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.



Join the largest creative community established exclusively for visual arts educators, college professors, researchers, administrators, and museum educators.

Join NAEA Renew Membership

« September 2010 | Main | November 2010 »

Wednesday 10.27.10

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).

Friday 10.15.10

It Will Get Better

Think back. Was this past Monday different from any others? Did you do anything to commemorate the day? Did the dynamic of your class change in any manner?

I sincerely hope that it did.

I speak not about Columbus Day, although I enjoy celebrating the achievements of an opium addict as much as the next, I speak of National Coming Out Day.

I bring up this topic not because I’m trying to take a stand on the issue of homosexuality, nor am I advocating that any of you do the same. Rather I bring attention to this day because I worry that many are unaware of its existence.

As teachers it is imperative that our classrooms be safe havens for students of every variety, no matter what their backgrounds, or life “choices” may be. In theory, I think we can all agree with this, but in practice it’s a heck of a lot harder than it sounds.  We all come to the table with our own set of biases and prejudice. I have mine and no matter what I do I probably always will, at least to some extent. That being said, I know that I can never show these biases to my students. It would instantly destroy the safe haven that I am trying to construct.

This brings me to my point. Don’t celebrate National Coming Out Day in your classrooms, inherently that’s going to offend someone, but rather simply acknowledge that equality days like these exist, and acknowledge them all. In this way, those few students, for whom that day makes a difference, will know that they are safe and can choose for themselves how they want to express it.

I suppose I lied to you. I do not hope that last Monday was different for you and your students. Instead I hope that everyday celebrates an atmosphere of comfort and safety, rather than simply a few artificial days throughout the year.

-Christopher Bruce

Friday 10. 8.10

Resume Building 101

I feel it necessary to preface this post with a small disclaimer: If this were an actual class, I would be woefully under qualified to speak on the subject. That being said, it has never stopped me before.

In a perfect world I would have been slowly and steadily building my resume over the past four years, faithfully updating it with each new experience as they come. This however is not a perfect world, and as such the past week has been spent trying to create some semblance of order out of a mass of life experiences, for many of which the details seem lost, at least for the moment.

Tip One: Write a resume, throw it away, it is not very good. Write a second resume, tear it up, it is better, but still not good enough. Write a third resume, examine it critically, and then revise, things are probably just starting to sound good.

I have personally been through four complete drafts of my resume, each one entirely different from the one before. It was only until after this fourth reinvention that I started feeling remotely comfortable about letting anyone see what I had made. I shudder to even think of a potential employer looking at draft one.

Tip Two: Leave white space.

We are all artists. We have been trained in design. We appreciate the aesthetic. Yet when it comes to resumes we seem to forget this. We create tight, dense sheets of meaningless facts and dates, unappealing to even the most stodgy hiring committee. I myself am guilty, draft one, hot mess: tight text, painfully small, full of pertinent information, but who cares if you can’t quickly and easily read it. A resume should be a pleasure to read. Our resumes should reflect the beauty of our profession.

Tip Three: Be true to yourself.

Ignore cookie cutter resume templates. All they say about you is that you know how to fill in boxes. Create your own template and let it say something about who you are. A resume is a PERSONAL professional document; let’s not forget that.

Tip Four: Let your resume live.

Constantly update and change your resume. When you do something new replace older, less impressive information. This will keep your resume constantly up to date and will free up space making it more user friendly and appealing. And as an added bonus you, unlike me, won’t have to scramble to update it every time you need it.

Tip Five: Take everything I say with a grain of salt. I’m new, and highly opinionated.

Today’s assignment: Pull out your resume, if you have one, if not start one. Read it carefully and find that one item that you no longer need. It served its purpose in the past, but you’ve moved on and have grown professionally since then. Delete it. Now your resume is cleaner, more concise, and easier to read.

-Christopher Bruce

Friday 10. 1.10

Guess when I wrote this

I’m just going to come out and say it.

Get it off my chest so to speak.

I am a teacher . . . and I procrastinate.

I know, sinful, shameful. How can I admit such terrible truths, and of all places here on the NAEA blog?

I figure the best way to introduce myself is to be completely open and honest. I have many redeeming qualities, but to that end I also have my faults, this I can admit. And procrastination is certainly one of the more prominent. I would bet that many of you suffer from the same affliction. Heck, I bet a great few of you are reading these very words in an attempt to procrastinate from something, in which case it is my sincerest hope that you find some amusement here.

Where I may differ from some is the pride I take in my procrastination. I do not view it as a hindrance, but rather an intellectual tool to further creative thought. Furthermore, I believe that properly utilized procrastination can be just the spark needed to inspire a profound lesson. For instance, I myself believe MY best lessons to have been written in the wee hours of the morning with nothing fueling my body but Red Bull and hope. This may just be my incoherent rambling, but I believe it is at times like these, when desperation is high, our bodies are pushed to their limits, and all hope seems lost, that we can disconnect from our minds for a split second, take a risk, grab on to that creative thought, and follow those instincts that drove us to become educators in the first place.

I am in no way advocating the destruction of tried and true pedagogy, far from it. Rather I am merely suggesting that every once and a while we refrain from planning ahead. We allow- ever so often- that something sneak up on us and take us by surprise. What we come up with may not be gold, although you never know, but at the very least it will keep us on our toes, keep us sharp. And lord knows that if we can’t stay sharper than our students, we might as well just throw in the towel now.
Take a chance. Take a risk. Let me know how it turns out. For my part, tomorrow I will forget I have a color class to teach. Let’s see how this one plays out.

-Christopher Bruce