had died suddenly. My mother is a disabled widow and a retired teacher. She is a strong-willed and people-oriented woman who insisted that she was fine all by herself halfway across the U.S. As the weeks after my sister's death passed, though, it was clear that looking at the long term, she would either need to move to Florida or we would have to move back to Texas. I share all of this with you to help explain how I have ended up working as the museum educator in a rural west Texas art museum. Call it coincidence or fate, but after applying for museum jobs and not finding a fit for me and my family I was teaching middle school in Florida and giving up on the idea slowly when something eerie happened. Imagine my shock when I received the call from the director of the museum asking me to come to Texas for an interview on Monday, January 19th. I didn't call him back for over a month because I was too busy teaching and mourning my sister's death. When I finally snapped out of it in February and called him back, we agreed on a spring break on-site interview. I loved the museum and the staff immediately, and luckily the feeling was mutual. At the close of the 2008-2009 school year I submitted my resignation. I love my new job, but I have mixed feelings about these last 14 months.
With that update in mind, I want to return to the replies I received to my first post. I want to believe that public school art education can survive the current challenges it is facing. I want to believe that our students' parents support what we do in the classroom and beyond. I want to believe that our legislators and policy shapers have a deep understanding of the imperative nature of quality art education. I want to believe that local administration and our tested subject area colleagues respect the extra hours we volunteer without pay to help run art clubs, prepare student exhibitions, and provide rich experiences for all students interested in learning about art.
I believe that these things are true sometimes.
I also believe that it is shameful how often those things are not true, at least for some of my colleagues in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and across our nation. This post is not intended to be a political rant, although it leans that direction. Rather, I want to publicly reflect on my transition from classroom teacher to working in a museum. This job represents years of hard work and preparation seen to fruition. I love what I do and I still consider myself an art educator in addition to a department head, interpreter, facilitator, community representative, and artist. I am in a position to help provide professional development for the art teachers in our town and art experiences for our public school students. I am able to work with our community's retired adults, individuals with disabilities, as well as college and private school students. I have the ability to reach out to many more people and provide art to diverse groups that I could not easily work with as a classroom teacher. In many ways it seems like a more dynamic job that will make a positive difference in the community.

I just can't fight the nagging feeling that I ran away from a fire and didn't get adequate help. I still want to help resolve the nagging issues facing public school art educators.

Now what do I do?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How To Make Seven Months Disappear

I finished my coursework at the University of North Texas in May 2008. I was running out of time to get a job. My housing was about to be pulled out from under me. I couldn't see a better option locally. I figured that if I was going to move out of the house I had lived in for eight years, I might as well really move.
I took a job in central Florida teaching art in middle school....again.
I figured that I'd done it in Texas, why not do it again in Florida until I get something else going. The school had a great art classroom that was well stocked. The previous teacher had been let go due to a lack of classroom management.
I thought....hey, I've taught college students, preschoolers and I even taught teachers when I worked at that museum, I can get that classroom managed.
I was only somewhat correct. I've managed the classroom, but I have no life outside of my job. I leave my house at 7:30 for the commute, arrive by 8:15, kids pour in at 9:00. I teach seven classes, 45 minutes each. I have a 30 minute lunch connected to my one conference period. That's one hour fifteen minutes in theory. I never get that time, though. I have to walk the 3rd period kids to the cafeteria (that's 5-10 minutes from my building fighting foot traffic) and I have to pick up my 5th period kids (another 5-10 minutes gone). I made a new year resolution to leave by 5:30 every day. I've already violated that five times because I got hung up making parent phone calls. I have to exhaust every in classroom/parent contact method in discipline before the office will even touch the kid. The kids want to go to in-school-suspension because they don't have to complete classwork there. The girl who said she'd shoot me in the back got 4 days of out-of-school suspension. Her friend screamed in my face a few weeks later that she hated me. She got one day of ISS. I work with some pretty crazy kids. I am happy when I get home by 6:00 p.m.
At least my colleagues are good people. Having conversations with adults for those 30 minutes of lunch is probably the only reason I haven't quit. Oh yeah, and my son loves the music program there. He gets to play cello and upright bass. Except that his amazing band teacher, a young woman only 25 years old, had to quit the first week after school was back in session this January due to health concerns. Her doctor told her the job was far too stressful for her. Sounds like a smart doctor, huh?

So that's how to make seven months disappear.

It's not that magical, really.