During the school year I am often asked to make giant birthday cards for the teachers and administrators who are my colleagues, for the purpose of having the students and staff sign them. It's a nice "officey" thing to do, you know, we sing and have cake at lunchtime... it's a task I take care of when I have a minute between classes and the Sisyphean daily charting that our school requires teachers to complete. While I appreciate the idea of the cards, it makes my already busy day extra busy.
This summer, we were asked to think of things we might do and be paid for, since we are a year-round school, but the summers are obviously very slow. Kids are mostly on vacation.
I asked if I could make the giant birthday cards during these slow months, that way I could be compensated for the task and life would be a little bit easier during the school year. The administrators thought it was a great idea.
Turns out, I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm still teaching (as I mentioned in earlier posts, we teach students on a one-to-one basis), but I now have hours designated for me to be paid specifically for this creative work; something that we all assumed I, or the other art teacher, would do for free.
My reaction to this task led me to think about an animated lecture called, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, that I sometimes play for my students when I teach a class called, Life Skills.
It's about motivation and I discovered it before I became a full-time teacher. It's about our human sense of purpose, value, and desire to contribute. I think my birthday-card-making task this summer is causing me to feel a teensy-tiny bit like I'm receiving or living inside of this sort of motivation, and it's not just because I'm being paid for a task that I enjoy...
In regard to my sense of feeling like my chosen life-path is purposeful, and that I'm contributing and feeling trusted and valued in my work environment, I think back to my own experiences in elementary, middle and high school, as a creative kid and a teen. I think about how bitter many of my art teachers were. How judgmental they were. How many insane and silly rules they had for art-making. Rules that my professors at art college taught me to forget about and ignore.
After I, myself, became a middle school/high school art teacher I began to see kids with talent far beyond my own, with resources and support systems I didn't have. Once that began to happen (and it happened quickly), I understood how my old art teachers might have, as the years went by, grown resentments. From my perspective, most of them had given up on their own creative lives, for the sake of their job security, and once I started teaching teens, and enjoying my own job security, I made a personal promise to make sure I remember to watch myself and my behavior; to keep working on my own work, and to feel sincerely joyful while witnessing the talents, progress and achievements of my students; to not limit them based on creative rules I personally decide upon. There are different creative pathways and sometimes people much younger than I am can know something I do not. The day I stop being open to that, is the day I am no longer a teacher.
It's my perception, through the lens of my own value system, my experience and my observations, that teachers of lower, middle and secondary education are mostly praised for things like "getting through to the kids" via routes that feel more parental than academic. We're rewarded for creating systems that help students more efficiently reach tangible academic goals. I get this. It's important. That being said, for those educators whose passions/deep sense of purpose are less "administrative," I believe our feeling of value within this American (the only one I know) system of lower, middle and secondary education can be diminished over time. I believe this diminishing reaches the lives of our students, and can hinder extraordinary creativity and enthusiasm. As well, I believe that young people need to be exposed to educators who feel valued and whose passions/deep sense of purpose are less "administrative." And in my experience, I've seen that it's not a problem that can be solved by schools hiring "fresh" young teachers who leave once their enthusiasm fades. Kids need consistency.
So I'm pondering my role as a teacher, as well as my role as a worker for a corporation, which I also am. What makes me a better worker for the corporation? What makes me better affect change and a love of learning into the lives of my students? What makes me feel valued and what are the rewards that matter to me?
All this being said, I'm doing more personal creative work this summer other than making giant birthday cards, and of course that small task alone is not enough to make anyone feel completely valued. It's just a little connection I made, inside my own head. Thank you for reading.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher who dabbles in fashion. I'm planning for this blog to be an ongoing series of relatively abstract thoughts, videos and images related to my experiences as a person who teaches art to teenagers.