Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Jenni Null

May 27, 2014

Fine Arts Coordinator, Instrumental and Choral Music Instructor, K-12, SAD #61 

This is the ninth blog post for 2014 and the third phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative of this series sharing arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to learn from and about others. Jenni was a guest on the MAAI webinar from April on Common Core and the Arts. You can see/listen to the archive by going to http://mainearts.maine.gov/Pages/Education/MAAI-Webinars. Jenni is also working on the team of teacher leaders who are developing resources. The webinar scheduled for June will provide the opportunity for you to learn more about the arts ed resource bank.

png;base645078de7cb68c173dJenni Null is the SAD#61 K-12 Fine Arts Coordinator, Instrumental and Choral Music Instructor. She has taught for 36 years, 35 of which have been in my present district of Lake Region. Jenni teaches Grades 4 and 5 instrumental music in three different schools in three different towns (Bridgton, Sebago, and Naples), and has a very healthy chorus (60+ students) in Naples. When I am not in the classroom, I am overseeing the art, music, and dance program for the District, which includes the scheduling of our fine arts events for the year, as well as assisting colleagues in developing and reviewing the arts curriculum and assessments.

What do you like best about being an arts educator?

I love seeing the excitement in my beginning instrumental students when they are successful
on their respective instruments for the first time.  Coupled with that, is fast forwarding through the years and attending middle and high school concerts where I hear these same students performing. It’s very rewarding to think I gave them their start or awakened a talent within that they didn’t know they possessed.

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

A successful visual and performing arts education should have:

  1. Passionate arts educators – These are the think-outside-the-box people who don’t let all the obstacles of the daily minutia get them down. They are the problem solvers!
  2. Supportive administrators –  All administrators say they are supportive, but the ones who truly are, find other areas to cut at budget time. The administrators I admire recognize that the square pegs don’t fit in the round holes. They provide QUALITY time so that arts educators can access students in a meaningful way, rather than seeing how many different classes can be stuffed into the day.
  3. A partnership between arts education and the surrounding arts community, where we share our resources, including performance and art display venues. Professional artists share their expertise in the classroom and provide workshops and mentor opportunities. High School students can work in tandem with these arts professionals and hopefully glean a vision of the arts as a vital part of their lives beyond their K-12 education.

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

Assessment has helped me to stay focused on the key elements of my program. It also compels me to reevaluate and adapt in accordance with the needs of my students. A fringe Assessment has helped me to stay focused on the key elements of my program. It also compels me to reevaluate and adapt in accordance with the needs of my students. A fringe benefit of assessment is that students pay attention to the grading rubrics and what is required of them to meet standards. In this regard, I feel that today’s students take the arts classes more seriously than their predecessors.

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

The Maine Arts Assessment Initiative has introduced me to some passionate arts educators statewide. Participating in this initiative has consequently energized me both in and out of the classroom. We must all be continually involved in advocacy, both individually, and collectively. MAAI has taught me that, “One of us is never as strong as all of us,” and that as a cohesive unit, we have been empowered to elevate arts education for the students of Maine!

What are you most proud of in your career?

For five consecutive years, I was able to organize a school-wide Arts Week for grades 4-6, centered around a musical production. Students learned the musical numbers in general music, and thanks to a grant, I was able to bring in professional artists to work with students in multi-age groups. Each day, the multi-age groups rotated through activities related to the play and aligned to the Maine Learning Results: making props, painting the scenery, working on lighting, (including the scientific properties of combining different colors), the cultural and historical background, and of course being entertained by the visiting professional musicians, dancers, and artists. The entire school was involved through the culminating activity, which was the musical production.  The students worked together as a community and learned so much in a meaningful way that was arts based.

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

People without vision who prevent me from pursuing mine!

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

I worked for two summers for The Edinburgh International Film Festival. I had to fly to Edinburgh for an interview and convince my perspective employers that an American could learn the city well enough to organize all levels of accommodation, from student flats to luxury hotels, as well as travel arrangements for festival attendees.

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

  • Don’t let the small stuff get you down!  The endless meetings, paperwork, and duties will not disappear, but in spite of it all; remember you get to do amazing things with students and perhaps transform their lives in a way that others do not.
  • Don’t let boredom set in.  Change it up with a new lesson, new curriculum, or new job!  If you are bored, you can be sure your students are, too.
  • A network is critical for the arts educator to survive, so build one within and outside of your school or district.
  • Advocate for the arts with everyone you meet; administrators, parents, colleagues, and your students.  People need to be reminded why arts education is important.

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

If I suddenly had a large sum of money, I would set up an endowment that would provide for students to travel to New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, and attend a Broadway Show. All students deserve the opportunity to have their senses awakened by such world class artistic experiences.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

If I were to start again, I would formulate a plan for my professional life.  I never really did that, but rather just let life happen.  I think that teachers entering the profession today are more forward thinking about where they want to be 10 or 20 years from now.

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