What I want to be when I grow up had always been a varying list of art and writing jobs, allowing me to do everything I want without having to choose one thing over another. By time I was in the sixth grade my interests were becoming more focused and the things I loved doing the most were the areas I excelled in. School projects that allowed me to make a big oil pastel drawing of Sacagawea or write a new mythology for a constellation were met with tremendous enthusiasm. One day I was working on a colored pencil drawing in response to the book Maniac Magee and it was turning into one of the best drawings I had ever done. I felt proud. My Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Edmondson, seemed just as excited to be giving me this assignment as I was to be working on it. My teachers were people genuinely invested in encouraging me to do the things I loved and it felt big—especially in imaging what it would be like if they weren’t. All of a sudden I didn’t just want to do what I loved. I wanted to share it—I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to create opportunities for learning, experiencing, and sharing. This idea continued to evolve and by time I graduated high school I wanted nothing more than to be an art teacher.
I went into college with every intention of following the linear course I had been charting since I was eleven—I was only four years away from being a teacher. However, moving to Chicago revealed that I had become attached to a formulaic plan that was more a product of my hometown than the best way for me to make the most of my education. Going to college didn’t have to be about preparing myself for a job. A good education informs every part of a person’s life. I was at an art school with incredible faculty and resources, in a city that presented unlimited possibilities, and it was becoming apparent that there was just so much more available to learn. I didn’t feel like I could be the teacher I wanted to be without first giving myself time to focus on my own creative practices. My undergraduate education was divided between writing, visual art and every possible opportunity I could find for the two mediums to meet. I needed more time to be completely immersed in art and writing before shifting any focus to developing a philosophy for teaching it. When it came time, I didn’t enter the Art Education program.
In my final year of the BFA Writing program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), I wanted to spend some of my final credit hours on an internship that would engage my interest in education. I spent a year with 826CHI, a nonprofit creative writing and tutoring center located in Wicker Park, and have remained a volunteer. My involvement has spanned all aspects of their free programs for students ages 6-18. Over six years I have given well over 1000 hours to 826CHI, the most of all volunteers in the organization’s ten-year history. I have developed and taught six workshops including Poetry is a Centaur, on collage poetry; My Almost True Story, memoir writing with license to stretch the truth; Re-Versed, a poetry translation workshop for high school students; and Fabricated, a workshop on narrative textiles, which resulted in a display of student work in the window of what was formerly The Boring Store on Milwaukee Avenue. Additionally, I have TAed a number of workshops, including a summer ELL camp, where I was able to collaborate with the teacher and develop art projects to bring into her lesson plan. As a MAT student at Columbia College I designed and taught a two-week writing and printmaking camp with the support of my cohort and our student chapter of the NAEA. I have visited schools from Englewood to Sauganash and for many years I was I am on-site at 826 on a weekly basis working with students of all abilities, from diverse backgrounds, as they wrote everything from comics to college essays or come in for homework help. In my time at 826 I have seen students from the after-school tutoring program growing into confident young men and women and while they may not grow up to be writers they have gained invaluable communication skills, and in developing a love for reading and writing they are setting up a continual relationship with learning.
In the interim years before grad school I worked as a babysitter for several families with children ranging in age from 8 months to 14 years. I have saw children as they learned to walk and talk, and finally about to sit at a table and paint–asking me to make specific animals out of Play-Doh and naming all of the colors. The ability to create and communicate visually is a phenomenal developmental milestone and being there when a child learns something for the first time is an incredible experience. I was spending most of my time with middle school kids—an age I am really interested in because it is when I was forming so many beliefs that have remained with me into adulthood and really directed who I grew into. I shared in Vanessa’s 7th and 8th grade years, through the anxiety-ridden process of getting into a good CPS high school. I saw her perform in an ice-skating show and a school musical and was able to provide a sense of security when her parents were both travelling on business. I learned so much from her in our conversations on everything from politics to episodes of Glee and was able to share so much of my passion for art with her, whether showing her watercolor techniques for a project she was working on or sharing my own work with her. A year followed with Bailey (8th grade) and Celia (6th grade). I stayed aware of what the girls were learning in school and their personal, academic and social stresses. A strong system of communication was developed between myself, the girls and their parents; we all needed to be on the same page. I created strong trusts with the families I worked with and carried great responsibility. The relationship I formed with these kids and their parents is different from the one a teacher has—I was invited into their home life. A child’s life is divided into two major components: home and school, which are constantly pushing and pulling on each other.
I’ve gotten glimpses into both private and public education in Chicago and it is clear that every student I have encountered benefits from an education that engages creativity. I have had a consistently strong relationship with visual art for most of my life and the greatest thing I can think to do is to teach from that I am ready to make a commitment to my education and bring all of my experiences into refining my philosophy as an educator and to earn credentials that allow me more opportunities. Chicago belongs to all of the children and families I have worked with and I love it even more for that. I can’t imagine myself leaving this city any time soon, if ever.
As a teenager I spent my summers with ArtWorks, a program in Cincinnati that employs teens through the arts. I gained an understanding of the role of art in shaping and revitalizing communities and know that the arts empower young people in making meaningful contributions.
I have been a part of communities of writers and artists, but I am most inspired by people invested in education. Among 826 volunteers you will find someone working in every creative discipline, teachers of all sorts, a rocket scientist, people working in international business, and the joggling (juggling while running) world record-holder. As amazing as it is for students to have this group of people taking interest in their education, as a volunteer it is a collective I get to be a part of. We get to know a lot of the families of the students we work with and identify ourselves to parents as people who believe in their children. As a teacher, that is the alliance I want with my colleagues and the families of my students.
Before entering grad school I had been informally training as a teacher for years. When I was ready to make an official commitment I came to Columbia College Chicago as recipient of the Follett Graduate Merit Award. I chose Columbia based what it offered not just within the Art Education MAT program, but as an institution that across the board embraces interdisciplinary arts and the importance of community. With a history of involvement with nonprofit arts organizations I was lucky to have found my way to Columbia’s Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP). I spent a year working with CCAP’s TEAM Program (Transforming Education through Arts and Media). I began as a Teaching Artist Assistant and was quickly promoted to Program Associate. I had the opportunity to work with highly respected teaching artists in media arts integration residencies in 7th and 8th grade classrooms in Chicago Public Schools. Additionally, I maintained TEAM’s social media presence, which allowed me time to research trends and innovations in education and technology. As TEAM’s 4-year DOE Grant came to an end I was able to play a significant role in the development of a website and book showcasing TEAM curricula.
Both being a teacher and receiving an education is a collaboration in so many ways. I have a responsibility to continually educate myself and my colleagues will always be an invaluable resource. I want to remain engaged with my interests and identify myself to the community I work in as someone invested in using my passions and talents towards educating children. I want to learn how to take advantage of so much more of what Chicago offers in the arts and be able to direct my students towards organizations and opportunities outside of the classroom. I have been so lucky in all of the opportunities I have had and in all of the amazing teachers I have had in classrooms, mentors and friends. I am ready to apply it all at a new level.
Often students will ask how long I have been an artist. Like most of them, I was probably given crayons by time I was two—I just never stopped drawing. Before reading and writing, I had art, which has been a means for studying everything: considering the relationship between stanzas in a poem and panels in a comic, writing a history paper about the historical inaccuracies in Washington Crossing the Delaware, understanding the visual definition that is present all over Chicago. I even studied writing at an art school. An active practice of making visual art maintained since childhood has been such a part of the way I learn and respond, and the root for developing so many skills that it is a part of myself that is engaged in just about everything I do. Beyond just creating art, looking at the work of other artists and the way they see the world, considering all of the possibilities of visual art and its applications, I could never be bored. Introducing children to this universe makes everything feel new. A six summers ago I stood in front of negative handprint blown in red pigment, left on the cave walls of Pech Merle nearly 30,000 years ago. I am still trying to wrap my brain around what exactly that says about permanence and the importance of visual art. I want my students to be able to find something about art that they can get excited about and explore it from as many angles as they can find.
I have wanted to be a teacher since I was eleven years old, but it is an idea that has grown with me. It all feels very big.