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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Barbara Weed

March 19, 2013

This is the 23rd in a series of blog posts telling arts teacher’s stories. The first 19 were told last year by the phase I Maine Arts Assessment Initiative teacher leaders. The  series continues with the stories from the phase II teacher leaders. These posts contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from other.

bweedThis weeks post highlights Barbara Weed! This is her 9th year teaching at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School and works with all (about) 625 students in grades five through eight.

What do you like best about being an art educator?

I like having the opportunity to see kids think in ways that surprise and delight them. Achieving a new skill or understanding in visual art feels like a singularly personal accomplishment, so students’ pride in learning is very heartfelt.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. I believe that the teacher should be educated in and deeply knowledgeable about the content.
  2. I believe that students need to feel that they can take risks when they are learning in the arts, so it is important that tools are available for creating an environment of trust. Students feel vulnerable when they are developing a personal creative thinking process and they need to feel that they are working in a safe environment.
  3. Active support for the inclusion of demonstrated arts standards in all content areas, by all of the adults who work with students, is crucial for communicating the value of arts education to students. Integrated learning that embeds the arts at the center of designed learning experiences, with real world applications, promotes deep learning that make the arts central to the learning process.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessments help me understand what students already know, what they learn, and where they can be challenged. Knowing the assessment in advance helps students maintain their focus on the target that is being learned.

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

The Maine Arts Assessment Initiative has helped me to meet more arts teachers from across the state, to hear about their experiences in the classroom, and to understand the varied emphasis on assessment in each district. I think that MAAI has highlighted, for me, the need for increased clarity about the expectations of arts education in Maine schools, and I see the opportunity to connect with other arts educators as vital to meeting that need.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m proud of the role that I have been able to play in the education of over a thousand students. It’s very gratifying when the young adult who is scanning my groceries, waving at me from the window of a restaurant, or examining the same painting in a gallery turns out to be a former student who fondly remembers work that they did under my guidance. It means that the learning that they acquired in my classroom is still with them, can continue to shape them, and that they are able to share it with someone else.

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

Isolation looms large. Students, teachers, and learning are isolated by the traditional school structures that don’t support connections or collaboration. Teaching large numbers of students, of vastly different ability levels, in isolation means that the reflective part of learning can easily succumb to the pressures of management, and professional collaborations are constrained by the lack of shared teaching conditions or goals

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

I think that many people mistakenly believe that visual art education is easier to teach than other subjects, and that I’m “lucky” that it’s so easy. This mistake is typically because most people, including teachers, have received very limited art education and they equate art with craft or decoration. They might look at a student product and evaluate it simply according to the skill of execution, when the student may actually have been developing a compositional skill or critical analysis skill that is unrelated to their ability to use the media. Visual art, in general, is assumed to be all about concrete skills, but it’s really about critical thinking. Hard work and determination are always required.

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

I think my advice to arts educators would be to become involved in developing assessments of the new national standards as they are finalized. Learn how to teach arts in electronic formats that engage students in 21st century applications. Push your administrators to invest as much in you, professionally, as they invest in your colleagues who teach academic content, so that the arts continue to be a vital part of public education.

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

  • Put a roof on my house.
  • Buy a working stove.
  • Help my daughters, who will both graduate from college in May, tackle some school loans.
  • Buy myself some art making materials, including a quality camera.
  • Take a ride on the train across Canada.
  • Equip my classroom with cameras.
  • Establish a middle/secondary arts school in southern Maine.
  • Fund an instructional program for Maine administrators, MDOE leaders, and education policy makers in the Legislature to teach them, first-hand, about the value of arts education in public schools.

 

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