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.