Thursday, February 26, 2015

We all have to start somewhere! - 'The Bridal Party'

Today, while searching for something else, I came across the pictures in this post.  They are  pre-digital; they were taken during the 1985-86 school year, my first year in the district where I spent the next 27 years.  I had already taught high school in another district for 8 years, and when my job was cut, I spent one year teaching K-12.  In 1985 I began teaching K-8 in the district where I finally I retired 3 years ago.  These photos are from the first year of that job.
 In this new position, I had nobody to consult with; I was on my own.  I had no experience teaching elementary (other than my student teaching experience 9 years prior), and there was very little left behind by the previous art teacher.  I believe I was hired because the high school art teacher (who worked in another building, in another town) saw my name on the application and recommended me.  He had been a good friend in college; I appreciated his trust in me.
 
I taught K-4 in a miniature ramshackle makeshift classroom (a tiny former basement locker room) in a teeny school in a rural village, that served as my art room in the morning and a music room in the afternoon, so there was a piano, and other musical equipment in the crowded space.  (The superintendent didn't even want to show me the room before I accepted the job, because he was afraid I'd change my mind.)  Luckily, there was a sink, and a couple of cabinets for my materials.  They custodian put casters on the table legs so that the music teacher could move the tables aside for her movement activities.  Every morning, I would move them back. In the afternoons I drove to another building in another small town to teach grades 5-8, where over the next 13 years I went from having no room at all, to a variety of shared situations.  It all changed finally when my school district consolidated into one K-12 building and I got my very own K-6 classroom, where I worked until my retirement.
Anyhow, I knew elementary art teachers did papier-mache.  I had zero experience, (I had never even done papier-mache in art class as a kid) but nevertheless dove in.  My young niece told me she had just made a papier-mache lady using a bottle as an armature in her 3rd grade class, so I decided it was a good way for me to begin.  We collected bottles and stored the work-in-progress on a fire-escape staircase inside my room, and on top of the old-fashioned radiators, and anywhere else I could stuff them.  I strung an illegal clothesline across the room for wet paintings, since there was no drying rack.  I distributed materials from the piano bench and top of the piano. The music teacher and I passed like ships in the night, alternating schools daily, but luckily somehow became good friends despite her annoyance at my wet art projects dripping everywhere.
I found a bag of wheat paste in the room so that's what I used that first year.  The projects we created were rough and crude, but the students thought they were wonderful.  Several students decided that they should work together and make their projects into a bride, groom, and bridal party.  The images in this post were from the work of that little group of students.  The next year I found an article in School Arts about making kachina dolls out of bottles and detergent caps (for the heads) and with some experience under my belt using a bottle armature, they were pretty successful.  I'll share the photos of them another time, but in the meantime here's one that I made.
Over the coming years I was able to hone my skills and by the time I retired, I was often teaching workshops in the use of papier-mache at my state conference, and it had become my favorite material. 
So if you are doing something you've never done before, and the results are maybe not quite what you hoped for, remember two things:
  1. You are not damaging the kids by starting from scratch and learning with them, and turning out work that is less than perfect, as long as you approach it with enthusiasm and a positive spirit.  They will enjoy and appreciate the experience, and be proud of what they have created.  We all have to start somewhere!
  2. It will get better, and your successes will grow over the years.  Don't be afraid to dive in, and let the adventure begin!

8 comments:

  1. I completely understand. When I first began teaching, I found an old kiln in the school that had never been used. I knew very little about ceramics, and even less about firing a kiln. In order to convince my principal that I deserved an art room, I promised I would get the kiln running. My ceramic lessons were very trial and error at first, and it took a while before I felt comfortable with it. Now I can't imagine teaching without kiln, and I am so happy I jumped into ceramics with my students.

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    1. Great story! My first job included darkroom photography, which was one of my areas of expertise. But I did not have the know-how to maintain the equipment. So I made a deal with a 'shop' teacher. He wanted to learn photography, and I needed maintenance help on the enlargers. So I taught him, and he kept my equipment in good working order!

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  2. Phyl - I love reading your posts! I am only in my 5th year, but I definitely have projects that were a learning experience the first time or two around, but are becoming more and more polished. One of the great things about teaching is that we are always learning and growing! Thank you for taking the time to share these early works with us. It's comforting to remember that we all start somewhere!

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    1. And thank you, for visiting the blog, and taking the time to leave a comment! It's much appreciated.

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  3. I wish I had taken more pictures of students' art projects over the years. I'd love to look at them all now!! So, Phyl, is there a story to go with the last photo?? It's great:)))

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    1. I feel the same way. There's so much that my students did that I never photographed. Too late now to fix...

      As for the last photo, thanks! He was made by me as a demo piece, when I had my students making goofy 'study monsters' to keep them company when doing homework. The basic armatures were plastic grocery bags, toilet paper rolls, cereal box cardboard, and other assorted junk. He is one of several papier-mache critters I sadly had to give away when I retired, including his glamorous female monster companion, a dragonfly, an iguana, a totem pole, a frog, a penguin, a cat, and more. I miss them all.

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  4. How beautiful. I always wanted to dabble in papier mache. Actually, one of the few books I cannot bring myself to give away from my teacher collection, is one on just that.

    It is amazing what nooks and crannies we art teachers get stuck in. I have had an "office" on the stage. I had one in an old custodial closet, complete with large barrels of unknown chemicals. I've had a desk in the kiln/art storage room. Not great for feeling valued.

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    1. Yup! One year, I had my supplies in the boiler room in the basement, and I taught 7th grade in a 2nd floor social studies classroom, and 4th and 5th grade in a woodshop. It was a scary place, and I spent a lot of time running up and down the stairs with materials!

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