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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October 27, 2010

Bridging the Gap

It has become somewhat commonplace to refer to myself as living a double life. By day I am a classroom teacher, writing lessons, managing my classroom (well attempting), and building relationships with my students. By night I am a museum educator, toiling long hours in my basement office, designing, creating, and interpreting.

As a teenager I planned my life:
1. Graduate high school at the top of my class (check).
2. Go off to college to study art education (partial check).
3. Get the perfect job teaching in the public schools (please let there be a check).
4. Once I had conquered the classroom I would change the world as an administrator (possibly unrealistic check).
5. Finally “retire” into museum education (out of order check).

I bring this up to illustrate a point. In the grand scheme that is my life I had placed museum education at the end of my career, as an afterthought, because that is really what it was to me, something that came later, something to occupy my time, something that was clearly less important than true education. All that changed for me when I was offered an internship at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The museum itself was undergoing changes. A scrappy young go-getter had been hired on as the education director and was quickly building up a team of intrepid intellectual vagabonds with which to breath new life into the field. I had the great pleasure of being asked to be a member of this team, an opportunity I jumped on (a side note to all education majors: take any opportunity you can to gain experience and contacts).

I approached my new position, which I lovingly referred to as a glorified volunteer, with a certain amount of skepticism. This was my chance to get my foot in the door, to network, and gain experience, but all the while in a field that was still second in my mind. It was only over time, after submerging myself in this world, after instructing the museum’s lessons, after writing my own under the harsh restrictions that this particular context puts forth (it’s not east trying to fit a worthwhile lesson into 15-30 minutes with kids who share no established rapport and for whom you do not understand their usual classroom management and procedures) that I became comfortable with this work, that I finally saw the worth within it. Not just worth as an addition to classroom learning, but worth that stands alone, separate, and indispensable.

I comment on this not to try and beat you senseless with my own personal opinions (clearly I have a personal investment in museum education and in particular the fine work coming out of the GRAM, wink wink), but rather because I fear too many teachers don’t truly take advantage of what these institutions have to offer. Museum education and classroom education should exist on an equal plane. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Classroom education clearly wins out on the amount of time that teachers have to build relationships with their students and truly push concepts home, while museum education offers a level of authenticity that rarely ever enters the classroom.

I want to reclassify museum education, no longer should it be considered extra, supplementary, and optional. I want field trips to the local museum to be a thing of the past. Instead I want museum education and classroom education to work together, symbiotically, building on each other’s strengths to provide and fully rounded, rigorous, and memorable education for all of our students.

Think back to when you were in school. What do you remember most, sitting in your classroom or taking that class trip? As a teacher, think of how fantastic it would be if the two were always integrated.



P.S. If you’re ever in Grand Rapids and want to see how museum education should be done, drop me a line, I’ll hook you up (so to speak).


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I think it's cool you have goals and that some of them are lofty- I think we all need goals- One of my favorite quotes is this "If you don't know where you are going, you'll probably end up somewhere else".. So true! - Nice connections to museum education.... I am taking my students in 2 weeks!

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