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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Pam Chernesky

March 14, 2017

MALI Teacher Leaders Series

This is the third blog post of the Phase 6 Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Teacher Leader stories. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about the work each Maine visual or performing arts teacher or artist is doing.  CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 81 Teacher Leaders plus 4 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. There have been 74 posted to date. Thank you Pam for sharing your story!

Pam Chernesky teaches theatre and visual art at Houlton Middle/High School. She has taught art and theatre in Maine for the past 29 both downstate (Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf and Bonny Eagle High School) and, has been teaching art in the County for the past 3 years. Her high school courses include Art 1, Art 2, Advanced Art, Ceramics, Photography, and Theatre. She also teaches art and theatre with 6th, 7th and 8th graders in the Middle School. In total Pam teaches about 400 students with 3/4 of her time in visual arts and 1/4 teaching theatre.

What do you like best about being an arts educator?

 I love seeing students connect with each other and discover their own creative voice. In my district students have not had any elementary art or theatre so I see them transform into artists. Teaching students to take risks, believe in their ideas, and work collaboratively energizes me on a daily basis.

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

Opportunity to learn, passionate teachers who love sharing their craft, and resources and support from the administration and the community. If these happen consistently then success is at hand.

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

Many of my students have their first ever art or theatre class in middle or high school and truly believe they can’t create, have no ideas, or are afraid that they will get it “wrong”. Quality assessment provides clear expectations for both the students and me.   They see their progress toward meeting standards and realize that they CAN achieve and create.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative?

I definitely cherish meeting and working with so many wonderful arts teachers from across the state who are like-minded and willing to think outside the box. The trainings and leadership opportunities that have been afforded to me since joining MALI are impacting my practice and leadership in so many ways.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am proud of the accomplishments of my students. This includes the state and nationally recognized performers and artists, as well as the students who just take my classes to earn a graduation credit and instead learned so much more. I know that when you learn to create, you will be less likely to destroy. When you put yourself out there and take a creative risk, you will be less likely to criticize different ideas. When you connect with others and see diverse ways to express ideas, you will not see your world in such a black and white, right and wrong view. The arts impact every human being who participate in profound and long-lasting ways, and I am proud of my part in facilitating those changes in my students.

Visual Art and Theatre teacher Pam Chernesky and Dance and Phys. Ed. teacher MaryEllen Schaper (Bonny Eagle Middle School)

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

In schools, time is always a huge factor, coupled with the strange concept that the arts are not a “core” subject and therefore don’t really matter in the same way as other subjects. The resistance to change at a systemic level is most frustrating. I think that if schools let all the arts teachers reinvent the way a school day would operate, I could be a better teacher and my students would see connections and be better learners and future citizens.

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

I have worked hard to expand offerings for students both during school and in extra-curricular areas. Students participate in the MLTI Screensaver Challenge, the Scholastic Art Awards, art shows outside of school and the MPA One-Act Festival. I am on the boards of our community arts center and the local children’s theatre. Most people have no idea of the hours of work and coordination it takes to build relationships, provide opportunities, and share those successes with the community.

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

Never underestimate your power as a teacher to change a student’s life and make a difference. Your students are learning more than vocabulary or skills, they are learning to think, empathize, connect and become better human beings, and we teach all those things through the arts.

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

I would travel with my family and experience arts and cultures around the world. I could probably even get a ticket to Hamilton in New York! I would also save money for my daughter’s college expenses as she pursues her love of music. I would use the rest of the money to provide more opportunities for my students. Field trips to museums and performances are out of reach for many rural schools who live great distances away from those venues. It would be a thrill to be able to afford to take them to see the works of art that they have only seen in books or on the internet, or to see live performances.

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

I hope not. I struggle with balancing my family life with my arts life, and it is wonderful when they intersect. I am lucky to have the loving support of my family but I don’t underestimate the time we have together. Hopefully at 94 I can look back with fond memories of it all! I know I love what I am doing right now.

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