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 12.29.10

According To Elliot Eisner

Exposure to the arts has proven time and time again to be a powerful force. This power in arts education is what binds us all. While reflecting on Elliot Eisner’s 10 Lessons the Arts Teach, I was drawn to lesson number nine:

9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

No matter your passion, this statement seems to be a mantra that brings us all together as a field. We all have had exposure to the arts that has guided our path in life. These experiences probably have led us to the place we are--whether it is working in the non-profit sector, or in the classroom, or as a struggling art education student figuring out his/her path.

Each one of us could look back on our lives and recall the times and instances that an experience with art has shaped us. For some of us, detailed recollections of experiences with art education have been the primary motivation leading us to the specific field we are in. Some of these experiences caused great emotion within, and granted us the opportunity to see its powerful affect on someone else.

Whatever it is, we should take the time to reflect on these moments in order to keep growing as people who have devoted ourselves to the education of others.

I remember a moment this summer while interning at the Denver Art Museum. I was walking through a Sandy Skoglund piece, one of my favorites, called Fox Games. With each step I took I could only imagine the questions that the students would have and the wonder and amazement that they would experience walking through the space.  The very next day, while taking a group of students through the work, they were so excited and began asking the questions I had imagined they would ask and had the looks on their faces that I had only hoped to see.  It was at that time, like so many others, I experienced those feelings that cannot be put into words but only felt in my heart that have made me realize the power of experiencing art first hand.

- Amanda Batson

Wednesday 12.22.10

A Cultural Exchange Notebook

Angela Houdyshell, teacher at Clayton Elementary in Austin, Texas has been really invested in the projects that were happening in Africa. She was intent on including her students in the process in some way. Ms. Houdyshell proved how important it is to go above and beyond to enrich her students learning experiences by integrating ideas and visions from people in multiple cultures.  She started telling her students of my travels and my plans for the trip to Uganda. Her second grade students were immediately consumed with questions and thoughts about how students in Uganda live and what they do on a day-to-day basis. 

According to Angela the students became extremely interested in the trip and wanted to become involved in any way they could. Together the students brainstormed and decided as a class to create a notebook full of letters, drawings of daily activities, and depictions of life in America. The students really hoped to make connections between their life and the lives of the children in Africa.
Ms. Houdyshell’s class also decided to send a disposable camera with me to Uganda to have a student take photographs of his daily life. I took this notebook and camera with me to the schools in Masaka.  The students there were excited to look through the notebook and add their own thoughts to the pages which I would soon return to Clayton Elementary.   While at Kasota Primary School in Masaka, Uganda I gave a fourteen-year-old boy the assignment to photograph his life, friends, and surroundings with a disposable camera. He was thrilled that the pictures would be shown to many students in Texas and couldn’t wait to use the camera.

After the film was developed it was taken to Ms. Houdyshell to show her students. When commenting about her students’ experience she said, “I already know that they are making some significant connections. I hope though that they will see that even though our world is so large and diverse there are many ways that they are like the students in Uganda.”
This was a great teaching moment for Angela. She was able to introduce the students to a cultural group they had not been exposed to before. It was also a great experience for me to interact with students who really valued these cultural connections. Though so many things about both of these communities are different, the children were able to learn about each other and actually find common interests. I was excited when one of the students from Uganda said to me “They like futball too?!”. This really made his day.
As educators we need to take every opportunity that we can to introduce our students to worlds, or people they may be unfamiliar with. This will help in the ongoing pursuit of creating one large, united global village. 

Uganda (1) 
Me posing with student photographer.

One of the pictures taken with by the student.

Uganda (2) 
Student at Kasota Primary contributing to the notebook.

- Amanda Batson

Wednesday 12.22.10

Tales of the First Year as ART-On-a-CART

As a first year art teacher only one can dream of what their classroom will look like. What your bulletin boards will look like, how to arrange the room, etc. But does anyone ever dream about what his or her cart will look like? Probably not … But I’m facing reality and dreaming of what my cart will look like everyday.

I work in a large K-8 school district with a total of approximately 15 schools. I teach on a cart 4 out of 5 days a week and work between 3 different schools ranging from teaching 1st through 6th grade. Being on a cart can look different in every school. At my home building where I am fortunate to be for 3 days, I share an office/storage space with the music teacher. Inside the office there is a small closet that I decided to use for materials that I don’t find myself needing or using, as someone ordered them before my time. I also have labeled most shelves for use by substitutes and even just myself.
Here’s a glimpse into my office/ art storage room. Notice: Two teacher desks and two carts because Music and Art share the space.
Side view of my Art Cart packed up for an afternoon of art.

 The key to being on a cart is really ORGANIZATION. But I bet that people could look at your cart or storage area on some days and say ‘ That’s what you call organized?!’. But we all now it’s our own organization and even can be called an organized mess. With each class I see, I created a classroom folder labeled with the grade level and classroom teacher’s name. Inside the classroom folders are colored table folders. Luckily, most classrooms had the students seated in small groups, which was convenient for me to assign table folders for students to keep their work in. This helps tremendously with saving time passing out work and I also arrange the colors in rainbow order to help me remember it’s the same layout in every room I push into.

 I have a ton of various storage containers, bins, buckets, etc. to sort out materials for the tables. So those find their way onto my cart prepped and ready to go. I also use box lids from the Xerox copy paper boxes for sorting out materials for individual classes. These are great because they’re stackable. Each table gets a color coordinated pencil cup that has x amount of pencils, a pencil sharpener, and erasers that stays at their table. So there’s never an excuse to not having a pencil in Art class. 
Front view of my cart with the color coordinated pencil cups for student tables.

 Of course there are essentials that must be on your cart at all time … I always have a roll of masking tape (most chalkboards in classrooms I go into are not magnetic), pens, pencils, scissors, SHARPIES (because students can’t see when I demonstrate in pencil), etc. I always have a tub for early finishers that contain free draw paper, coloring pages, legos/ building blocks, and broken crayons to peel the paper off because I recycle crayons.

 The hardest thing I have found so far with being on a cart is my memory. Every time I pack up my cart in preparation, I need to think back to the last time I saw this class and say ‘What supplies did we use?’ and should pack some of that because there might’ve been absent students. I found myself in situations where I didn't have the necessary supplies for an absent student and had to send a student up to my storage space to try to find what I needed.

 Cleaning up….For messy projects I use baby wipes and cover the desks with art mats (laminated pieces of 12”x18” construction paper). At the beginning of the school year, I sent home a note asking for various items (ie. Paper towel tubes, egg cartons, Styrofoam meat trays) and requested that each family at least bring in one package of baby wipes. I cut these in half and students get one to clean their hands and wipe off the art mat. The other recyclable items have been used for various projects. So far I have really used the egg cartons and Styrofoam trays for paint so far.

 Seeing that I am new to being a traveling teacher, I would love to find out what others do in this situation!

- Melissa Schaefer



Thursday 12.16.10

Community Art Workshops: Africa Part II

The workshops designed for the schools in Africa were centered on a theme of sustainability. The schools were equipped with materials and the manpower to teach over five hundred primary and secondary students in nine schools in Masaka, Uganda. Four art-making stations were set up to teach different art techniques that could be created from found materials. The stations were as follows: printmaking on the local material of bark cloth, making recycled beaded necklaces, canvas drawings, and a mural station. Each station stressed the concepts and ideas of renewability and the importance of being able to use the materials that students have available to them to create works of art, make a difference in their communities and potentially make a living. 

The printmaking station allowed the students to create original artwork inspired from nature on bark cloth using styrofoam etching techniques. They were also instructed how to make these prints in their own homes by etching designs into Irish Potatoes, which are a Ugandan food staple. We taught them how to create ink from the rich red dirt Africa offers and other found materials for future art making. The recycled bead jewelry station taught the students how to make a popular tourist item from materials that are commonly thrown out. They were also taught different methods of making the popular jewelry by using local plants for their beads and simple glue making techniques from the sap of the Mutuba tree.

The canvas station allowed students to freely draw on canvas something from nature. They were given a variety of media to use and experiment with to make their creations. My favorite station was the mural station. The mural had a theme written across the top and the students were given the opportunity to expand on the theme with painted words that built off of each other. This mural is currently part of an international exchange started by these students in Uganda and will be completed by students at Rasor Elementary in Plano, Texas. This concept brought the community together in so many ways. They were able to share artistically with each other their ideas about how the theme is relevant to their lives and the lives of others. It also gave the community an opportunity to see that many people in our world are interconnected through similar issues.

Each workshop station engaged the students in art activities that taught them how they could use their natural resources to create. The students were taking part in something that was not done in their everyday instruction and were able to use the big idea to help understand their community, the world and their daily life.



- Amanda Batson


Monday 12.13.10

Tackling the 1st Quarter As a 1st Year Teacher

I’d love to speak to experiences of the entire first year, however it is only December and am still uncertain as to what to expect tomorrow. So during my first quarter as a first year teacher I have learned a few things about being teacher and success.

#1: Define who you will strive to be as a teacher

#2: Class Rules (note that the word “room” was left off because possessing your own room may not always be available)

#3: Classroom Management (Procedures, Behavior & Reinforcement protocols) What does your class look like? Of course this is ever changing and different per grade level and class.

#4: Organization (Class rosters, Gradebook, Lesson Plans, Materials; On my cart I have been collecting Xerox copy paper box lids for organizing materials. Keep posted notes about deadlines regarding progress reports, quarter grades...Do you have a system for filing individual class’ work? Do you display student work?)

#5: Life Lines (Do you have a mentor? Are there a group of people you turn to for questions, advice, etc.?)

2nd-Winter Art 
2nd grade Special Education winter artwork. One of my student artwork bulletin boards. All other artwork is either on bulletin strips or attached to the wall.

Student artwork outside their classroom. 2nd grade Special Education classroom, project based on Kandinsky.

I wouldn’t be truthful if I said I was confident from day 1. You never know what to expect until you step foot into the classroom and try to follow your plans. OVERPLAN!! What will students do when their done? I still struggle with being satisfied with early finisher activities. At first, I turned to coloring sheets, and still do with certain classes. However, I’ve started to turn to some easy tasks like peeling broken crayons for my recycled crayons, or maybe have them do an extra project or start the next. I really struggle with this since I don’t have a room and a steady place to keep early finisher activities on my cart. LIMITED SPACE is the issue especially when some classes require a lot of supplies for some projects lately.

          I believe the biggest hurdle I faced may seem so simple, but as a special area teacher I faced the challenge of answering this common question….What will you do on the 1st day? I went back and forth on this one, about going over rules and procedures (which to be honest, I wasn’t yet sure what I would do with being on the cart for procedures and is still getting the kinks worked out). But I really wanted the students to get a taste of art, so I decided that to help me, we would make table tent nametags. They got the chance to be creative and make it colorful and in the end it helped me learn their names.

          Now as I’ve experienced more of the year I have found many outlets for inspiration and advice. I work in a large K-8 school district where there is approximately 20 art teachers in the district, so with various institute days, monthly district art meetings, and just working with various teachers every week has allowed me to share ideas and gain inspiration and advice. 

- Melissa Schaefer

Monday 12. 6.10

Community Art Education: An African Experience Part I

In 2008, with the help of a professor and the NAEA Student Chapter at The University of North Texas, my colleague Rebecca Schaefer and I created art workshops for local Texas schools with the theme of environmentalism. We were fortunate enough to partner with the Ugandan artist and founder of the organization Let Art Talk, Fred Mutebi, to create a mural exchange between Texas students and students in Uganda as part of our workshop. When the workshops concluded no actual research had been done formally to evaluate the learning that took place and the meaning shared between these two cultures.

Two years later Fred Mutebi invited us to Uganda to do similar workshops and a similar exchange that would be based in Africa. I decided that this would be my opportunity to evaluate the learning and try to discover what connections were being made by all students participating through a similar mural exchange and workshops.

Many questions filled my mind about our community art program. Would the students make the connections I hoped? Would each seemingly different culture make connections to each other through the use of a big idea?

Upon my arrival I spoke with Fred Mutebi about some of the questions I was having. How could I truly teach and make a difference in the lives of each child involved in this project? Will the children in Uganda and the states learn from each other? I have to admit his answer has changed my life and potentially my career path. He said, and I summarize, that in order to make a difference in the community you cannot just come in to a place, do a project and leave. You have to come back and continue to build the sustainable partnerships with the students and community in order for ideas to blossom. You cannot just leave and hope to make a difference. You cannot just come in, teach, leave and expect for change to happen, you have to see the projects through to what comes out of it.

- Amanda Batson

Image of classroom at Buyoga Primary School in Masaka

Me talking with a student at the art workshops about
what she was learning


Thursday 12. 2.10

Economy vs. Education & Students with Special Needs

As we all know the economy has been quite unfortunate for the last year or so. In Illinois, the unemployment rate is approximately at 9%, which is the highest since the early 80s. During the summer of 2010, it was announced in Illinois that there would be a reduction in educational funding for primary and secondary education by $241 million dollars.

Having graduated from college almost 2 years ago and facing the reality of the job search in the world of education was uncertain. After graduating I recall the endless job search and filling out an ungodly number of tedious, online applications that make you wonder if people really read the long essays that applicants spend time pouring out their heart and soul.

So the first year out of college I spent my school year as a teacher's aide in special education. This was an eye-opening experience, as I had never had such intimate working experience with students with special needs. But if there's any advice for emerging educators that are unable to find a job, I would say find a teaching assistant position. The position was full-time work with benefits and with a teaching certificate; I could still internally sub when needed. There are just endless benefits to being in a building everyday and endless opportunities to gain professional contacts for the future. 

As an art educator, gaining experience with students with special needs is priceless. I worked in a classroom with 13 students who had a variety of special needs such as Down Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, etc. I worked with students in all capacities, in all academic areas, and was even fortunate enough to be allowed to accompany students with special needs to various art classes. I was beyond thankful to be able to still be in an art environment 1-2 times per day and have the chance to talk "art" with other fellow art educators. It is always such a pleasure to be able to almost be a student again in an art setting, as I have never been too versed in photography or ceramics, and now feel so much more comfortable and passionate about those domains. 

I'm so thankful for having been an aide before becoming an art teacher because it opened my eyes to the world of special education and influenced me to return to school to obtain my Special Education Endorsement.

"The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create." - Barack Obama

-Melissa Schaefer