Special thanks to Kerry Shadbolt for being a guest author this year on our MAEA Blog. Now that we've settled into the new year I'm hoping to get back to weekly blog posts.
My Advice to Young Art Teachers: How I Survived and Thrived
By Kerry Shadbolt
I feel bad because over the last year, Betsy has been asking me for an article. It is only until now that there has been time. This is my first school year that I am not working full time in a high school. I just moved to rural northern Wisconsin with my husband, and there was not a job opening. Last term I taught a couple classes at the local college, and this term I am assisting in the Ceramics I class.
My first thought of not being fully unemployed was, “scary”, and now it has become fine (thanks to my supportive spouse). Because I am not full-throttle into my new school year, I am able to write this for you. Partially, I am able find the peace and quiet to do this because I fell asleep at 8 pm and now I am wide awake at 6 am. This brings me to my first piece of advice…
1) Sleep. Make time for sleep. NPR had this great article explaining how brain cells clean themselves when in sleep mode. Easier said than done, right? This is not to say that I sleep well all the time, but I’ve found things that work for me. If I wake up with something on my mind, I type it up in the notes section of my iPhone so I don’t forget. When I was running the state conference in 2013-2014, I found sleep was dire, and my body and brain didn’t function as well if I didn’t sleep. Being a shepherd of my sleep means no caffeine after 3 pm. I have a sleep routine that helps (on my night stand): eye mask, sound machine, Tums (incase my spicy dinner takes vengeance), hand lotion, lip balm, and Vicks (allergy season)… do what helps YOU. With 8 hours of sleep, the alarm clock is not such an adversary.
If you aren’t into reading or listening to articles, check out the new Billy Nye Saves the World. He talks about sleep in season 2 and eating right in season 1, which leads me to the next point:
2) Eat a good breakfast. Eat lunch. Drink water. In my twenties I did not eat well, and it wrecked my gut. My meals were either too light (no veggies or protein) or heavy and too sporadic. Eating a breakfast with lots of protein means I’m not “hangry” by third hour. Lunch is usually lighter for me. When I eat, I try to remember to drink water. Having a glass of water and a square of dark chocolate after school can give me another wave of alertness. By the way, I recommend sitting with co-workers for lunch. You need to make friends at work. These folks help you with social situations, help with understanding school culture, and comfort you on long days. Be a team player! It is easy to feel like an island alone as a “specials / elective” teacher.
3) Be curious. Keep a log or note (phone) of things that spark your interests. If you go places take pictures. If a name comes up in conversation (artists), write it down. Seeking out new people and researching new topics will only enrich your practice. Then, when I sit at FB or other social media, I’ll try to connect with those people. Usually people will recommend you to like-minded community members who will inspire and make your life better. Some of these people (recommended by others) have become some of my favorite people!
4) Don’t overdo it your first years. Ha! I am laughing at this advice because sometime I don’t always heed it. If you are new to teaching, don’t expect to do it all. I didn’t take on conference co-chair my first year of teaching or my third, but I did help on the committee. The only reason why I was ready to tackle a conference at fifteen years was because I didn’t have kids (yet) and my marriage was happy and my work was stable. DO got to meetings and get to know people.
5) Volunteer in increments. This is what I did:
a. Years 1-5: Think locally – Establish your community. Get to know friends and mentors in your school. Purge friends from your past who do not support you or your need for stability. Network. Go to shows, be in shows, and put your students in shows. Become a region liaison for MAEA. Meet the experts in your city. Let them get to know you. Make art. Maybe start an art club. Go to your state conference in the fall to feed your spirit.
b. Years 5-10: Expand your reach – Get to know cities around you that are hubs of creativity. Find out when super art shows are going on and plan a visit. If you are looking to connect with a wider pool, volunteer when the state art teacher conference is in your region by being on a conference committee. You can take on one small task, do that task to the best of your ability, and you will be a big help!! Start providing workshops at a state conference. Once I gave my first workshop, I saw the conference differently. It is SOOO rewarding. Conversely, if you are there and someone needs help, ask if you can be of assistance! Helping people break down and set up events introduced me to a great new group of people. Hopefully at school you’ve been experimenting with adding new media, new inspiration, writing grants, and taking field trips with your students.
c. Years 10-15: Thing big! By now, you know your field well. You probably are no longer freaking out about content. The nuts and bolts of teaching should be the fun part of your world. You may want to try AP or IB trainings or even instructing for dual-enroll programs. Participation in shows is a must for high school teachers. Go to a national or regional conference if you (or your district) can afford it.
6) Be Brave and Make Friends: Despite what it may seem, I am not very bold at talking to others. I need to psych myself up. My art professor, Charles Steele (MSU) gave us good advice before our first art teacher conference. He said to talk to people between sessions. This was so true! I know people who landed their first teaching position by talking to people between sessions. My second conference, I met many of the MAEA board by helping people break down and set up their sessions. Giving a hand helped people to remember me. These folks became life-long friends. Then, the next time I went to a meeting, they smiled and said, “hi.” Even those of us who have been around a few years are exhausted and could use friendly conversation. Nothing makes me prouder than to meet talented young people who are doing great things in art education and inspiring their students. I remember my favorite professional development experiences not only because of the content, but also because of the stellar people who surrounded me. When I am having a tough teacher day, I like to log-in Facebook and see that there are many wonderful teachers in the same boat, fighting the same fight. We are all in this together!
7) Be an Artist: I said it once, and I’ll say it again. Make some work. We all have seasons of production or non-production. You need to come back to it. Yes, decorate your home. Yes, go to see other artists. If you aren’t bringing a piece of art to completion once in a while, and showing that work, you really aren’t an artist. Start with something small and post it on social media. This is an important process. Try to remember to carry your sketchbook around for when inspiration strikes. The more you produce, the more you / your colleagues / your students / your community will see you as an artist and understand the connection (and significance) of art production to the “real world”. This is who you are. Staying connected to the creative process will make you more empathetic to your students’ struggles. When they hit a wall, you will be better at coming up with solutions for those “happy accidents.” For motivation and support, I recommend reading: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles, Ted Orland. The struggle is real!
Good Luck! If you need support, join me on Facebook on the Michigan Art Education Association group or in the “Art Teachers” group.
2016 MAEA TOY