As I wrap up my last couple of weeks at Cache La Poudre Middle School, I am noticing the vast difference in my teaching from January to now, the end of April. I have made exceptional growth and am recognizing it myself.
So far, my classroom management has been the biggest priority. The students are different, at a different developmental level, and choose to be sneaky. This has been a challenge I didn’t have to deal with in Elementary. I have been focusing on standing firm, remaining consistent in what I expect and how I react to behavior. The students are quick to hold you accountable so this remains my priority. This tricky management is during studio time. I have to have eyes in the back of my head to make sure everyone is on task, not on phones, or playing games on their computer. Usually, it is easy to catch the student that is off task so you can sit down next to them and make a goal to finish by the end of class. The other component of management is during the instruction/discussion part of class at the beginning. I struggle establishing my teacher voice so I have found simple ways to help. For example, I have used my strategy that has worked the best for me that is new to the students. When students are off task, I say, “I will wait.” Students respond and engage quickly. Another fun way to grab attention is my sixth grade call. If you have seen Finding Nemo, there is a chant that says “Shark Bait, OOO HA HA.” During the first class, I showed a video clip of the movie to share the connection and then addressed what needs to happen when I say Shark Bait. Personally, I have had a hard time establishing myself as an authoritative figure because of my size and age. This has been a journey of growth, problem solving, and baby steps. I am learning who I am in a group of people bigger than me, what I have to say, and remaining firm in my thoughts and ideas.
I have been teaching the new class of sixth grade for the last quarter. It has been super fun to get a class to myself with no preexisting experience with Middle School. I get to understand and listen to their previous Elementary Art Class experiences and build responsibility and ownership into the future. They just finished their first project that helped exercise simple techniques and materials like ideation, planning, drawing, and painting. I designed this lesson to address some foundations of 2-Dimensional art making, then we will move into the 3-Dimensional unit working with the concept of building, sculpting, and understanding the properties and process of Pottery. In this class, I have been able to build the strongest student/teacher relationships because I have had time to check in with every student and make them feel comfortable and safe to explore. This class is engaged and has put the artistic process into action. I am very excited to showcase their hard work. For the next project, I plan on incorporating more art history and cultural responsiveness into pottery because the first project was focused on getting the students comfortable, I didn't add multiple components. I plan to build in more artist inspiration and background history. As a teacher who is choosing to listen to students' needs, I felt like I had to wait to introduce the multiple parts that go into interpreting and making art. Personally, this has helped me remain organized in my own instruction and the students have been visibly following as well.
Last week, we had our first positive case in the school so about 40 students had to do online school again. With that being said, we switched back to a hybrid format which exercised our flexibility once again. I started to get used to full in person learning and had to refresh myself on what instruction and artmaking has to look like for at home students. As a student teacher who is fully vaccinated, it has made me recognize the efforts Poudre School District has made to get students back in school. Although teachers are vaccinated, being fully in person has forced students to reel back on social distancing. Naturally, middle school students will not choose to be six feet away from their best friends. It is a constant battle to remind students to be aware while they actively choose to rebel.
During all of this chaos, I have also been applying to Art Teaching positions all across northern Colorado spanning from Weld County Districts, Poudre, Thompson Valley, to St. Vrain Valley. I have been able to build my interviewing skills and push myself to communicate my teaching philosophy. The multitasking of student teaching has again reached a high level as I wrap up my last couple of weeks.
The transition when moving from Elementary to Middle School was more of a shock than I expected. The students had different emotional, social, and mental barriers, they draw to what they find comfortable (not the new person in the room), and they are more discouraged when it comes to art making. I observed students from 11 to 14 years old and just in that small gap, everything is different. The way they walk into the classroom, how they ask questions, and how they present themselves in class with one another. In contrast to Elementary, students would walk in, greet me, and were very excited to create whatever was in front of them. Motivation and Engagement levels have to be higher and more intense when it comes to Middle School art class.
The layout of the classroom is very open, bigger, and reminds me of a true art studio atmosphere where the space was designed to specifically function for studio work, different material use, with proper ventilation. The room has cabinets and storage from wall to wall, large wooden built in tables, and an area for glaze, paint, and ceramic tools with four sinks. This space is designed to withstand anything. The design of the classroom allows TAB style teaching to happen naturally and in a fluent manner. The typical structure of a class period begins with attendance, review, introduction of new content, and then students are cut loose to work on their projects. For example, in the sculpture/pottery classes, they have learned techniques, material use rules, and tools to create what they would like. There is a list on the wall that has every name with projects next to them. Students have all semester to work on an unlimited amount of clay projects. At the end of the semester, students will be graded on quality and quantity of work.
Reflecting on my experience in elementary school and now middle school, I am thankful I have gotten the opportunity to see very different styles of teaching. I have used management strategies from my first placement to enhance my ability to facilitate understanding in middle school art classes. So far, my strengths have been using humor to loosen students up, get them engaged and view art differently. Last week, we began a new quarter so I am introducing an entire class of sixth graders what middle school art class is and what it'll look like. They will get twice the amount of studio time and freedom. I have been serious on establishing classroom expectations, but allowing students to be silly and use their creativity and energy towards art. Honestly, the sixth graders think I am funny and weird, but I can tell that it makes them more comfortable with talking in front of the classroom and to me. Some challenges I have dealt with are reluctant students. Some show up, not willing to do anything so I have to balance how to motivate them and also give instruction for students who are focused, maybe ahead. These experiences have given me great opportunities to think ahead for accommodations for some students. I can tell that later in projects, they will have to be motivated in specific ways with references and resources in front of them. Middle school is vibrant, crazy, full of creativity, and unpredictable. Some students won’t say a word, some may follow you around all class period.
I am starting to get back into a rhythm with management, relationships, and consistency. Students are starting to feel comfortable to ask me questions before they find my mentor teacher, they are asking about me and telling me personal stories, and are expecting to see me when they walk into the classroom. This is getting rid of my first couple of weeks jitters. My mentor teacher is building the amount of tasks I am doing with every class and the transition has been smooth. In middle school, I get an hour more dedicated to plan time which is incredibly helpful and now I never want to take time for granted.
Because this is Art Journal post 5, I am three quarters finished with my student teaching. On top of teaching everyday, I am starting to search for job openings. As I apply to school districts, I have noticed the vast amount I have learned from student teaching, to bring into my own classroom. In the future, I will use what I know works best for myself and my students to create a solid, consistent atmosphere with structure and freedom. Most of all, knowing students and what they need remains the most important part of being a teacher. This week, my piece of art is a forest. Because my next couple of months are so unknown, I have to take it step by step. I don’t know where I am going, but I am noticing everything that is around me in the moment. The forest is filled with large trees with full branches and lush plants around the ground. I have things to learn right now in the moment and can only look ahead so far.
I wrapped up my first placement at Cache La Poudre Elementary on Friday, February 26th. As I am fully reflecting on the eight weeks, I am also acknowledging what events, situations, and teaching moments I was able to experience. Because groups alternate each week, I had to begin my goodbyes on Week 7 which was the first time I understood how teachers feel at the end of the year. I have been designing lessons, walking and facilitating students into new projects for kindergarten, first, third, fourth, and fifth grade. Kindergarten has been doing many one or two day projects while the rest have been working on one large project, concept, or medium. The last two weeks gave me the final push of growth I needed. I focused on predicting, assuming, and anticipating what students will need, understand, and where it could go wrong.
On Week 7, I had to leave town to visit my grandparents. Luckily, I was able to treat this time as if I had to prepare for a substitute. I created sub plans for my mentor teacher to follow for the days I was absent to help guide her in each class (not that she needed them, but to practice). I layed out all the odd times, alternating classes, and times because of the flexible, everchanging schedule right now. This allowed me to get organized, sort my thoughts and objectives for each class, and gather what I have learned. After I finished the plans, I got helpful feedback from my mentor regarding detail and necessary elements to include. It was another real learning experience that I can apply later in my teaching career. It is easy to get comfortable in the position as a student teacher and still view yourself as a student. When I get the opportunity to step into the true position, I get a taste of the nitty gritty tasks teachers have to do. I think that it is important to see all sides, even if student teachers are slightly restricted. I am continuing to be open minded, willing, and positive about the circumstances.
Another great opportunity has been the vaccine! I am very thankful that the Poudre School District fought for student teachers to get the vaccine just like the regular teachers. We are on the road to cultivating a safer, free, work zone in our classrooms. The in school substitutes have been extremely helpful because scheduling the vaccine times and locations have been difficult while dealing with possible symptoms following each round. I have felt supported and valued as we move forward into full in person Middle and High School. COVID has impacted the way I am able to teach, but has given me learning opportunities that I have never experienced and without it, possibly wouldn't ever experience. I have adapted to COVID cleaning and protection guidelines while focusing on art. Something that I want to work on is the comfort that takes over if I think my classes are doing well. Just because no one has tested positive, does not mean I should loosen up. I am aware that Middle School art classrooms are different and management will be different, so I am hoping to keep COVID in the forefront of my teachings. It has almost been a year since this began, it is easy to get over relaxed. Luckily, the weather is warming up soon and will be able to take students outside during class time.
It is sad to say that my time at Cache La Poudre Elementary has come to an end, but I am beyond thankful for the experience I had. The community of teachers cultivate resilience, growth mindset, and care. The students are very lucky to be taught by each teacher and the community students get to build as well.
My last artwork for my Elementary Placement resembles a beautiful balance that came from the chaos of teaching right now and the care that came from the community.
I am at the last part of my Elementary Level Student Teaching Phase and to say that I have learned a lot is an understatement. My mentor teacher and I have developed a rhythm of co-teaching which has allowed me to take on almost all day in some cases. This past week was the last week to finish up every grade’s first in person project. Because half of the school switches off, it has taken a long time to finish up all projects because lessons have so many parts. In kindergarten, we have done shorter projects so I have seen how transitions are when it comes to preparation, quick turnarounds, and reflection. So far, first has finished their tissue paper pulp paper, second has finished their egg carton animals, third has almost finished their clay fishes (I have learned how slow firing can be), fourth has finished their Circuit Pyramids, and fifth has finished their Sweet Dessert sculptures.
Designing, preparing, and practicing new projects for each grade has been a little daunting and helps me understand the weight of “trying the project beforehand” because many things can no go as planned. My first experience was my new project for first grade. I am teaching them about Adinkra Cloths from Ghana. We read “The Talking Cloth” and talked about how we can visually talk through symbols, colors, and patterns. My intention was to focus on the book, discussion, and understanding of symbols on the first day. We created our own little Adinkra Symbol Book, which was a couple pieces of paper folded together. Students then got to draw their own symbols and what they wanted to communicate in their Adinkra Cloths. I quickly observed that it was above their head and I taught it while assuming they understood the idea of “values” and “positive messages”. After the first day, I felt frustrated and a little discouraged as my mentor and I worked through the challenges and came up with solutions. The next day, I added more of an emphasis on the art making process of Adinkra Cloths. I asked them, “how was this cloth made? How did they get these symbols on here?” This allowed me to talk about the process of stamping and the composition of Adinkra Cloths. I gave them a long sheet of paper, stamp markers, stamp dots, and markers. They gave the paper a composition of lines, then stamped. I went around the class asking what each stamp meant and each had different answers. They were finally getting it. Working on paper transitioned well into the final step, working, and stamping on real cloth.
Going through this learning process was tough but allowed me to sit in the struggle and ask the tough questions to myself. Where did I go wrong? What did I assume? What can be broken down? This was the biggest moment of my student teaching experience so far because it was the not-so-pretty side of teaching. My mentor teacher went on to share stories of moments like these in her past 30 years. She was helpful when it came to asking the right questions. I am working on my willingness to sit in my faults as a teacher but put in the effort to grow. At first, I wanted to quit the lesson because it wasn’t working and it was too difficult to understand. Then, after some time, I watched the project become very fun for the students.
This will affect my future teaching because of the flexibility and persistence I gained from this experience. Although I am passionate about teaching growth mindset, sometimes, I do not practice what I preach. This allowed me to stretch myself, challenge my fix mindset, and grow closer to becoming a successful teacher.
In the past two weeks, I have been focusing on mindfulness beyond the classroom. On my own time, I have been drawing from observation exactly where I am sitting. This has helped me to slow down when I do have the opportunity to rest.
As I finish up my first two weeks of in person teaching, I feel tired, but motivated. I feel tired and so do all the teachers beside me. COVID-19 has changed the classroom layout completely and caused management, structure, and routine to change. Before the students came back, my mentor teacher and I had to prepare the classroom. We had to create plexiglass barriers for each table while adding an additional table to the layout. I had to learn how to adapt quickly because schedules, policies, and times changed constantly. We began the week with new projects, starting with fourth grade, STEAM Circuit Pyramids. We introduced optical illusions and knew that two dimensional projects would make transitions easier. I have learned that three dimensional projects are very difficult in the circumstances Poudre School District has unless the teacher has additional hands like a student teacher. For fifth grade, we are creating our own desserts/candies through Crayola’s Model Magic Clay, Kindergarten created clay pinch pots, First grade made their own paper with tissue paper pulp, Second grade designed their own animals with egg carton heads, and finally, third grade created their own clay fish.
The past two weeks have been nothing but chaos for many reasons. To begin, this is my first time managing all classes while being exposed to the entire school. I must wear an N95 mask, another mask, and then a face shield. As I wear all the protection, I have to speak in a teacher voice volume while walking around the room in a constant fast pace. By the end of the day, I am drained, out of breath, and physically exhausted from the constant sanitizing. It was hard for me to focus on the relationships I was beginning to build because I was nervous about teaching fully in person and the amount of new management, I had to develop for COVID-19. These events have caused me to recognize and refresh why I am teaching in the first place. My motivation, drive and passion is simple: I want to help students learn physical, mental, and social skills that will help them move forward in their lives. Even though I am going through tough situations and circumstances, I still would not walk away from this career. Art is so important, and it has been brought to the light ever since COVID-19. The moment the learning goal clicks in a student’s head, when students have collaborative discussion, or give you a piece of their art to keep, I am reminded why I love what I do.
I am constantly receiving feedback from my mentor teacher and the results from my previous lessons. I think that I am continuing my success in that area because I am not closing in perspectives and am listening when someone has additional advice to give. Something that I would like to continue working on is my instruction. I have noticed that I am still designing lessons that fit my needs, not my students. I understand that the lessons sound interesting and fun to me, but I need to put myself in the student’s shoes. I need to work on recognizing the students body language to see what students need clarification and guidance.
As an individual, I am learning that I am teaching in a very intense environment. I get to attend a Poudre School District Art Teacher Chat every week where teachers can process, seek advice, and have a sense of community. Teachers always state that it feels like their first year of teaching because it is so stressful. They have also told me that if I am adaptive and working hard, I will get through anything. It is very helpful and affirming to hear that from teachers who have been in this field for years. Routine and structure has been a huge benefit to this chaotic time and I am thankful I get to focus on teaching, designing engaging lessons, and developing relationships with students. For my future teaching, I am collecting a box full of tools to have at any moment. For every tricky situation with instruction, behavior, conflict, and unexpected event, I will know what to do.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been focusing on mindfulness and the importance for Art Educators to practice art. To center myself, calm down, and meditate, I weave. For this post, I would like to share the weaving I did throughout the past couple of weeks after school.
As I walked into student teaching, there were many fears, worries, and unknown answers. I have been working towards this semester for years and I am finally here. Hours of work, learning and field experience have helped me get to a place of confidence with taking on the role of a student teacher. I have started my first phase of student teaching at Cache La Poudre Elementary. I began the semester fully online teaching kindergarten through fifth grade on Google Meets and using a website called Seesaw to document completed work. My mentor teacher, Sue Awsumb-Conn explained that it is easiest for students to do one class period project because at home, things can be lost, damaged, etc.
For the past two weeks, I have met up with my mentor teacher every morning before we begin teaching for the day. We catch up, go over any questions, and plan our co teaching for the grade levels. At the beginning, she had me observe for the first two days, then once I understood the lesson, she allowed me to take over the demonstrations. This allowed me to learn how to manage my screen by switching from one camera to another to show my process. I have never had someone hold me accountable so much, but also check in on how I am processing all my experiences at the same time. Sue, after having 25 student teachers, knows how to balance the information she gives me. She understands that it is overwhelming at first so she knows what is too much and when I can be pushed.
I have noticed another aspect of online teaching which is the physical demands of it. There are physical demands when it comes to the career in general, but online teaching has made an impact on my body, but in the opposite way. Being online can be oddly draining. The physical stress that it puts on eyes, necks, and backs are horrible. If I cannot find a break throughout the day, I finish classes and realize I have not blinked or moved for over three hours. It has not only taken a toll physically, but mentally as well. It is hard teaching from behind a screen because a large part of teaching is the face to face connection that is created. When being online, you cannot control what students due other than mute. Classroom management must be less strict simply because the teacher’s structure and control are limited. Behavior has not been a huge issue, so I am thankful. Students have adapted to online learning as well as the etiquette that comes with. Everything that I have learned in my college journey has been directed towards in person instruction and classroom management, so it is a major learning moment when it comes to 20 kindergarteners on Google Meets. They can talk for hours.
The largest learning moment so far has been the amount of multitasking. Throughout my experiences at CSU, I have never fully understood the real multitasking a teacher endures every hour of the day. Tasks like attendance, classroom management, instruction, communication, participation, preparation, troubleshooting technology all with a young age can be an eye-opening experience from everyone. This makes me reflect on the different classes, content, and experiences I have had in General Education Classes and Art Education Classes. All of these were concentrated, focused, and separated every semester. Now, I am funneling all that I have learned into an 8-hour day with 120 students.
The best thing that is working is my willingness to do and try almost anything. I am learning so much and am only two weeks in. I am trying different lessons, demonstrations, and communication with students and teachers. One thing that I need to keep working on is the courage to relax and focus on student connection to the material. Right now, I am, in the best way possible, overwhelmed. I am learning to cooperate with my mentor teacher, classroom layout and management, and how to manage the entire student body. Once that becomes more comfortable, I am hoping to shift my focus on students and what they need from me.
My personal feelings towards student teaching and the thoughts that came with it were a lot. Waiting to begin my student teaching, I was very nervous because I had a hard time thinking I was capable of juggling so much with teaching and COVID. I have seen teachers struggle very hard this past year, so it was scary walking into that. My mental health has been a struggle all through college and has been a crazy roller coaster. I was scared that it was going to affect my teaching career, but I have put in a large amount of work to help me become capable, willing, and excited to work hard. As week two is ending, I am realizing that this it is HARD WORK, but I am simply capable.
I am learning to be gentle with myself, but also hold myself accountable for what I am responsible for. By having a routine every week, I believe that I will continue to grow in my personal teaching philosophy, specific logistics that comes with the role of being a teacher and understanding of community.
Hour by hour, I am learning what works and what does not. My mentor teacher has been teaching for 30 years and I am still experiencing her do the same. This is the most important thing for me to remind myself, and for others to remind themselves right now. The world is beyond chaotic and it is up to us on how we react, cope, and engage. I want to spend more time re-grounding myself as an artist. I have had so much work to do as a student teacher, I sometimes lose sight of the spark that started it all. I want to remain excited about creating along with my students.