Sunday, September 28, 2014

Zentangles, My Favorite and Teacher Appreciation

Last year we began negotiations for a new contract.  We’re still negotiating.  Morale is rather low, but I’m confident (maybe more hopeful?) we will reach an agreement soon and all will be right with the world, even if its just temporarily.

At the end of last year there was an anonymous letter in my school mailbox.- all of our school mailboxes.  I’m assuming it was from a teacher who works at my school.  Basically the letter explained that as teachers, at times we all feel under appreciated, and how wonderful it would be if we each took a few minutes and wrote a letter of appreciation to a colleague- especially one we don’t know very well.  As someone who loves to write, I thought this was a great idea!  Unfortunately, I was so burnt out by the end of last year that I quickly forgot about my letter and carried on into summer.  But just a week ago, I was reminded about letting someone else know they’re appreciated, and I wrote that letter!

I have a boy in my Art Studio class who is my favorite.  I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but he is mine, and I can’t help it.  He is the epitome of what every art teacher wants in a student: someone who is a thinker, who likes to be challenged, who is courteous and polite, who is talented and has no clue that he is- someone who thinks outside the box regularly and isn't afraid to take risks.  He can laugh at his mistakes, but also learn from them, and he is my favorite.

Anyway, our first unit in Art Studio is Line, and so our first project was to create an original Zentangle design.  I like this project because while it can be pretty simple for the less art-inclined, it can also be crazy complicated for the kids who want more.  My Favorite (this will be how I refer to him from now until forever) had the idea of sketching a dog, and filling it up with all kinds of tangles….but it was pretty awful.  He knew it wasn't great and when I comically pointed out all the problems, he laughed and agreed.  I asked him to try it again, focusing on a few small details and without hesitation he did- and it was GREAT!  Worlds better than his first go-round.  He saw it, he felt it, and he was so excited.

Then the tangles came.  Tangles can be hard to make up on their own, so I printed out a few pages of tangle samples so the kids could borrow and build upon already-made tangle designs.  The first day of tangling, My Favorite called me over and asked if he could do “reflections” in his tangles.  I wasn’t totally sure what he meant, so I asked him to elaborate.

“Reflections, like we’re learning in math.” He said with a smile.

“Math?” I asked, suddenly scared.  My inner child was curled up, shaking in a corner.

“Yes.  I’m in Pre-Calc.  I’m a sophomore, but I skipped a level in math.  We’re learning about reflections, let me show you…”

He whipped out his math notebook and showed me all these great graphs and charts and explained that the equations for that particular unit resulted in reflections- so the line pattern in one quadrant mirrored the one next to it.

I said, “If you want to give it a try, go for it!”

He did, and it came out AWESOME!

See that blurry patch?  He found a way to write his NAME inside the tangle! First and Last!  I blurred My Favorite’s name from you guys for obvious reasons, but seriously, how cool is that?!  Just try to imagine it.  It’s awesome.

I was so excited not only that his idea worked, but more that it was a unique idea that pulled directly from another subject- MATH of all subjects!

I asked My Favorite who his math teacher was, and quickly jotted down this letter:

Hi Math Teacher,

I don't think we've ever met- I teach in the Art Department, but I had to share the cutest story with you!

I have My Favorite in my Art Studio class.  He is totally adorable and is doing an amazing job on our first project, which is all about black and white patterns.  He's really taken his project to the "next level" in comparison to the other kids in his class.  Anyway, he and I were discussing what he would do with his background and he had this idea about creating a reflected pattern, and I didn't really understand what he meant, so he whipped out his math notebook and showed me all these notes and sketches for reflections he's learned in math, and I have to tell you, it was the first time I've ever really had a concrete concept to tie math and art together.  We often do projects with pattern and some measuring, but I've been looking for ways to really connect the "thinking" of math to what we do in class, and he showed it to me!

Anyway, I always think it's fun when art makes its way into other classes, so I figured I'd share that what you're doing in class made its way over here!  I love when everything the kids are learning come together!


And this is what she wrote back:

You just made my day!!

That is a great story :)  And a great connection!!!

I made her day, guys!  Look at all those exclamation marks!

It felt so good to see a student make such a well-developed seemingly far-reaching connection between the thinking he does in math to what he’s doing in art class.  It felt even better to tell his math teacher about it.  It felt the greatest to know it made her day, and that she knows what she does matters and she is appreciated!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

You Can't Judge a Teacher by Her First Class

I recently had an experience that reminded me you shouldn’t judge a teacher by her first class- that all of us, even the best of us, have “first days” and “bad days” and shouldn’t be judged forever based on them.

I’m currently just about half way through earning my masters degree at a local, affordable university.  While it’s local and affordable, unfortunately, it isn’t the best quality education I’ve ever received.  I chose the school not only because of the proximity and cost, but also because they offer a part-time Masters in Art Studio, which many universities and colleges don’t.  Basically I’m getting my masters in teaching by taking tons of art classes- no papers or research or essays- just making art.

When I say the education isn’t the best quality, this is what I mean:

-The Fine Arts building is gross.  It’s constantly in need of a sweeping and a wipe-down.  The bathrooms are, at times, so atrocious, I refuse to use them from when I arrive at 4pm until when I leave at 10pm.  The art room tables and cabinets are caked in years of thick layers of paint and ink and drawings, which students did, I guess in hopes to leave their legacy.  It sounds like a potentially cool idea, but really it all just looks like nasty, low-grade graffiti.

-The professors are sub-par.  This is my sixth class at this university and I’ve only had one professor from whom I feel like I actually learned anything.  I took him twice.  My other professors were just kind of there, offering critique of our work, but no  instructional help- no technique or constructive discussions, just critique.  I had one professor who would take attendance then announce, “I’m going to my office to check my facebook!” and would be gone for 4 hours.  There are many nights when I ask myself, "What am I paying these people for?"

-The class I chose now had a well-known, well-liked male professor listed as the instructor.  The first day of class, I found that there was a woman there instead- someone I’ve never heard of- who informed us that she would be teaching the first half of the class, and he would come in to teach the second half.  There was no explanation as to why, or any preparation for this before we showed up.  I found, and still find, this to be unprofessional and ridiculous.  I feel like they’re “pulling one over” on me.   How will we be graded?  He won’t know how hard I’ve worked for the first six weeks- how can he grade me at the end?  How is this ethical?  How is this even allowed?

Anyway, for this fall I had signed up for a painting course, which I was very excited about, but two days before classes began, it got canceled. I scrambled to replace it with something- anything – my +15 credit pay-bump was at stake!  The only thing available in the time line I could work with (that wasn’t screen printing…I’m avoiding screen printing like it’s my job) was Computer Art 1.


I’d also been avoiding Computer Art because I’m at the stage in my life where I don’t feel like I really need a computer art class, but I definitely need a computer art class.  I consider myself pretty efficient in computers, and after teaching Photoshop in my digital photography classes for the last 6 years, I’ve taught myself a lot of neat tricks.  I can draw simple shapes and edit photographs all that jazz, but as for actually using the computer as a medium in creating works of art? Not so much.  I had a feeling the first few weeks of class would be pretty painful, and I wasn’t wrong.

To begin with, this is the class where I was expecting one professor, but got another.  She informed us that she’d be teaching us for half the semester and the professor I signed up for would come in the second half.  It was extra painful as the professor was obviously new, and obviously nervous.  She was stammering all night and had absurd demands like, "You must ask permission to listen to music while you work."  Was she for real?  What's worse is the majority of the class was spent discussing how to maximize, minimize and close a window, or how to create a folder, and change the name of it, or the difference between “File, Save” and “File, Save As…”

Additionally, for the first class (which is usually a 10-15 minute “Welcome! Buy these supplies, see you net week!”) she kept us for a full SIX HOURS.  The class is slotted from 5-10:45, all of the art classes are, and even on a regular “full” day, the majority of professors will let us clean up and head out around 9.  Not this one. I think she was flexing her "I'm your professor, hear me roar" muscles.

 ….It was rough.  So rough, in fact, that I actually left the class in tears.  I was driving home at 11pm, after a full Monday of classes, exhausted, frustrated, tired, and crying to Indy about how badly I wanted to drop the class.  He was ever so patient with me, and (as always) was right when he said, “You’ve had a long day, and you’re tired.  The next class won’t be so bad.  Just try and stick it out.”

We had our second class last night, and while it was long, and at times a little tedious, it was way better. 

For our first class, we had an assignment to choose one word from a list of 8 (I chose “Isolation”) and represent that concept in three different black and white works: the first using only circles, the second using only lines, and the third using a mix of both.

It was simple enough, but six hours into it, I was OVER IT.  My eyes actually hurt from looking at the screen for so long.  I was getting headaches.  At one point in the night, maybe around seven o’clock, the professor came around to see how we were doing, and I said to her, “I feel like half of my shapes are created correctly, and the other half are just willy nilly- I couldn’t get them to work the same as the others, so I kept clicking things until it worked…” and she said, “Well the great thing about Photoshop is as long as it looks the way you want it to in the end, it works!”  So I thought, Great! I’ll just keep going…

Fast forward to three and a half hours later, at 10:30 at night, when she’s making her final rounds of “check-in’s” before assigning us the second project.  She stops by my seat and takes a look at my layers.  “Oooooh,” she says, “We have a problem with some of your layers…” 

Que my head-snap in her direction.

“Some of your layers are bitmap, and some are vectors…” 

To which I rather snappily replied, “Is that a problem?” 

All cheery like she said, “Well yes.  All of them need to be vectors.” 

Que the smoke from my ears.

She continues, “You should stay and fix those.” 

To which I rather aggressively replied, “I’m not staying here any longer.” 

She then let out a nervous giggle and said something to the effect of, “Well, yeah, it’s been a long night and the computers can make us all kind of crazy. But before next class you should come in and take care of those.”

I was out of there like a bat out of hell.  Then the crying commenced.

Hell of a time to tell me to fix things! Where was all this "bitmap/vector" garbage hours ago? Also, I thought the great thing about Photoshop is you can’t make mistakes!  I was furious.

So around Thursday that week, at home, I fixed my layers.  It actually wasn’t all that hard.  It took about 20 minutes.  Here is what they look like in the end:

"Isolation - Circles"

"Isolation - Lines"

"Isolation - Both Circles and Lines"

Yesterday was our second class.  I was mentally prepared for another long, boring, droning night of useless information and last-minute critiques.  However, our lesson was something new- something I’d never done before. 

For homework we were to sketch a “simple” object.  In class, we scanned it into the computers and rendered it on Photoshop.  Here was my scan:

The assignment was to render a realistic representation of our object using vector lines and layers and the pen tool and different brushes. Some kids used the fancy pen stylus-and-pad thing, but half of them don’t work on the computers correctly, and I was not about to start off the night with a bunch of unnecessary frustration.  A good ‘ol mouse and keyboard are fine by me.

And so I put on my headphones (I didn't ask permission first...I'm such a rebel!) and got to work.  I worked and worked and worked.  Every time I touched my project, it got better!  There were some frustrating moments, but everything seemed to have a simple solution.  A few points in the night she came by to check-in with me and had some really helpful tips to offer.  She showed me a few tricks that came in really handy and I found that I was actually learning things.  By the end of the night, I looked around the room to find that my piece really stood out.  It looked complete and realistic, and I was so proud of it that I snapped a photo to share on Instagram and everyone, even my non-art friends, were totally impressed!

Here’s what it looks like:

There are a few spots I might go in and tweak before finally handing it in next week, but I’m really proud of myself for keeping my focus, not getting frustrated, and ending up with a product I’m happy with.

The professor seemed really happy, too.  While she still does a few things I’m not a fan of, I realized that no matter what, I can learn things from her. She may be new, and still flexing her muscles- and I can relate to that.  Teaching high school can be intimidating, so I can't imagine how hard teaching college classes can be.  And all of us can have first days or bad days.  Time will tell if she ends up on my list of good or bad professors, but I'm going to give her a few more weeks before I decide.  I've heard that teachers make the worst students, so as a teacher, I'm going to cut her some slack.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A New Take on Perspective

Typically, Linear Perspective is the second lesson in my year-long Fine Art 1 classes, although I think for next year, I'll start with it.  Our first project is a value rendering of three objects.  I like to start with that project, because it kind of lets me know where all the kids are in terms of their artistic skill, but this year was the first time I realized that knowing a bit about perspective would help make that project a lot less frustrating.

You teach, and you learn!

Anyway, I over heard a student ask another art teacher if they would be learning perspective this year.  The student then explained that her dad sent her a music video from the band OK Go (coolest dad, ever?) that has all to do with different perspectives.

Instantly I jumped on my laptop and looked it up.  It's too amazing not to share, and you can bet your bottom that when I start linear perspective next month, I'm going to open the lesson with this:

In case you're not familiar, OK Go is a pretty great band, and they've become rather notorious for their insanely creative music videos.  If you like the one above, please check out some of their other ones.  Each one is more impressive than the last- I love how their creativity seems never-ending!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sick Statistics

We are only 10 full days into the school year, and I’m sick.

It started with Indy, who, about a week ago, started with the sneezing and the sniffles and I knew right then it was just a matter of time before it got to me.  I figured he’d get sick pretty quickly as he’s a first year teacher, but I was surprised and even a little disappointed to find it was all his own fault.  He admitted to making the rookie mistakes of keep the classroom tissues and Purel on his desk!  *face-palm!*

Anyway, he recovered in just a few days, and now that I’m in the thick of it (day 2 of a stuffed nose, raspy throat, dry cough and constant sleepiness) I think I’ll be back to normal by Saturday or Sunday.

But all this sickness got me thinking- has anyone actually studied the rate at which teachers get sick from their kids? (Notice I said “from” and not “of”….that’s a different kind of post.)  I was surprised to find that not only has it been studied, but also there are pages and pages of Google results on the matter!

I found this article to be very interesting- it points out which kinds of teachers (new & substitutes) are most likely to get sick the most often, and which grades (elementary) are the biggest threats.  Take a read and find out your risk factor!

I’ve yet to find any hard data on the matter, but I’d really be interested in knowing  more about how many sick days are taken by teachers in the first month of school in my area, and even around the country.  It’s inevitable, as a teacher, not to get sick from your students at some point in the school year, I just don’t think it’s ever happened this quickly for me…but then again, the kids didn’t get me sick. My husband did.

Anyone know any stats teachers getting sick from their teacher-spouses? (Again, I said sick “from” not sick “of”. =0P )

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I Work Hard for No Money!

Fortunately, this post title no longer pertains to us, but for what seemed like a very, very long time, sporadically between the months of September and May of last school year, Indy would come home from his student teaching and sing, "I work hard for no money! So hard for it, honey!"

While I was on my blogging break, and Indy and I were in the throes of living an entire year on one teacher's salary, I had the time to really analyze how difficult it is for a young adult to complete their student teaching experience and come out on top.  And by "on top" I don't necessarily mean with a job offer, I mean, finish the experience without having a nervous breakdown, giving up all together, or going into serious debt.

Tomorrow will be Indy's fourth week on the job as a full time, tenure-track, sixth grade ancient history teacher (I still get excited just typing it out!) and he's already had his fair share of burning the midnight oil, working through his lunch periods, contacting parents regarding student behavior and hosting back to school night.  Once our hell week was over, we actually found about 5 minutes to just sit with each other, and he turned to me and said, "I can't believe I was able to do all of this last year and not get paid one cent for it." 

The next day, Indy sent me a text with a picture of his very first check!

 All teachers, especially those who get paid on a 10-month plan as opposed to a 12-month plan (any other 10-monthers out there?!) know just how long and scary the summer months can be.  We’ve all heard the teacher-haters out there complain to us about how we get “summers off” and “three months of vacation.”  We all know how much we’d like to punch them all in the face, but we don’t, because we’re classy.  But watching Indy bravely quit his full-time, well-paying job to finish school, watching him go through his grueling un-paid student teaching experiences, and finally, getting to enjoy his complete and total excitement about receiving his very first paycheck as a full-time teacher, has been incredible. 

While the majority of passionate, great teachers- the kind who see it as a calling rather than a job- would be teaching regardless of the pay, I think we can all agree that for what we do, our profession is vastly underpaid.  I don’t think I could name one teacher I know who truly does have their entire summer off.  All of the teachers I know have at least one summer job, or even second year-round jobs, in order to make ends meet.  In fact, this school year, in addition to teaching full time and taking a graduate course, I’ve applied for three other stipend positions at my school.  If I get all of them, that means I’ll be doing three jobs this school year, in addition to teaching every day.

When you lay out all the details and do all of the math, especially if you’ve had a particularly rough week like Indy and I did last week, sometimes the sacrifices you make as a teacher don’t seem to add up.  There are days, weeks, months even where I feel like I’m climbing a slippery slope, and for every one step forward, I take two steps back.  There are days even now, with both of our incomes, where I come home singing to myself, “I work hard for no money, so hard for it honey!” because that’s how it feels. But at the end of the day, I love what I do and regardless of how much my paycheck says I’m worth, I know I’m worth more, and we’ll make it work.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One Looooong Week

Sorry for the lack of updates.  I've been barely surviving the longest week of my life.

This was the first full week of school, and while it's usually a rough week for all teachers, new and old, this one was by far the hardest of all my six years teaching.  With that said, allow me to clarify that actually teaching, and working with my students, was the easiest and most pleasant part of the longest week of my life.

Let me break it down for you:

Sunday, September 7th:

Indy and I joined his family for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer walk in New York City.  Every year we do "the walk" and end the celebration with brunch at a local restaurant.  This year, due to her  treatment, Indy's mom wasn't up for the actual walk, but we all met at the restaurant in our Walk Shirts and celebrated with friends and family.

We got home around three, got some work done for school, and by 6:30 I was out of the house, on my way to my *new* band practice from 7-9:00 pm, and got home around 10, 10:30.  By the time I got home, I was so beat that we didn't even watch the latest episode of The Leftovers, and went straight to bed.

Monday, September 8th:

Up around 5:45 am.  This was our second full day of school, so the day was spent repeating a lot of the same, "Welcome to class! These are the rules, and this is all the fun stuff we'll be doing this year..."  After not using my teaching voice for most of the summer, by the end of Monday I barely had a voice left, and was pretty drained.  In addition to all that, my school is implementing a very new, and very intimidating, electronic lesson planning format.  Over the weekend I sort of figured some of it out, and told my boss, who then asked me to present my findings to two departments at our next meeting on Wednesday.  You know, no pressure!  Mentally, I was preoccupied with that most of the day- trying to figure out the most simple/effective way to teach 40 less-than-enthused adults how to use another new computer program.

But there was no time for rest!  After school I drove to the university where I'm currently getting my masters and had my "Computer Art 1" class from 5 until around 8.  I was originally very excited about it, as I feel of all my art-making skills, computer-based art is my weakest.  However, I was disappointed with our first class as it was very "Computers 101" - you know, this is a jpeg file, this is how you expand your window, this is how you shut down your computer....*eye roll*.  On the way home I sat in a ton of traffic and didn't make it until around 9:30.  I helped Indy clean up the kitchen after he made dinner, got a few things done for school, and got to bed around 11.

Tuesday, September 9th:

Up bright an early for another full day of school.  My classes ran super smoothly and we got started on all of our first projects.  During my prep periods I fine-tuned my lesson for the lesson planning program.  I actually met, three times during the day, with a colleague in another department who was able to find even more effective/efficient tricks in the program.  I promptly then had to re-write my instructional sheets for my presentation.

I got home from school and Indy and I pretty much immediately left to sit in an hours worth of traffic headed into NYC, again.  This time, to visit with his Aunt and cousin who flew in from Greece and Florida for some important doctor appointments.  As they would only be here a short while, we kind of had to see them on Tuesday, despite it being a school night, and despite us both being pretty exhausted.  It was nice to visit with them, but we were both exhausted, and we ended up home around 11, which means in bed by 11:30ish.

Wednesday, September 10th:

School was lovely, the kids were great, but I was nervous, nervous, nervous about presenting my lesson planning lessons to the two departments.  We had *three* meetings after school, and while my lesson went over well, and a lot of my colleagues thanked me for clarification, by the end of it all I was exhausted! All that planning and anticipation did a number on me, for sure!  I got home around 5 and left for another band practice session around 6:30.  My hometown is near where I practice, so usually I stop by to see my adorable nephew for a half an hour or so before practice.  I sat in a bit of traffic and made it to my sister's house in time to have only about 15 minutes with the baby before I had to leave.  I fed him his night time bottle and he fell asleep on me.  It was short, but so sweet, and totally worth the traffic.  Practice was from 8-10:30, and I was home around 11, and in bed by 11:30.

Thursday, September 11th:

It was an early, emotional morning.  September 11th always hits me harder than I think it will, and after a teary-eyed ride into work, I taught classes all day and struggled to get my to-do list in manageable shape.  The day was long as with our rotating drop schedule, today was my "heaviest" day- I saw all 5 of my classes- and by the end I was wiped.  As Indy has his first Back To School Night tonight, and planned on staying at school until around 10 tonight, I planned on spending the afternoon with my nephew.  However, while en-route, my sister called to tell me to turn around, as he had a doctor's appointment and wouldn't be around to play. BUMMER!

I turned around, drove home and napped, which was really lovely!  Then I decided to tend to the blog.  Tonight might be the first night I'm in bed before 10:30 all week, and I can.not.wait!

Here's what the rest of the week looks like:

Friday, September 12th:

School, and since I'll have a few preps, I'll hopefully get some more work done on my lesson plans/SGO plans (key word being hopefully).  Then, come home and go for a RUN!  Today marks the first time I've gone four days IN A ROW without running.  I'm kind of scared to do it, but tomorrow should be really nice; a pleasant 75 degrees as opposed to the 85 and humidity that was today.

At night Indy and I will probably make dinner, finally get around to watching that episode of The Leftovers and make a plan for getting school and housework done over the next two days.

Saturday, September 13th:

Indy, two friends of ours and I will compete in the ROC Race!  So excited about this!  We'll probably be exhausted afterward, so maybe Indy and I will order in and relax a bit.  We'll try to get some work done for school as well.

Sunday, September 14th:

Sleeping in, and then....WORK, WORK, WORK! We've got so much house work to tend to, it's embarrassing, plus the school work that never goes away, plus some planning for the following weekend.

As I relax to night, eating some re-heated Domino's and watch my beloved Project Runway, I'm going to take Tim Gunn's sage advice to heart more than I do most weeks.

My new Tim Gunn mantras:

Make it work! 
Go, Go, GO. 
.....don't think too much.
Go to work.

Monday, September 8, 2014

You Gotta Keep 'Em Separated!

When it comes to organizing my supplies in the classroom, I'm a little OCD.  I like all of my supplies to have a nice, clean, clearly labeled, preferably alphabetized, home.  This is especially true of my drawing pencils:

Before I had these nifty, perfectly pencil sized cardboard boxes to store my drawing pencils, I kept all of the pencils in their original boxes.  This got old, real fast.  Having 125 kids open, close, rip, lose, throw out the pencil boxes meant there were lose, mixed up pencils all over the place and I couldn't take it anymore! I had to find a small, convenient container for each of my drawing pencils....And then, the planets aligned!

As I was unpacking my new supplies last year, I opened up a large box of Triarco Pencils:

On the inside it looked like this:

Now, I'd opened boxes just like this Triarco one before,  Typically I'd unload its contents and throw everything else into recycling, but something clicked last year.  I opened the box and realized that the answer to my pencil organization/containment was right in front of my face all along! 

I know it only shows four here, but Triarco ships their pencils and erasers in six, small, pencil sized cardboard boxes.  I can vividly remember opening my first box, seeing the smaller boxes inside and literally having a "Ah-HA!" moment. 

As you can imagine, I'm much less quick now to toss out the packaging my supplies come in.  This is Recycling, Reducing and Reusing in its most literal sense!  And whenever I see my perfectly pencil sized, labeled drawing pencils on my supplies table, I can't help but sing this to myself: