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Who Are They?: MECA, Part 5

April 8, 2015

Maine College of Art

This blog post is part of a series called Who Are They? where information is provided for the Maine Arts Ed blog readers to learn about community organizations and institutions that provide educational opportunities in the arts. You will learn that they are partnering with other organizations and schools to extend learning opportunities, not supplant.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 12.42.14 PMThis is the fifth post on the Maine College of Art (MECA) which is located in downtown Portland. Below is an interview with Fern Tavalin, MECA Director of Art Education.

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Fern Tavalin

Please describe the educator training programs offered at MECA.

MECA offers a Master of Arts in Teaching that leads to initial certification in visual art for the State of Maine. Our program is accredited by the State of Maine and by National Alliance of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Receiving NASAD approval is quite an honor.

What is MECA’s philosophy on teacher education?

We believe that teachers should be both artists and educators. Our admissions policy is rigorous in that we review an artist’s portfolio as well as screening for the dispositions that we feel are necessary for good teaching and learning. Those admitted have the potential to become outstanding artist/educators. Because of this, we make sure that they are given the tools to become effective art educators who use the knowledge, skills, and dispositions acquired in our program to creatively serve children and youth in PK-12 schools, museums, community-based/alternative settings, and virtual learning environments. To ensure that our teacher candidates are prepared, we value learning as a developmental process. That means that our candidates are not graded on each assignment as they begin. Instead, we provide substantive feedback, pointing toward their next steps in learning. At key stages, the candidates undergo reviews to demonstrate attainment of Maine’s initial teacher certification standards and our program outcomes.

Each college or university reflects its institutional aims as well as having to be responsive to accreditation requirements. MECA is a studio-based college, the practices of which have much to add to the overall field of education. By maintaining our beliefs and our educational approach, we hope to add value to the research base about how students learn best.

We encourage our candidates to resist the temptation to want to see the state educator standards written in art specific terms and trust that their coursework will reflect the art specific knowledge that they will eventually being to the classroom. Familiarity with the general concepts of teaching and learning and how they translate to art education will give MECA’s teachers a “place at the table” during faculty meetings and gatherings of educators across disciplines.

Is there something that sets MECAs program apart from others?

When MECA’s teacher candidates enter the program, they enroll in an intensive one-month summer institute that integrates the frameworks for teaching and learning, student creative growth and development and how their lives of artists apply to the field of education.

On the very first day, our teacher candidates enter classrooms in Portland’s diverse public school system. They learn to begin by closely observing rather than judging. As the semester progresses, MECA teacher candidates use a variety of lenses for looking at students in a variety of learning environments. This direct experience is enhanced by collaborative inquiry through theoretical readings and shared discussions. The program emphasizes critical thinking and data gathering to question assumptions – both theirs and those of experts in the field.

What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a teacher in this century?

All learning is cumulative, so we cannot always predict the overall outcomes of our efforts as teachers. Because the future is unknown, we cannot say what it will bring. However, studio habits of mind such as developing craft, engaging and persisting and envisioning will be essential now matter what our teachers face.

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