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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Samantha Armstrong

March 15, 2016

MALI Teacher Leaders series

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This is the second blog post of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 5  Teacher Leader stories. This series contains a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about the work they are doing as Maine arts educators. CLICK HERE for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE for more information on the 73 of the MALI Teacher Leaders. CLICK HERE for Arts education resources. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past stories. There have been 61 posted to date.

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Samantha Armstrong teaches K-6 visual arts at Paris Elementary and the Hebron Station School. This is her ninth year teaching and second year in the Oxford Hills School District. She currently teaches a little over 500 students each week. Her students have art class once a week for 40 minutes and I teach either 5 or 6 classes a day. Samantha is a team member from the Oxford Hills School District that are creating integration ideas as part of the Maine Arts Education Resource Project – Integration formed by the Maine Department of Education under the direction of VPA Specialist Beth Lambert.

What do you like best about being an arts educator?

One of the things I like about teaching art is getting to see how unique each student is and how they all approach projects differently. I enjoy teaching students new concepts and techniques, exposing them to new artists, making connections between the arts, other subject areas and the world around them. It’s exciting when students can reflect and make connections between what they are learning in my classroom and the world around them.

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

  • Teachers that are passionate and excited about what they are teaching.
  • School districts that support the arts and arts education.
  • Community outreach, getting student performances and artwork out into the community and getting local artists into the schools.

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

I find assessment to be very helpful in my classroom. When students finish an assignment they each complete a reflection paper. This helps them bring together what they have learned in the lesson and how the concepts and techniques work in connection with each other. Assessment also helps  guide my teaching, the effectiveness of the lesson and my approach to teaching. Currently I have developed a checklist for students, a type of formative assessment, so that they can monitor their learning and progress and help them meet their goals.

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

I have met many wonderful arts educators from all over the state of Maine and many others dedicated to the ongoing success of arts education. Through collaboration I have learned a great deal of information that has helped me in the classroom. I have become more involved in advocating for arts education and am currently working as a Teacher Leader Ambassador on the census and the arts integration resource project.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of my students and all their progress and learning that happens throughout the year. Seeing my students being successful and enjoying their learning is the best!

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

Time and not having enough of it. I am fortunate to work in two great schools with very supportive administrators and teachers. Many teachers are interested and open to collaborating but with schedules and time constraints it is often difficult to have planning time. Planning is often a quick conversation in the hall or an email, which  works, but obviously with more planning time it could be even better.

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

I feel very lucky to be an art teacher in the community in which I live. It definitely took a lot of time and patience to finally be fortunate enough to be hired as an art teacher in my community. As everyone in the field knows art teaching positions are often few and far between. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree so I did not have an education background. I had several years of catching up on classes while working. My path was winding as I first taught Special Education, then moved to a small independent school as a classroom teacher.  At the same time I taught a metalsmithing class at Lesley University and at summer arts program for kids. My teaching experience has been all over the place but I have enjoyed all of it and have learned so much from it.

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

My advice would be to be patient. Unfortunately I see many new teachers overwhelmed by behaviors. It is something that an education in teaching really can’t prepare you for. We all come to school everyday from a different place and for some the act of simply getting to school takes a lot of effort. Acknowledging the diversity in our schools and the struggles many students face academically, socially and physically is essential to creating helpful working relationships with our students. Being aware of students needs, being patient, and working with them to meet their goals is essential in helping students be successful.

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

Add more art programs and help provide teachers with more opportunities for collaboration. I would love to see more drama and dance programs at the elementary level and more access to affordable instruments for all students. The time I have had to work with other teachers this year through MALI has been great and I have learned so much. It would be great if there was more funding for this and other programs that bring teachers together. 

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

That is hard to imagine! Hopefully I still have my wonderful, crazy family around me, that I am still making art and enjoying lots of good food and wine. I’m sure I’ll have some regrets but for the most parts I love my life and how I’ve gotten where I am now. I have a simple life but that is perfect for me. I live in a great town, I have a loving family, wonderful friends, a warm home, good food to eat and I enjoy getting up everyday and going to work doing what I love with great teachers and students.

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