Another Arts Teachers’ Story: Charlie Johnson

July 24, 2012

This is the 18th in a series of blog posts telling arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.

Charlie Johnson started teaching at Mount Desert Island High School in 2004. He started his career as the first visual art teacher at the Jay School Department in 1973. He is the National Honor Society advisor for 20 students. His courses include Photography, Video, and New Media Arts. Charlie is a teacher leader with the first phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative.

What do you like best about being a art educator?

I discovered my love for art at an early age, while my love for teaching did not develop until I was in college, so there is one interest overlapping another, and they make each day different and exciting for me. Teaching something I love and that I can “do” as well as teach makes my connections with students real and meaningful, not only to them, but to me as well. The “best” part is that I can learn from them and their solutions to problems in art every day, and it’s something I love to experience.

Tell me what you think are three keys to ANY successful arts ed program?

  1. Teachers with passion for teaching and the ability to transfer that passion to students.
  2. Teachers with a strong knowledge of pedagogy and the content they teach and who can share this effectively with students.
  3. Teachers who constantly make the value of ARTS education obvious to everyone in their school from students all the way down to administrators.

Express yourself in many forms and let others see you do that!

What specific way(s) do your assessment practices tie into the success of your program?

Students who are given the opportunities to be successful at many levels through understanding completely how they will be assessed and have had input into that assessment are usually on one hand very satisfied with their work and the processes involved in achievement or, on the other hand, understand why their work was not proficient and understand what they need to do to alter their processes to accomplish proficient work.

The vast majority of my students enjoy the task of making their work mean something and seeing purpose and content applied in their work as expression of their own ideals and thoughts and feelings. It is through the process of discussion, critique and revision that draws them into their work and lends to it an enhanced sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

The “Learning Results” are an excellent structure to have students work within, and as soon as they begin to understand what the structures of the ARTS discipline are, their work begins to improve.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

For me personally, it has been similar to earning my Master’s Degree; as intense, but a shorter period of time. Being involved in the ARTS assessment initiative has really helped me to open my mind around education in general and to understand the need for a shift in the way education works. I think ARTS teachers have had it all together as a package for a while, but need to be more reflective and accountable for the important work they do with young people. It has caused me to “read” more concerning the specifics of my profession in general and myself as a teaching artist through books, professional papers, literature and articles/online content concerning the “how to” of methods and software around what I teach. I have “grown” connections to a small, but dedicated group of teachers within my geographical area of Maine, and feel a closer collaboration to teachers from other schools.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Making a difference to my students and what they accomplish in their lives, by far.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Nothing, any other answer to that question would simply be an excuse for not being the best you can be. If we are to expect the best from our students, then we need to be able to overcome all kinds of obstacles in our classrooms, from money to obnoxious administrators.

Apple or PC?

There’s a difference? Really, I own an iPhone, iPad and several PCs. The important understanding is around software, not platform. Apple seems to still be a bit more user friendly overall, but more controlling as well.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

I am fortunate to be working in one of the best ARTS supported schools in Maine, but the pathway to this school required a lot of dedication, hard work, love of craft, and yes, luck!

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Stand up for yourselves, promote our profession as a profession by acting professionally and setting good examples for students at all times.

Do things for your students/school without expecting extra pay, it is much louder than words and will more often be appreciated rather than expected. This also ties into the concept of being professional and of teaching being respected as a profession. Encourage or help colleagues to step up every chance you get.

Technology is about to change the face of education, get on board or get ready for a long cold swim. Don’t succumb to technology, but embrace it, always leaving time for a walk in the woods or along a beach!

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would fund a subsidized living complex for people with mental illness, making it as comfortable and spacious as the money would allow.

Charlie invites you to visit his blog at http://chartliej.blogspot.com.

Thanks Charlie for telling your story!

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