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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Kattie Sweet

June 12, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 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. Thank you Kattie for sharing your story!

Kattie Sweet-Shibles has been teaching grades 7-12 (soon to be K-12) at the Upper Kennebec Valley Jr/Sr High School for 11 years. She has taught Career Education, Math, Visual Arts and Theatre classes. She currently has 60 students and her courses include 2D Art, Artists’ and their Lives (Dual Enrollment Class), Freshman Seminar and a Pre Algebra class0.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

Connections-the multiple meanings of the words.

The connections I make with students, current and former. The connection of art to community. Connections I make with other artist and teachers, creating a dialogue on how to bring art and education to all students.

Also the connection, or the ah ha moments students get when they see how the world of art connects to their life or the world around them. My favorite moments are when students say, I know understand part of the world because of something we studied in your classroom.

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

  1. Focus Choice- freedom of students to choose a method to meet the classroom goals.
  2. Real World Experience with the art- via visiting museums, speaking with artist, taking part in an art show.
  3. Passion- Passion for the Arts and education from the students, the instructor, and the community.

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

Yes, because of accountability. I use it to hold my self-accountable to meet the goals of the art room, and I hope my students do the same.

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

Again Connections, with being from Rural Maine, I can feel so isolated and question if I am going in the right direction. I hope to reach out more this year especially since I am moving to a new chapter of teaching younger students.

What are you most proud of in your career?

One thing that jumps out to me is the opportunities I have been able to provide to my students to go beyond our community to see Art in the “real” world. At my time at Valley, I have had two Art Trips to NYC, two other trips to Boston, and various trips to Colby Art Museum or the Portland Museum of Art. Another achievement I am proud of is obtaining my Master’s Degree in Education and therefore being able to offer Dual Enrollment Art Classes for the last three years so our students can receive High School and College Credit for our classroom.

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

Time! Time! and Time! and a bit of money.  I sometimes wish I could clone myself to prep and experiment more with different materials and mediums plus have unlimited supply of art materials, so students can experiment without the fear of wasting money.  I believe so much of learning can come from failure and experimenting.

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

This is a difficult question because it seems as if everything in the artroom comes across as “luck” or circumstances to the outside world who doesn’t see the process of learning and teaching. I asked my students this question and they came up with the idea of how easily I sketch out my ideas, making them look like the students’ final drafts. I can remember the struggle I had learning the rules of drawing and the continuation of working on the skill, so I can sketch well on the fly. Another thing is the ability to be creative.  I think some people believe you are born creative or not. I am not naturally creative, but I understand the process of research, and am always searching for inspiration which leads to creativity when I put my own spin on something I have found.

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

Be brave, take chances, allow yourself to step back. Take care of yourself, “you can not pour from an empty cup.”

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

There is so much. I probably would want to sit on it for a year, to really make a formal plan to get as much out of the money as I could.

Education wise:  Build and Create a space for the Arts in our community would be high on the list. I would love to create more travel opportunities for our students. Plus I would love to connect more with working artist bring them into our community.

Personally wise: I would love to create an artist escape in the Upper Kennebec River Valley Region. Open up my home and barn to create artist studios. Sort of like Old Lyme in CT, or like Vincent van Gogh’s dream for the Yellow House in Provence but of course with less chaos…or should I say a lot less chaos.

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

Gosh at 94, I hope I have no regrets to list. My current regrets, I hope will be understood by a wiser self and connected more with the path I had to take to get were I am. But I do wish a bit that I could cut myself a bit more slack on the little things that go wrong. Plus I hope to look back and remember that I did the best with what I was given at the time, learn and evolve, advocate with care for everyone involved, be a little more flexible but not allow my integrity to falter.

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