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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Theresa Cerceo

February 24, 2015

MAAI Teacher Leaders series

This is the second blog post for 2015 on the Phase 4 Maine Arts Assessment Initiative’s (MAAI) Teacher Leaders sharing their stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to learn from and about others. You can learn more about MAAI at http://mainearts.maine.gov/Pages/Education/MAAI# and learn more about all 61 of the MAAI Teacher Leaders at http://www.maineartsassessment.com/#!teacher-leaders/c1qxk.

Theresa CerceoTheresa Cerceo is in her ninth year teacheing Visual Arts, K – 12 with MSAD 33 in Frenchville / St Agatha school district. Check on the map, it is WAY UP NORTH! She teaches full time;  I teach full time; middle / high school in the morning (four times a week) and elementary in the afternoon (each class once a week). In addition to teaching art, Theresa is a certified Gifted and Talented teacher and works with students in this capacity for Visual and Language Arts enrichment.  At the elementary level, she helps facilitate Language Arts, Science and Math Skill Seminars as part of the school-wide daily schedule. These seminars occur for 45 minute Monday – Thursday and change topics every two weeks. Also, Theresa serves on the school district’s Leadership Team for Learner – Centered Proficiency-Based Learning. Before moving to Maine in 2006, she lived in (my home town) Philadelphia.  There, she spent some time at Tyler School of Art (Temple University) before receiving a BFA from Rosemont College and an MAT (Visual Arts) from the University of the Arts.  In addition to working for the Main Line Art Center and the University of the Arts as an arts teacher in their children’s weekend and summer programs,  she taught art for 3 years within Philadelphia and the surrounding area at the elementary, middle and high school level.

What do you like best about being a visual art educator?

What I enjoy most about being an art educator is being able to provide an opportunity for students to engage in one of our basic human instincts, to create. I am humbled that I can assist in nurturing a child’s ability to express their unique identity while providing them the knowledge in skills and  techniques so that they may communicate more effectively.

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

In addition to administrative support, I believe love and personal commitment for one’s content, assessment supported curriculum, and teacher flexibility are the three keys to providing a successful art education.

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

Good assessments offer me a tool in which I can communicate with my students regarding expectations and their growth. It allows me to plan for what students need and how they need instruction delivered. This allows me to make their time in my room as individualized as possible.  Students see constructive feedback regarding their thought processes and skills and then, they can set real goals that are meaningful to them. I am finding that this facilitates not only skill and concept development, but a deeper appreciation for their time spent in art class.

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

Becoming involved with MAAI has given me the tools and support to establish my voice in my district. By attending Mega-Regionals and then going through the Teacher Leader training I have gained the knowledge base to establish the arts as an academic subject. At the core, what I have gained through MAAI is the knowledge that I am no longer an isolated arts teacher; that I am part of  a large group of educators that believe that the Arts are essential to human development; they understand why and they are committed to strengthening arts education and advocacy for the arts in Maine. This has reinvigorated my passion for teaching as well as my commitment to building the best art program possible.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of my personal growth as an educator. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time developing, reflecting and revising my curriculum and it has gone from a basic outline of what I thought was important for students to know (based on my personal experiences as a student and my personal interests),  to a more (teacher – student) collaborative piece that allows for exploration and discovery, reflection and personal goal setting. The most important thing I have learned, and I am still developing is flexibility in terms of instruction. A concept may be important for all students to get, but the way I deliver it might change from class to class depending on their readiness level, learning styles or even time constraints. I strive to treat students as individuals and to allow the art room to be a place where they can make personal connections to the materials and techniques offered and feel safe to make mistakes and to grow. Although this was always my theory about how an art classroom should run, it took me time and a lot of reflection and revision in order to reach a place where I can feel I am closer to this goal.

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

I think we can often get in our own way through self doubt or rigidity in our thinking. I realize now, I used to act as though students should be the kind of student I was or should care about the subject matter I find important. Teaching through this paradigm produced some success but not much growth or the overall “ love for the arts” I was hoping to foster. By surveying students, hearing other teachers, reflecting, and trying new ideas, I feel I learned a lot about myself and how to be a better teacher.

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 not sure. I guess I believe luck can only get you so far. For real success to happen, hard work and determination has to be part of it.

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

My advice is; do what you know is right, honor your natural instincts and let your classroom be a reflection of who you are and how you want the world to be.

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

If the money went to my classrooms, I would build a ceramics studio at both schools.  If it was for me to use personally,  I’d get an RV and travel around all the parts of the US I have never seen and/or start an arts center.

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

No, I believe all the parts of our journey offer learning experiences to help us evolve.  And, as we go through the various ins and outs of our life, we influence and are influenced by those around us.   As long as we keep learning from our mistakes, working positively and honestly toward our goals, there is nothing to regret.

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