Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ruminations - my hippie education and retirement plans

So this is a serious sort of post, ruminating on some topics that have been rambling around in my little head, under this mop of silver hair. I'm thinking about a bunch of stuff about my post-retirement plans that I haven't told you about yet, but it helps to know my background a little, which brings me to my hippie education.

I went to a very hippie-dippy college north of NYC, in the early 1970's. I was an art education major, and my education textbooks were those pictured above: Teaching as a Subversive Activity (no I am not kidding); Crisis in the Classroom; And Jill Came Tumbling After: Sexism in American Education; The Open Classroom, and a completely incomprehensible book on art criticism. We were so busy doing sensitivity training activities in art ed classes, or discussing the difference in meaning between "sensual" or "sensuous" (in art crit class) that we learned very little about actually structuring lessons, or how children learned, or what the real world of teaching and education was like. I learned virtually NO education theory or jargon, and keep in mind, I was a good hard-working student, who went to all my classes and gave my best effort. It simply wasn't taught there at that time; I think the professors were as busy being hippie-types as we students were, and it didn't fit into the general philosophy of the time. The exception was the required art education class that used the textbook Creative and Mental Growth by Victor Lowenfeld.
This was the only book from my education classes that I ever referred to again after my college days were over. I was so thankful to have learned something concrete that I could actually use to help me when I got a job.

Fast forward to the end of this June 2012, when I will retire after 36 years teaching. During those 36 years, I've seen various philosophies of education and all sorts of jargon come and go, from Bloom's Taxonomy to to Multiple Intelligences to the Reggio Emilia approach to my district's allegiance to Learning Focused schools - well, I'm sure you can name them all better than me. I've never actually studied any of this stuff other than during random professional development days where there was rare or no follow-through or connection for the art educators. And usually a year or two later we moved on to something else anyhow.

And then there's all the associated acronyms (you know, the associated initials for everything under the sun). I'm not going to list them all here because then I'd have to remember what they stand for. And that jargon - when did a teacher example or sample become an exemplar? Or a chart become a rubric? (I'd been teaching at LEAST a dozen years before I ever even HEARD the word rubric!) 'm telling you, I did NOT learn these terms in undergraduate OR graduate education classes. I did NOT learn about curriculum mapping. I did NOT learn assessment strategies. There were no Standards. We talked about grades, not about assessment. Lesson plans did not have anticipatory sets (oh, actually they did; we just didn't have a fancy name for it). Everything I ever did was done by figuring out for myself what worked, or by asking those I worked with, or by looking at what was left behind by my predecessors. (A side note here: an art teacher friend who attended college with me, years ago considered suing the college for the lack of appropriate training.)

So you may wonder why I am thinking about this now. It has to do with the irony of something I have agreed to do upon my retirement. A part-time/sometime job.......

Earlier this winter I was approached about a teaching position with NYSUT ELT. NYSUT is the NY State United Teachers, our state union, and ELT stands for Education Learning Trust.
ELT provides professional development under the umbrella of NYSUT. The concept is one of teachers teaching teachers. I was approached because:
  1. Someone knew I was retiring who evidently thinks I'm a good fit for the job;
  2. Our region does not have any ELT instructors with background in the arts; and
  3. I have been very involved in my union throughout my teaching career. I spent 10 years as local union president, and many more in various other leadership roles, negotiating contracts, dealing with grievance issues and more. So I am comfortable with the association with the union.
After a lot of discussion with my family and friends, and after some soul-searching, I decided to go ahead and say yes to this opportunity. I like a challenge, and I like to work, and I think I'm intelligent enough to learn something new. So I filled out the application, wrote out a resume, and had a phone interview. And after all that, it appears they still want me.

I will be attending training this summer. First I will be trained as a new ELT instructor (with others from all over the state), and then later in the summer I will be trained in a specific course I will offer for inservice credit. Each summer I will be trained to teach another course, adding to my repertoire. At this point I have no idea what the courses might be - I'm hoping there will be something offered that has to do with creativity or the brain, but there is no guarantee.

I've taught lots of workshops at my state conference before, so I'm comfortable with the idea of teaching adults. But this will not be teaching art. I will not be teaching someone how to make a papier-mache mask or how to use math and art to fold and design a trihexaflexagon. It's a little out of my comfort zone.

I could also be called on to facilitate professional development workshops at various regional school districts. But there could be lots of jargon. And acryonyms. And an assumption of understanding of various educational philosophies and terminology that have passed me by over the years. Definitely out of my comfort zone. I'm afraid I'll be discovered as a fraud. But nevertheless I have said YES and I'm hoping I will be successful and not embarrass myself or my union.

Meanwhile, I will also be looking for an avenue in which I can still do some art with kids - maybe running an after school or weekend arts program, or vacation art 'camp' or something of the sort. I just know I'm not done with papier-mache with kids!!! I'd love to pick the brains of those of you who already run such programs. If you teach art classes that are not part of a school program, here are some questions for you:

  • Where do you hold your art classes? (My home does not have space for this, so I'll need to find an external venue.)
  • Where do you store materials/work-in-progress?
  • Do you have a venue for displaying student work?
  • What are the insurance/legal issues?
  • How did you decide what to charge?
  • How do you solicit children to sign up for your programs?
  • Anything else you think it's important for me to know when starting up?


  1. Phyl...first congrats on your upcoming retirement. I also went to college in the early seventies. It wasn't so hippy dippy here in the South but nevertheless, we were ill prepared to teach. Had it not been for Lowenfeld and a great lead teacher I don't know that I would have made it those first few years. I agree that philosophies come and go. Seems once one gets up and running along comes the next "best idea". Good luck with the new job!

  2. Just last year I started my own studio for kids - Outside the Lines Young Artists' Studio. It was one of those things that happened because it needed to. I am very lucky that my church (where I also taught preschool for the past 6 years) agreed to rent me space. It's a Sunday School room for an hour a week and mine for the rest. Of course, I have to set up and tear down each week. Also, no sinks in the room and carpet, so I have to be super careful. But they allow me to store supplies there too, although juggling them and works in progress can be difficult. This church is VERY supportive. They benefit from the rent, the fact that I'm exposing families to the church that might not have a church of their own and I do little art projects for the church kids when they ask. This church also rents to a dance studio and Suzuki violin academy. It's worth asking around. With declining congregations, many churches have space to spare during the week.

    I based my fees on what I've been paying for my daughter to take dance classes and other camps. I charge $50 a month for an hour a week lessons, plus a 1-time materials/registration fee of $30. Camps are $150 for 5, three-hour days, 9 - 12. This seems to be quite reasonable. You could probably charge more as your market dictates.

    As far as finding students, I kind of had a built-in student base because I've taught preschool here for so long. Our neighborhood is very small town in that everybody knows everybody (and their business!) and my former students grew up and had siblings who wanted art classes. There aren't many people teaching art for kids here. So it's mostly been word of mouth. I set up stations for kids to make art free at a couple of local art fairs, collected emails, gave out cards. I donate lessons/baskets to local schools' auctions. I put a little ad in the neighborhood civic league newsletter. I have a blog and a FB page for the studio. But mostly it's word of mouth.

    I have 7 classes a week ranging from 3's to middle school. The 3's and PreK meet right after school (1:00) which extends their day and mom's free time. I pick them up from their classroom and teach them art for an hour (45 min for the 3's). I'll probably add a couple of homeschool classes next year. The nice thing is I can tailor my schedule however I like. This is the kind of thing you can make a big or small as you want. You could teach just a class or two to keep you busy.

    As far as displaying artwork, I do the Artsonia thing, display some things on the blog or FB page and had a very small display for the church's Christmas open house, But the big deal is an art show in June. Again, the church is renting me space and the students inviting their friends and families.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do and let me know if you I can help further.

    1. Thanks, Melanie, your advice is very helpful. I have been a member of the board of trustees at my Temple here (I am Jewish) for several years now, and was actually considering asking them. They do rent the space to a caterer, and for dance classes, and karate, so I'm sure they'd be supportive, and I KNOW they need the $$$. I'm just considering a limited approach - maybe 3rd - 5th grade to start. But I'm assuming there will be insurance concerns and I guess I'll need to get a tax ID and become a business?

    2. I did, but I haven't done the insurance thing. Really need to do that. I have a "hold harmless" clause on my paperwork, but that's all.

  3. Hope your heard my fist pump in the air to have someone in the arts ed field lead in professional development!
    I teach a summer clay camp through my commmunity ed. They set the price, promote it, eblast a flyer etc. and I use one of my classrooms. It really works out well. Congrats again.

    PS.I was attending school in upstate NY in the early 70's and am so thankful my school had a great art program! Okay, it was grade school but my parents taught at the university!

    1. Jody, I think my college had a great art program too. The arts and my slice of hippie-heaven were actually an excellent combination. And like any college, some classes were great, some not-so-great. This post ONLY refers to my education classes which were a victim of the era for sure.

  4. Ha, thanks Phyl, I was talking about the art program at my elementary school that I attended. I still have most of my projects! The college up the hill would send down students to work with the k-5. My education classes were just hoops for me but I loved my art classes.

  5. Phyl - Here's an early congratulations as the big day gets nearer and nearer. Sounds like you have the professional development part of your time pretty well planned. I hope you like it. I had a few years of teaching teachers in my District as well as preparing new teachers at UCLA. The new teacher part I loved (we were teaching math methods for elementary). The in-District work was a bit more challenging (depending on who was in the session and their motivation for being there). I don't think all of the participation was entirely voluntary, if you get my drift!! I, too worked with my local teachers' association (CTA) for a while on Board of Directors and Negotiation Team -- I didn't realize we had that in common:)) I am sure your "students" will be grateful for your insight because I feel certain that you won't candy-coat anything and you will give practical, realistic solutions and suggestions:))

    At our school we have an after-school program where teachers see kids once a week and use our classrooms. The plus is that you don't have to worry about the business aspect - insurance, etc. because it is covered by the organization that runs the program and teachers just get paid for their time (and I think preparation). I don't know how that would work for you with art, though, because of the storage and space issues. Your temple sounds like it might be a better bet. Good luck with it all. I will be interested to hear what you work out.

  6. Phyl -

    In my suburb I found that after 3rd grade the students already have established after school schedules with sports and such, so most of my art enrichment students are K, 1, 2....even though I would prefer 3, 4, 5 - as you do.

    Schedule seems to be the main factor.

    Best of luck!

  7. Hi Phyl,
    I just started a studio where I teach art during breaks, and summer. I had been using my garage for the past three years, all seemed to like it, but I wasn't comfortable having people coming to my home.
    My new studio is a bldg. on the grounds of a nursery & the rent is right b/c it has no sink, and very rustic. (After I painted the whole inside white, it looks great to me. And I love my old concrete floor. Paint spills, who cares!) With that said, I wanted to share w/ you that a I really don't mind not having a sink. I have a spicket and hose outside, we wash things like we do when camping. Bucket of soapy water, and bucket of clean - rinsing water. Hence, if you find a place w/o a sink - don't cross it off your list.
    In addition to your church, you may find private schools who would rent a room to you that they're not using. I have a few artist friends who've done this in my county, mostly during the summers, but some do it school year too.
    I'm still figuring out my pricing, but you can find many art camps on google and compare pricing. If you want to check out my current prices, you can see my studio fb page info. section:

    Congrats on your new gig & keep us posted:)

  8. Thanks everyone for all the advice. I think until school is out I'm not really going to have the time to plan ahead much, so I don't know if I'll get it off the ground immediately but I'm going to save all your excellent advice. I know there's definitely enough kids around here to make it work!

  9. Hello Phyl,
    I just discovered your blog and can't wait to read your older posts. I am a 30+ year art teacher and got a good laugh over your thoughts about educational trends and acronyms ( I refer to them as the ABC's of the moment). I had an excellent art education program but my preparation was nothing like the recent student teachers are being exposed to. During the start of my career, there was no curriculum in place and we were provided with few resources and little feedback. Unless you had some natural teaching ability and inclination it was a huge learning curve. The universities I partner with to provide field experiences are doing an excellent job of preparing their students. I don't think you would make it in today's classrooms for long without a really strong foundation!

    I do a lot of teaching at our local non-profit cultural arts center and a regional art museum. When thinking about structuring classes don't forget about the possibility of homeschoolers. We have a very active homeschool group in my area and they organize a lot of field trips, workshops, etc. I am also doing some inter-generational classes that are really fun and well received.

    Good luck on completing your final school year and congratulations on all your great work to this point - sounds like there is plenty more to come!

    1. Mary, thanks for the comment. I especially appreciate the mention of the home-schooled kids in my area. I hadn't thought about them at all! I have so much planning to do...

  10. Hi Phyl,
    Its my first time posting too, but I've loved your blog for a while! I have had after school art programs for my students for the last 7 years, and I bet most schools would love to have someone come for an hour after school once a week and give the kids extra art time. My programs were always voluntary for the kids, but I always had the maximum amount of kids sign up. I kept it free by buying all the supplies myself ( a teachers life anyway) and I have always loved it!

  11. Hi, I've found a technological material that's great for kids. It's an app called Discovering Klimt, as well as another one called Discovering Vermeer. Both display paintings and interactive activities really entretaining for little ones. I think they should work on your classes and serve as class material for them to learn. This is the link:

  12. Hi Phyl:
    Congrats again on your retirement. I will be reading your posts for years - I am so excited to try 'dog drool' papier mache and toothpaste batik.

    I am about to post a series on art camp - here's a preview. I ran a little camp in my home garage for 3 summers, plus I ran one at our local community center for a couple of weeks. At my home 'studio' (ha!) I charged $175 for 5 days, 3 hours per day (including all supplies and a snack). This is mid-range for our area. The community center had a 60/40 split - I got 60% of the fees collected. Other community centers here have similar policies.

    Insurance: when I taught out of my garage, I had an umbrella policy added to my home insurance. I also bought camp insurance through Francis Dean and Associates of Florida ( It was very reasonable, and gave me some peace of mind considering I live in litigious Southern California. I also used a 'hold harmless' form I adapted from my sons' day camp.

    Good luck to you at the next stage of life!