This is the 36th in a series of blog posts telling arts teacher’s stories. The first 19 were told last year by the phase I Maine Arts Assessment Initiative teacher leaders. The series continues with the stories from the phase II teacher leaders. These posts contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.
Suzanne Southworth started teaching in NY where she grew up and has now taught for 15 years in Maine Public Schools. Currently, Suzanne is at Camden Hills Regional High School where she has been for the last 6 years. The courses she teaches change up from year to year but she always teaches the Jewelry classes and usually teaches the Advanced Art Portfolio class. This year the IA teacher and Suzanne piloted a course that they call Metal Sculpture where students learn basic welding techniques and learn to use those skills to design beautiful metal sculptures.
“The thing I like best about being an art teacher is that it gives me the opportunity to help students learn to work with their hearts, hands, and minds together as well as the ultra focus it takes to be a successful artist. In today’s busy world it is so important to teach subjects that engage students this way. I also really like the ever-changing subject matter and the excuse to constantly search for my own inspiration in order to share the joy of the art making process with my students.”
What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?
It doesn’t take much to run an art program but if you want a really good successful program you need to have organization, dedicated art professionals who work hard in the classroom, advocate for the program and exhibit student work, and a community who supports.
I was involved in the MAAI this year and found that after learning so much I realized how much I still need to learn. In my short career everything has changed so much and I find myself digging my heels in, refusing to update my way of thinking. I think I still do to some degree but the change is happening. What it has done for me is to see how the arts have never been more important to the well being of our next generation. As a parent and a teacher there is not so much of a buffer from a child’s environment to do what is right so, it is up to us to arm ourselves with the knowledge to protect and educate our youth at the same time.
How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?
I feel that through well crafted assessments we can engage students and make learning personal and relevant. My favorite assessment is a written reflection. I find that having regular assessments in the classroom to be a useful tool in keeping both teacher and student in check. I also like the idea of keeping teachers accountable for good teaching practices and students engaged in their own learning process.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
Being a part of the Arts Assessment Initiative has made me so much more visible in my school and Regional area. It has been so nice to really know what the new ideas in education are and not be left in the dark during staff meetings and workshops. The best thing I got out of it though was the networking. Art Educators are generally pretty dynamic people. Just being around other conscientious Art teachers is a real boost to my attitude toward teaching and provides me with a lot of inspiration.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the results I see in my students work and being there when they make a breakthrough in their work and their individual ideas and watching them go through the stages from directed work to independent.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
The thing I find most difficult about my teaching is the number of hours outside of the school day needed to do a good job and the multitude of other aspects of my teaching assignment.
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
One of the things about teaching art that looks easy from the outside but takes a great deal of skill is to create an environment in the classroom that is conducive to “thinking” and creativity. Where there is a balance of “free thinking” and guided structure. I think this is a gift that you either have or you don’t but that it can be developed and improved regardless of the level of talent in this area.
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
If I were to give advice to other teachers I would say to keep updated on what is going on in art education. It is amazing how much voice we have here in Maine and we are fortunate to have people watching our backs at every level. Those people need our help in understanding the concerns of the classroom. Without our everyday art teacher input the decisions and initiatives won’t work to cater to the needs of our very real programs.
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
If I were given $500,000 I would hire a team of top-notch educator’s who would write curriculum complete with the core standards, assessments, and technology and any other requirements. The team would write curriculum and build a library of lesson plans and boxes filled with non-consumable tools and materials to support the lessons that could circulate per request of the teacher throughout the State of Maine.
Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?
Years from now I think I would look back and be really proud of the number of students who went on to continue with creative pursuits but I would also think that perhaps I did not get the concept of “Don’t sweat the small stuff so well and that I had a darn good job!
Thank you Suzanne for sharing your story!