Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Wednesday 09.29.10

Why I Want To Become An Art Teacher

“I have a desire to pass on the joy of creating art to others.  The excitement that goes along with discovering the new ways that art production can be integrated with other courses of study. Personally, I have always loved art. As a young person, I was lucky to have a mother who supported my exploration of many extra-curricular activities.  I remember how proud I was of finishing an artwork or learning about a new artist or even learning a new skill that I had not yet mastered.  It helped instill pride and a sense of accomplishment and I feel strongly about sharing this sort of experience of art with other students.” (the voice of Amanda Cox, graduate student, art education)

What Ignited Your Passion For Becoming An Art Teacher? 

How often do we take the time to reflect on why we were lead towards the path of teaching art?  How do we maintain that drive and passion towards being the best art teachers we can be?   Each semester, I enjoy hearing from former students who are becoming acclimated to their first year of teaching. I also enjoy listening to my current students when they describe their experiences in observing out in schools or opportunities they have had in working with children.   Their energy and passion lights up the classroom.

Altered Books: Inspiration for Art Making and Reflection

Currently, art education students enrolled in my elementary art methods class alter books as part of the course requirement.  I have found that this experience is useful in that it allows them to incorporate their own artistic skills and interests into the book while they acquire new ones.  Also, they are able to chronicle their experiences as they relate to art, art making, and teaching.  There is great flexibility in what they can add to, take away from, and discover as they work on the books. The altered book also becomes a journal where the students are able to write about their experiences and feelings about becoming an art teacher, and their own expectations as a future educator.

I provide an introduction to altered books, along with a suggested list of techniques and ideas that they can incorporate into their books.  On subsequent class meetings, I introduce a variety of altered book techniques and share information about people who have altered books such as Sister Gertrude Morgan and Purvis Young, both African-American and self-taught.   I also introduce Dan Eldon, a photojournalist who was killed at the young age of 22 while documenting stories of war and famine in Somalia.  Eldon chronicled his life and travels in journals which included photographs, magazine images, personal drawings, and text.

Student Works in Progress


Student Voices

“The altered book project is a great tool for imagination building. It’s interesting and personal. Being able to choose a book that will one day look completely different, with a different purpose, while remembering to respect the integrity of the book is exciting.”  

“While having students work in a non-traditional medium, it gets them thinking about art that is something that happens everywhere.”

“Altered books allows children to explore a variety of art concepts in a personal way, while also serving as documentation of learning activity for parents.  It can also be used by students as both a reference and a practice area for learning new techniques and processes.” 

In my first entry, I asked the following questions:  What motivates us? What inspires us?   What keeps us going as art educators?  What lessons have you learned as an art educator that could be passed on to a new generation of art educators?   I also focused on those topics and the importance of mentoring.  I provided examples of mentoring both in the traditional and non-traditional sense.   As I complete my last entry as a mentor blogger for the month of September, I hope that you were inspired by what you read.

“May we always encourage ourselves to be just as inspired and curious as the students we teach.” (Cortney Garmon, graduate student, art education major)

-Minuette Floyd

Wednesday 09.22.10

Unique Classrooms: An Eclectic Trio of Effective Mentoring

Mentoring can take place in both traditional and non- traditional settings by people from a variety of backgrounds that are both in and outside of the teaching profession.  I will share three inspiring stories of mentoring.
The Quilters of Gee’s Bend
In October, our local public library will exhibit twenty quilts made by some of the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.  A week later, some of the quilters will travel to Columbia to share their quilting stories. William Arnett has been documenting the African-American South over twenty years and was instrumental in recognizing the achievements of the women of Gee’s Bend. For much of its history, Gee's Bend has been an isolated community, virtually cut off from the outside world. According to Arnett, Gee's Bend was named after Joseph Gee, who was the first white landowner in the area.  Eventually, Gee sold the plantation to Mark Pettway in 1845.  Most of the African-American families living at Gee’s Bend today are descendants of slaves from the original plantation and still carry the Pettway name.

Alvia Wardlaw, curator of Modern and Contempoary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, stated “the compositions of these quilts contrast dramatically with the ordered regularity associated with many styles of Euro-American quilt-making.  There’s a brilliant, improvisational range of approaches to composition that is more often associated with the inventiveness and power of the leading 20th-century abstract painters than it is with textile-making.”  The quilting tradition at Gee’s Bend has been passed down through generations of women through a highly effective mentoring process. The quilts were made out of necessity, but are now receiving high acclaim in the art world.  Most of the women learned how to quilt from their mothers, female relatives, friends, or other community members.  Although the younger generation is not as interested in learning the quilt tradition, the quilters are hopeful that some of the younger people will become interested as times goes on.  There are a number of references (books, websites, DVD’s) that tell the story of the quilt makers.

Each One, Teach One
An annual exhibition of artwork by local African-American artists is showcased at the Ritz Museum in Jacksonville, Florida.  The origination of this exhibit entitled “Through Their Eyes” can be credited to Mrs. Lydia Stewart, who came up with the idea while working as a public affairs producer at a public broadcasting station in north Florida.  The program originated out of a need to feature African-American art during Black History Month.  This exhibition was well -received and successfully morphed into a larger annual event.  Stewart stated that, “I was looking for them to show the world as raw and real as they see it.” 

Last year, the theme became Each One; Teach One, named after an African proverb and emphasis was placed on successful partnering of mature and emerging artists.  With the goal of passing on artistic traditions, this program reached out to pair veteran artists with a younger generation of artists. My friend Rhonda Bristol, artist and retired art educator participated in the program.  Rhonda is a stellar mixed media and clay artist and recently transitioned from a long career in art education to being a full time practicing artist.  She agreed to mentor Jeanece Lyles, a young mixed media artist who expressed a desire to learn clay techniques.   Bristol met with Lyles over a period of three weekends and shared her knowledge and expertise of clay methods and techniques. 

In addition, monthly workshops were conducted at the museum for the young mentees and other community persons.  As a result of the mentorships, each artist created work that were featured in the Each One, Teach One exhibition.  Over twenty -four works in various media was produced for the exhibition. Some of the artists who participated in the program intend to continue their master/protégé relationship and are excited about exploring other opportunities.

Reference: Jerome, P.  (Summer 2010). Show evolves as premier platform. Flavour,  Vol.10,  No. 3, 18.

DIVA, Incorporated
Monicka Carey-Green studied special education in college but her real calling came about ten years ago when she decided to invite a group of women into her home to discuss the abuse they experienced in their personal relationships.  I was introduced to her story in a full -length article recently featured in our local newspaper.   I was so impressed by her story that I called to set up a meeting with her.  When we met, she told me her story of abuse and how she decided to move to a new state in order to reinvent herself.  Through her transformation, she soon discovered the need to reach out to younger generations of girls in order to lead them towards more thoughtful and appropriate decision-making.   Carey–Green founded and is the executive director of Diva, a non-profit organization for low-income and at–risk girls. Currently, there are over one hundred girls participating in the program.
The program name derived from a popular song by Beyonce Knowles.  She uses the acronym (P.I.E), which means prevention, intervention, and education.  Her goal is empowerment, to decrease teen pregnancy, delinquency, domestic abuse, child abuse, and sexual assault.   Through the program, the girls participate in a number of structured workshops including activities such as writing and dancing.

There is a graduation ceremony at the end of the program.  When I met with “Mrs. Monicka”  (as the girls call her), she spoke of the ways in which she engages them girls in frank discussions about their bodies, their fears, and consequences of actions.   She also holds monthly meetings with teen moms.  She remains in close contact with all of the girls and many of them reach out to her for advice. Since Carey–Green seeks to establish a supportive relationship with the parents of the girls, she has been very has been successful in her efforts.  I am excited about collaborating with her in the near future.

What inspirational mentoring stories do you have to share?

-Minuette Floyd

Monday 09.13.10

Mentorships: Extending A Hand To Novice Art Educators

Effective mentoring takes place over time and extends beyond the first year of teaching. According to Dr Feiman-Nemser, Jewish Professor of Education and Director of the Mandel Center for Jewish studies at Brandeis University, “Assigning mentors to work with beginning teachers represents an improvement over the abrupt and unassisted entry into teaching that characterizes the experience of many novices. Further she states that, “if mentoring is to function as a strategy of reform, it must be linked to a vision of good teaching, guided by an understanding of teacher learning, and supported by a professional culture that favors collaboration and inquiry.” Providing guidance and continual encouragement to new teachers is one of the important responsibilities of veteran teachers.

Most schools have mentoring programs in place. However, an art teacher would greatly benefit from having a fellow art teacher as his/her mentor. Often times there is no other person in the school who can directly relate to the experiences unique to that of the visual arts teacher. As veterans and mentors, one must take the initiative to reach out to new teachers as they may feel reluctant to impose on you or may not want to reveal that they have questions, concerns, or problems. Since we have all been new teachers, we must reflect on that experience and make ourselves available to them. Being approachable is an essential quality that all educators should possess, no matter what level they teach.

In our art education program, the faculty work hard to encourage students to join the art education student chapter and also emphasize the importance of continuing that affiliation upon graduation and obtaining a full time art teacher position. We offer our students our continued support when they begin teaching and tell them to call us if they have problems. Our state has had a mentor program in place in the past and is interested in rebuilding it. In addition, our state chapter provides a mentor award to a visual arts teacher each year in honor of Dr. Deborah Smith Hoffman, who was a music educator and true mentor to numerous arts educators across our state.  

I challenge you to take time to reach out to a young art educator, one who may be in need of a support system from a veteran teacher like yourself. I challenge art teachers who do not have mentors to reach out to someone working in your school district and ask them if you can meet with them to share your lessons and student artwork. Also, ask your state organization to start a mentor program if one does not already exist. 

Over the years, I have had many friends retire from teaching art and they always discuss the amount of “stuff” that they collected over their teaching careers. Many teachers agonize over the tedious task they face in cleaning out their collection of supplies, visuals, books, and objects. Perhaps we should sort through some of our “stuff” and find an art teacher who is teaching in a situation where they have a limited budget and resources, then share some of it with them. I am sure they would appreciate your generosity.

-Minuette Floyd

Thursday 09. 9.10

What Really Matters to Students?

The first art teacher that I remember having was Mrs. Page, when I was in the 5th grade. I remember that she had an open door policy. We could visit her classroom before and after school any day of the week. I don’t ever remember her turning us away. She was always very kind, honest, firm when she needed to be, very knowledgeable about art, and presented us with exciting art activities.  What I most remember is that I felt that I could genuinely “trust” her.  Being able to trust a teacher is so important in establishing an effective rapport with students.
I asked several teachers how they were able to earn their students’ trust.  Here’s what they had to say.
“Children don’t care how many degrees you have or what you know until they know that you care.”  They are able to determine if you genuinely care about them.  I believe that as educators, we must find out who our students are, examine their interests and begin to incorporate relevant activities for them.”  (elementary art teacher,  for 24 years)

“Students respect teachers who are consistent with their ideas.  On a daily basis I try to show them that I care.  I support them in other areas too.  For example, when they are involved in extracurricular activities, I attend those events.”  (middle school music teacher,  for 20 years)

“I tell them personal stories about myself when I was their age so we can better relate to one another.  I pick different students to respond to questions and acknowledge and praise them when they think of something that I didn’t think of.”  (elementary dance teacher,  for 5 years)

“Follow through with promises--this includes consequences and praises.  Strive to lead by example by showing good character in all situations.”  (art teacher, for 10 years)

“You must display a sincere concern for them.  Sometimes it is sharing your life with them.  Maybe if it is an unexpected act of kindness that you shower on them.”  (theatre teacher, for 12 years)

“I taught elementary (K-5) for about 33 years.  I learned that the trust of students is essential in the creative process. I found that it helped to be consistent in the art room with behavior expectations and with classroom routines to build a level of comfort for students.  They knew what to expect from me in the way of daily clean-ups and in the normal "hum" of the art making.  I think that freed them to be more expressive in other areas. Another level of trust is in the building of the art program.

 I built the curriculum sequentially so that students could build on
skill levels and knowledge, giving them the confidence to trust their artistic growth.  I found it is difficult at first to get students to trust my opinion as an artist during classroom or individual critiques.  I learned quickly that just because I said something was good did not make it so good in their eyes.  (And that everything they make cannot be good.  They know that some art is better than others and will not believe you if you try to convince them otherwise.)  So I learned to be more specific with critiques and very honest too (in a kind way.)  More than once we would both agree that their artwork was in fact, terrible and worth a do-over.  Often we would save their first try, compare it to the second try and then pick the best one and continue.  Sometimes we could agree that everyone has a bad day and try again the next week.

 With some students you have to build a personal relationship, just spend some time listening to them.  Find out their interests and share yours!  I think art teaches are luck in that we can see the growth of our students from Kindergarten to the 5th grade and build trust over the years and get to know the students as individuals.   Finally, I began to use portfolio methods to collect and save artwork over time.  When students could see more than one of their artworks at a time they began to trust their growth as an artist. …..and what better way to instill trust in their own abilities!  I’ve also learned that it does not matter what age the students are these methods work….from Kindergarten to students in college!”  (elementary art teacher, taught 33 years, retired, now an adjunct professor at the university level)

How do you establish levels of trustworthiness within your students?   I would love to hear from you!

-Minuette Floyd

Wednesday 09. 1.10

Leaping Out On Faith: My Journey to Becoming An Art Teacher

As the end of my graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro quickly approached, I began looking for an art teacher position.  I never had any intention of leaving North Carolina.  However, all of the art teacher positions that I was interested in were dead ends.  I began to feel the stress of not being able to find a job, which resulted in my visiting the career center on a regular basis.  On one particular visit, I read a flyer that advertised jobs in Florida.  We all know that the arts have a history of being vulnerable to budget cuts.  Fortunate for me, they were hiring 60 elementary art teachers in Palm Beach County!  Although I did not want to relocate and had never been to Florida, I decided to apply for the position.  A week later, I received a phone call requesting that I travel to Florida for a face-to-face interview.  I purchased a round trip ticket on the Greyhound bus to Palm Beach, Florida.  I left on a Wednesday morning. The trip was 21 hours one way!  

My interview was scheduled for 9 o’clock on a Thursday morning at the Palm Beach County School District office.   I remembered being so exhausted at the interview that I did not even think about being nervous.  The interview, lasting less than forty minutes ended with the principal offering me an art teacher position.  She also drove me to the school and provided a tour of the facilities.  In all of my excitement I had not yet begun to think about the logistics of it all.

Later, she asked if I had any thoughts about where I would live.   I told her that I didn’t know anyone in Florida.  She immediately got on the telephone and called an elderly woman, whom I came to know as Aunt Florence.   Everyone at the school knew Aunt Florence because her niece, a very popular teacher at the school had just retired a few years earlier.   I spoke with Aunt Florence and explained my situation.  Without any hesitation, she told me that I could stay at her house and that we could work out the details later.  I jotted down her phone number and told her I would call her upon my return home to North Carolina.   I did not have much time to prepare for moving because I faced a 21 hour return trip to North Carolina and needed to be back in Florida on Sunday because school would begin on Monday morning! 

I flew back to Florida on an airline called People’s Express.  Aunt Florence and her family met me at the airport upon my arrival to Palm Beach.  It was a whirlwind adventure!

I taught at Delray Elementary School located in Delray Beach, Florida for three years.  I did not have an art room. Instead, I had an art storage closet.  I took the challenge of teaching art on a cart and became very successful at it.   Each morning, I pulled my cart out; made sure it was properly loaded with supplies and anxiously began my journey as a first year art teacher. When you teach art on a cart you learn to become very efficient and highly organized.

Today, when I look at photographs that I took of students at Pine Grove I still remember the names of some of the children.  The first year of teaching is one of those memories that will stay with me forever.  I learned so many valuable lessons my first year.   By the way, I forgot to mention that since my school was listed on the Federal Register as a school with a high demographic of students on free and reduced lunch that my college loan was cancelled out for each of the three years that I taught in Palm Beach County!
Today, when I think about my journey in search of a teacher position, I wonder what might have happened had Palm Beach County not needed 60 new art teachers.   Would I have taken a job in North Carolina?  Would I have settled for a job where I would have to travel between several schools?  I will never know.  I do know that my decision to accept an art teacher position in Florida was the best decision that I could have ever made. 

As we travel through life, we cannot predict the paths that our lives will take as we journey to become art teachers.  I do know that we sometimes have to leap out on faith and trust that we have made the right decision.  Sometimes, we have to look beyond the area where we live and consider relocating even if temporarily in order to get our feet in the education door. 
What is it that motivates us?  Who inspires us?  What keeps us going as art educators?  What lessons have you learned as an art educator that could be passed on to a new generation of art educators?  These are the overarching questions that I will examine during the month of September as an excited first time blogger! 

-Minuette Floyd