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

« March 2013 | Main | May 2013 »

Tuesday 04.30.13

Final Thoughts...

Unfortunately my time as the NAEA monthly blogger is coming to a close…the idealistic, overachieving side of me had wanted me to attempt another entry today, that didn’t happen. I hope some of my experiences as a first year teacher resonate with both fellow noobies and veterans in the art education field. In terms of the things I’ve blogged about, I feel so much better about my abilities in terms of classroom management. I’m continuing to implement a few new strategies every week or so, and I’m DEFINITELY already planning for the fall. Still no word on where I’ll be teaching but I’m hoping to land a full-time gig by then. The art show opening is this Thursday, and I’m so excited that we finished hanging a week ahead of time, giving me some time to catch up on grading and lesson planning. I’m even going to hang an “Under Construction” display to show what we are working on now.

One thing I really wanted to share before my time was up was the experience that really defined both my undergraduate experience and my future as an educator. I feel it is an unusual experience and it definitely was an incredibly rewarding one. I was lucky enough to student teach abroad in Bilbao, Spain, at a wonderful, small international school in the suburbs of the small city. I had only been abroad once before, to Frankfurt, Germany, to participate in an art exchange between my university and the University of Wolfgang-Goethe. Naturally, I had been anxious to teach abroad but my mentor encouraged me to go with my gut instinct, which was to move to this strange city to teach in a strange country for two months.

One of the reasons I felt so strongly about it was due to a previous inspiration from a friend from Frankfurt; she followed a blog called Schick-Es (Send It), which documented people sending strange things in the mail. The theory was that anything that fits within postcard limits can be a postcard.  She sent me a broken record, I sent her a preserved piece of bread and a bag of jam. It gave me an idea to do an international exchange with my future art class. So when the time came, I arranged with a previous co-op at Trenton High to do the same lesson at the same time so we could mail our projects to each other. It was challenging and expensive but absolutely worth it.

The lesson was based on culture; I asked my 9th and 10th grade students in Spain to think about the culture they identified with. This turned out to be very interesting, not just because of the various countries they came from, but because of the various cultures within our city. Bilbao is the hub of the Basque Country, which does not politically or culturally align itself with the rest of Spain. I asked them to create a visual representation of how they related to their culture, and then write a short message on the back (which contain names, so I left them out!).

I was really impressed by the final products, which I ended up getting back during my teaching stint in Trenton. I even shared them with one of my 4th grade classes when they were studying Spain for International Day. So not a day goes by that I don’t think about that school, those students, and my friends in Bilbao. I think of my cooperating teacher, Pauline, often as well. Every crazy, ambitious lesson I had, she was like “OK! Let’s do it!” She had been teaching for a long time and was still crazy passionate about it, always experiementing with new lessons and materials. That was so exciting to me; I strive to maintain that kind of passion as well. There was also a beautiful, familial community there, full of friendly people who were always willing to chat, help out, and lend advice. Student teaching abroad was a great experience all around, and exposed me to a different kind of educational experience I wouldn’t have ever known otherwise.

This postcard project continues to live on in my own work. I am currently working on my own related piece for an local exhibition about the correlation between art educators and their students’ art work. It’s a series of cross-stitched subway passes that I began in Bilbao, and a year and a half later, I am now continuing.


My student teaching experience also helped me realize what kind of teacher I want to be, and what kind of school I belong in. I recently attended an open house for a Philadelphia charter school and was absolutely blown away by the passion and sense of community present there; it reminded me so much of Bilbao. I realized I could also be happy teaching there or any city that could combine my desire to teach in an urban locale and to be part of a driven learning community.

So I’m keeping my options open. Urban, charter, international, public… they could all fit, as long as I’m teaching art, as cheesy as it sounds. Except for kindergarten, maybe I could do without teaching kindergarten. :-)

In addition, this summer I’m planning on obtaining by TEFL certificate, to teach English abroad during the summers (and who knows, next fall if I’m still unemployed!!). In the mean time, I’ll be hanging out in South Jersey, eating hummus, lesson planning on my carpet, and grading while watching Criminal Minds.

Keep in touch, NAEA! This isn’t the last of me.

Wait a week or so for me to update this but bookmark it now!:
I’m going to continue to post about lesson ideas, new teacher experiences, and having insatiable wanderlust. In the meantime it’s full of stories about me teaching in Spain. Thanks for reading!!

-Kelsey Long

Friday 04.19.13

Classroom Management: Take Three and Aack! Student Art Show!

It’s been almost a week since my last post, so by now I’ve taught each class (all 25 of ‘em!) my new “Give me Five” procedure and I’m to the point where I am reviewing it during this second week. Everyone remembered, and most of the kids respond pretty well to it. With my classroom management changes as a whole, it’s definitely getting better. The best change I’ve made is by restricting movement around the room, and by cutting lessons a bit short to allow for more clean-up time, specifically in K and 1st. I’ve also been more prepared in general – at least twice a day I make sure all pencils are sharp, all supplies are clearly laid out, and glue bottles are clean and working.

Now of course I’m recognizing new problems. I’m trying really hard to keep noise levels really low, but it’s nearly impossible to prevent kids from chatting! I can remind them a few times to keep it down, but it doesn’t do anything, and I know it’s because there are no consequences. I need something that can keep them focused during class, with immediate consequences. I was thinking of doing a stoplight with clips for each class, or some kind of grade-wide competition, but I don’t know if that will work for something as simple as noise control, or if it’s worth implementing this late in the school year. Any suggestions?

In other news, the reason I haven’t posted in almost a week is because I am preparing for the spring art show on May 2! I am nervous and excited because it is the first time I’ve been responsible for organizing something like this! It’s for 3rd and 4th grades, and with two pieces per student I’m looking at matting and hanging 400+ pieces of work! And that’s just two-dimensional pieces…the main entrance of the lobby will be filled with all of their ceramic projects! Luckily the other teachers at my school are a huge help; the teacher I am covering for gave me a list of teachers who signed up for the “Art Show Committee,” and they’ve been stopping by the past few days to pick up work to hang.

This has been my attack plan thus far; I’ve drawn a sketch of the hallways and decided where everything will go. I have a calendar where I designated a day to choose pieces from each grade, and a day to hang each separate project. Thanks to my peers, we’re actually ahead of schedule (knock on wood!). The teacher I’m covering for had been matting all year long, which is a great idea. She matted every piece, even the ones that aren’t going to be included. At first I thought that was wasteful but I quickly realized it makes sorting and hanging SO much quicker when everything is ready and names are already on the front. I selected work class by class; first, I made a pile of each project and arranged them in alphabetical order by first name. Then I just looked across the piles and selected their two best works, marked my choices on my list, and continued piling. What are some of your methods? Unfortunately there’s not too many resources online for us newbies on organizing an art show.

I had been so intimidated by arranging the art show, but I’ve found that creating a month-long plan and seeking help from other teachers has really eased my nerves and is making hanging a fun experience instead of stressful. At this point I’m hoping to finish hanging a week early so I can make fun signs and other elements that will add to the “art show” experience. I’m also hoping a few classes will finish the lessons I’ve taught, and I’ll be able to have a few of my lessons in the show as well!!

Cathy-Comic1"What I feel like after school, when I'm at home matting projects all night."

-Kelsey Long

Wednesday 04.10.13

Classroom Management: Take Two, and Monster Making with Kinders

First of all, thank you to everyone who has commented with supportive remarks and ideas!! I’ve ordered a copy of “ENVoY” by Michael Grinders to check out his nonverbal classroom management techniques and I’ll let you know how my changes are working out.

I’ve begun this week back from spring break by implementing just a few of my new classroom management procedures. I’ve been reviewing with my students how to enter the classroom quietly and wait for instruction. I’ve taught them my own version of Wong’s “Give me Five,” technique. When I want the students to stop to change tasks or clean-up, I’m teaching them to go through the following steps in their head:
1.    Finish up (whatever they’re working on)
2.    Hands free (put supplies down)
3.    Quiet (no talking, no movement)
4.    Eyes on me
5.    Listen

The students were pretty receptive to it; they especially enjoyed “rehearsing” the procedure, because I asked them to be noisy and pretend to work so I could walk them through stopping and listening. It has worked the best with my 2nd and 3rd grade classes so far, but that could also be that the lessons they are working on are simpler. I’ve also added a simple hand signal (raising my hand, finger on the lips) used commonly throughout the school for quiet. In addition, I’ve slowed down my pacing and minimized the movement in the room. I’m going to see how it sticks through next week before making any more changes, but I think it’s a good start.

By far, the BEST change I’ve made has been my new “kindergarten buckets.” I bought bright green buckets from the dollar store and loaded them with enough pencils, scissors, erasers, glue, and other supplies needed for my lesson for each table. Now only one kid has to get up to get supplies, and for clean-up I just have them put everything back in the bucket. This is especially helpful for my favorite kindergarten lesson, based on the book, “If You’re a Monster and You Know it,” by Rebecca and Ed Emberly.

It’s a more challenging lesson that eats up a few weeks, but I just love the way the monsters turn out. Students trace, cut, and glue different body parts to create their own monsters. It’s also really fun to do the song and dance with them; it’s sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” but Emberly has students stomping their paws, twitching their tails, and giving a roar instead.

It’s difficult because there are so many pieces of paper and stencils floating around, so it’s a lot of stimulation for students. But it’s great practice with tracing and cutting; I make sure to include easy, medium, and hard shapes for each body part. And the buckets make it easy for me!

Here are some pictures of my students’ work!




-Kelsey Long

Friday 04. 5.13

Classroom Management: Take One

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that my central classroom management strategy thus far this year has been “survive.” I know a few of the standard techniques but for the most part I’ve been relying on instinct and focusing on my lessons more than anything else. But before spring break, I was asked to re-evaluate (read: improve) my classroom management for the sake of my students and my potential future in the district. I currently teach at a large elementary school, and the faculty are older and experienced; they have a firm grasp on how to handle hundreds of small, sugar-crazed children. I am not at their skill level yet, but I’ve spent break reading the quintessential, “First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher,” by Harry and Rosemary Wong in hopes of improving.


Here is a brutally honest picture of what my classes are currently like:
The kids come in and are slightly rambunctious in their seats while they wait for me to get their class box and get them rolling. I review what we did last week, I introduce what we’re doing this week, and I assign students to get supplies based on the numbers on the backs of their chairs. I send multiple numbers at once, so #1’s might be getting pencils, while #2’s are getting scissors and I have two students handing out paper. The kids get to working and chit-chatting, which doesn’t bother me but occasionally impairs their ability to focus. Kids get up and down to get pencils, erasers, ask me to the use the bathroom. If I need to give instructions half-way through class, it’s difficult to talk over them. When it’s time to clean up, I have a hard time stopping them. In the younger grades (K-2) clean-up occasionally leads to squabbles at the sinks, kids carrying things and not knowing where to put them, etc. I’ve gotten better at getting them lined up, on-time and quietly, but the room is often messier than I’d like it to be.

Veteran teachers, I can hear your sighs and headshaking all the way here in New Jersey. Allow me to explain. In my mind, I see it as giving my students freedom. I have this idealist picture of an open classroom, where I am a conduit for knowledge and not an evil dictator, bent on silence and straight lines. Img2

But I’ve realized, it looks like chaos to others, because it is chaos to a point. At least it is in the elementary classroom; I’ve realized K-4 students are not equipped to handle too many choices or things happening at once. Perhaps I do need a few more years of teaching experience under my high-waisted belt before I can develop the independent, student-centered, “free to be you and me” classroom model I would prefer. Baby steps, if you will. So I’m armed with some new procedures (Wong buzzword!) for Monday. I’ll outline them in my next post, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

-Kelsey Long

Tuesday 04. 2.13

“It won’t happen to me.”

Despite the climbing unemployment rates, the amount of my friends applying to graduate school, and number of districts cutting “non-academic” classes like art and music, it never occurred to me that I would have a hard time finding a job. I really thought that because I loved teaching so much, and I had such success as an undergraduate, I would be able to have my own classroom by September. I applied to over forty jobs this summer, and come October, I was still working as a barista, tackling the mountains of paperwork required to even substitute. It was difficult, it was discouraging, and it was a serious wake-up call. But it was humbling; quickly realized that ambitious, newly-certified art educators in this economy need to think outside the box.

As a new graduate, you apply to jobs that ask for two years of experience, Masters degrees, NCLB Highly Qualified status, and a barrage of other requirements you don’t have. You are restricted to the state you are certified in, unless you had the foresight to take the various tests, pay the fees, and fill out the papers for reciprocity in neighboring states. You are competing against educators with years of experience and more importantly, established personal connections with hiring districts. And most challenging of all, you are one in a million online applicants!

From personal experience, and from the experiences of my peers, I have found the best bet for new grads is generally to take a maternity leave or other extended leave-of-absence position. This places you in someone else’s classroom for anywhere from several weeks to several months. You can make daily substitute pay or a first-year teacher’s salary, depending on the district and the length of the leave. This puts you in a prime position to network within the school and the district, make friends with other teachers, and hear about openings before they are posted. It also can lead to other long-term positions; in New Jersey, you are legally allowed to substitute in an area you are not certified in for up to 20 days. This meant when my temporary Art teacher position ended, my principal asked me what other areas I would feel comfortable teaching; this bought me a few more weeks, as I could apply my theater experience as the temporary Drama teacher.

My best advice however is to reach out to your previous cooperating teachers. My first two jobs came from my junior practicum placement; I had kept in touch with my co-op there, and she recommended me for the temporary Art position. My current position is thanks to my senior practicum placement; my co-op learned she was pregnant in September, and arranged for me to take her leave beginning in February. Your peers from college can be helpful as well; my graduating class keeps in touch via Facebook, and we post job openings and other news for each other via social media. I have had great experiences as a long-term substitute; I’ve gotten the chance to try on a variety of student populations and grade levels for size, and I’ve learned so much about myself as a educator.

Other options include becoming a daily substitute by registering with individual districts, or by finding a substitute agency such as Source4Teachers. By applying to one company, I had access to daily substitute positions in a variety of school districts across New Jersey and Delaware and was essentially guaranteed work every day. Or, for the more adventurous types, remember you are not restricted to the United States! Many agencies hire for overseas employment in private international schools, such as International School Services based in Princeton, NJ. These schools tend to have excellent budgets for art, small class sizes, and a great family-like environment. Though the international hiring season is typically in January-February, last-minute hires happen throughout spring into the summer, usually for schools in southeast Asia or the Middle East.

When it comes to finding a job, I feel that it’s best to leave no stone unturned. Talk to every single person you know in education, because in my experience, it’s who you know that gets you hired. Write thank-you notes for everyone, from secretaries to principals, to leave a good impression (and your contact information)! Sure, I’m not a tenure-track teacher right now, but at least I’m in teaching art, and that’s what matters. That, and a paycheck!

-Kelsey Long