This is the 21st 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.
Susan Beaulier is in her 23rd year of teaching and is presently teaching PreK-12 Visual Arts Teacher in MSAD #32 in Ashland. Additionally, she has been the Coordinator of G/T Education for that same amount of time. In addition to Visual Arts classes, Sue offers a Digital Photography elective, and an Independent Study Seminar for High School students. Ashland Schools are a small school district in Aroostook County. Our district serves 6 communities. She is responsible for providing services for the 338 students in the district. Susan is a phase 2 Teacher Leader with the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative!
What do you like best about being an art educator?
I like the fact that the students (for the most part) want to be in my classroom. I think that the arts provide a platform for teachers to be more than lecturers. I like the honest interactions that occur within the realm of an art classroom. The kids are comfortable sharing their thoughts, and usually appreciate my input as well. I like walking into my room in the morning and finding it already full of kids who feel comfortable there and who are actively engaged without being reminded to get started. I like that kids who don’t have art class sometimes drop in during a study hall and ask if they can draw or paint or sculpt. I like that kids choose to stay after school to work on art projects or just be where they are comfortable. I like the energy of the art room and I like providing a place where kids feel happy and successful. I like working across all age levels. My job is never boring.
What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?
- Creating an environment where kids know that there’s no such thing as getting a “100” in art. I think it’s important to let kids know that it is through mistakes that they learn. Taking risks is more valued in art class than “getting it right” They need to know that they always have the chance for improvement and growth…no grade is final. Giving students the time and permission to plan, experiment, play, reflect and re-do is really important.
- Creating a place where learners feel productive and successful, and where they feel supported by their peers and instructor. Allowing for flexibility in pace, practice, and product is also valuable. Making learning fun doesn’t hurt either.
- Highlighting for the students, the problem-solving skills that they are learning and exhibiting, and how these skills can be applied to other areas of their lives. Sometimes they don’t recognize these qualities until we point them out. This connection adds validity to what they’re doing everywhere
How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?
Refining my approach to assessment has influenced my instructional practices .I used to think that adherence to a set of pre-established criteria might lead to “cookie-cutter” art products. Now, I am working to include the students as much as possible in developing assessment tools for their work. Creating the rubric together is now part of our introduction to the process. Assessment has proven to be a very valuable conversation starter in our classroom. When students are involved in the assessment process, they begin to “talk the talk” of art and art education. I think that kids inherently know what a “successful” project looks like, but sometimes they lack the descriptors to communicate that. When they have the criteria and vocabulary to express them selves, they are empowered to create, analyze, improve their own work, and justify their artistic choices. When students know what is expected of them, and they have the chance to define levels of achievement in language that means something to them, their work improves. Assessment opens up dialogue about art.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
My involvement with the Arts Assessment Initiative has provided many benefits. It has invited me to step out from my isolated domain, and share my thoughts with other colleagues in the art education field. It has allowed me to gain feedback about things that I do well, as well as those areas that need revision and improvement. I have met an entirely new group of people who share the same passions, worries, tasks, as I, and it feels good to be part of a group. My involvement has reinforced me in what I am doing, but has also offered suggestions for improvement. I have made new friendships and bonds over a short period of time. I feel like we are a family.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am at the point in my career where I am teaching the children of my former students. Additionally, I am teaching the grandchildren of some of my former classmates. I am heartened by the positive response I have received from all involved. It delights me when high school students or even parents tell me that they still remember and/or have an art project that they made in one of my classes. That makes me feel like I made an impression on their lives. One of my former students recently joined our staff as an Ed. Tech. She is also a dance instructor in our town. She told me that the opportunity I gave her in high school to participate in dance class changed her life. I recently received e-mail from a student who I had during one of my first years of teaching. She was very kind in her remembrances of art class. She made me feel proud that I had an impact on her life. The accomplishments of my kids make me proud.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
TIME gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher. I do relish time away from the responsibilities of school, but those responsibilities never really go away. I always feel like I’m behind the eight ball! We live in a fast-paced world. There are many demands upon every person today, and achieving a balance is difficult. I think that, despite our efforts, there is never enough time to accomplish what we want.
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
I’m not sure that I’ve made much of an impact on many of my colleagues through my hard work and determination. My fellow teachers often comment on how “creative” I am, and that I “do things so easily.” I have even had teachers tell me that I am “wasting my creativity” here at school. I truly think that they are speaking from a naive view of what creativity truly is. I feel that they think I am accomplished at my job because I possess artistic skills, and can demonstrate those to the students. They often comment that I “make things look so easy…” Though they recognize my artistic abilities, many of my colleagues fail to see me as an equal in terms of being an educator. I think that they still see the arts as a “special” (A term I detest!). They don’t recognize that my artistic skills are really just an extension of who I am as an educator. What they fail to see is that I face all of the same difficulties with educating kids as they do. Visual Arts is a language. So, when I am introducing the tenets of the visual arts, I am essentially teaching students a new language. That does not just happen because I can draw well. The skills that are developed and fostered in the art room may not be practiced anywhere else in the curriculum. I don’t think that regular ed. teachers know this or appreciate its impact on all other learning. Much of what I teach is really taught “through” art, not” because” of it. The critical/creative problem solving skills, life skills (working collaboratively, taking risks, working through a process, observation, reflection, revision, perseverance, etc.) aren’t really the by-products of an arts education. They are at the core of arts education. I often think that my students understand the benefits of a quality education in the arts better than my adult colleagues do.
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
Don’t let technology replace human interaction…kids crave it. If all else fails, Play Power Ball!
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
I would add it to my Maine State Retirement Account because Teacher Retirement is abysmal.
Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?
Of Course! I should have sung louder, danced more, and afforded myself more time for my own art.
Thank you Susan for telling your story!