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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Tuesday 03.25.14

Rejuvenation and Motivation!

Last month, the Utah Art Education Association (UAEA) held their annual “Art in the Sun Conference”.  I have attended this conference every year since my first year of teaching, and I have loved it every time. I have met some amazing art teachers who have shared their best practices and favorite lessons. I have learned strategies for teaching students how to make their art better and how to get kids excited about creating art.

1Left to Right: Michelle Montierth, Joann Memmott, Stephanie Clegg, and Brandy Cimmino – UAEA Presidency at the Paintout, day one of our UAEA conference, in February.

2Teachers who attended the workshop I taught on “Teaching Students How to draw Pastel Landscapes”

3NAEA President Elect, Patricia Franklin at our UAEA conference

I hope everyone is getting ready to head out to the NAEA National Convention at the end of this week. I have been looking forward to it since last year. Attending Art Education Association Conferences are the best way that I have found to rejuvenate my art teaching and refuel my creative juices. Some of the best lessons I have taught to my students were a direct result of things I learned while attending sessions at either the Utah Art Education Association Conferences or the National Art Education Association Conventions. 

I always end up with a ridiculous amount of re-licensure points because of the amount of various trainings and PLC meetings provided my school and district. I would never really need to attend anything else in order to keep my license. However, those trainings do not prepare me to teach ART. Yes, they have helped me with things like classroom management, motivation techniques, cooperative learning and the Common Core. But often, I am the only person in the room who teaches the curriculum I teach. I am referred to as a “Singleton”. It almost seems crazy to try gleaning teaching strategies that will help my students learn about the technical production and context required to teach, my students, my curriculum, from someone who truly has no idea what teaching art encompasses.

Also, I get a little bit cranky when I am constantly being expected to teach things like how to write an argumentative paper. My logic is: we should be expecting our students to write about art, often, but they should be learning how to write in their English class. Are teachers who teach English being asked to teach their students how to draw correctly? Even if they assign a drawing aspect to a writing project in English, I am pretty sure they do not spend any of their class time teaching students how to draw or shade or color.  

So, my point is. If you really want a great experience, that will keep you motivated to be a better art teacher, and give you the best kind of training you can get for teaching art, go to your association conferences. Make it a priority. Save up, beg your school or district Administration for funding and Educational Leave. Show them the schedule, tell them you need it, tell them how much it will benefit your students, tell them there is no other training out there that will help you be a better art teacher than this. I hope to see all of you at NAEA this week! I can’t wait.

-Michelle Montierth

Monday 03.17.14

Highs and Lows

Because I am receiving an NAEA award, I was asked by my local newspaper to think of a particularly high time in my teaching career and a particularly low time.  That was hard.  It was actually easy to come up with high moments, there are so many.  Not that this profession is perfect, but it is definitely perfect for me.  So, for me, there is at least one high every day, but often many more.  Every time a student thanks me for teaching them to draw, or writes something on their exit slip that lets me know they were able to problem solve and find solutions, or shows me their artwork and I can tell they are truly proud of themselves, I feel pure joy.  However, as I thought about it for a few days, I realized there is one thing that really stands out above the others and that is our summer Art Camp.  This summer will be the seventh year that we have held our Weber District Art Camp.

I first started it (with a lot of help from other teachers in Weber District), because I needed a project to do as a requirement of my Masters Program, at the University of Montana.  The first year was small we had about 30 kids, but it has quickly grown to capacity and each year we have about 80 kids between the ages of 9th- 12th grade attend.  There is something magical about having kids and adults who have a deep love for art from all over the district spend a few days together creating art up in the mountains, surrounded by nature – which is the ultimate creation.  I love watching the kids connect with kids from other schools and have a great time making all types of art together.  It is truly miraculous and hard to explain the feeling that is there.  I’m looking forward to this year’s camp already.

Art camp - nature journaling  Art Camp - Food Art Competition
Art Camp - Nature journaling                  Art Camp - Food Art Competition

Trying to think of a low was even more difficult, but there is one thing that has been a burden for me.   Every once in a while one of my students will have something really awful happen to one of their pieces of art and it breaks my heart because I know how much of a person’s soul goes into creating their work.  Throughout my years, I have seen things accidentally destroyed and sometimes purposefully destroyed or stolen.  One case in particular was especially devastating.  I teach AP Studio Art, which is a really intense and time consuming class for me and for my students.  They have to create a body of work (24 portfolio quality works of art) to submit to the AP college board in order to receive college credit.  If they accomplish this goal, they earn the honor of painting a large ceiling tile in the art classroom with a work of art that represents their portfolio work, to leave as their legacy. 

My classroom ceiling
My classroom ceiling

One of my students took her ceiling tile home to finish and brought it back during the summer.  She had painted a beautiful portrait of herself playing the violin.  Sadly, I never got to see it.  I was told that it had been thrown away by a custodian.  I couldn’t believe that anyone could throw something like that away.  It reminded me how little some people care about art.  This student did paint a new one for the ceiling, so every time I look at it, I am reminded about my calling to give my students an awareness of the importance of art in our lives, so that they will never think so little of a work of art that they would carelessly throw it away or destroy it.

-Michelle Montierth

Tuesday 03.11.14

Take Time to Look at Great Art

When you find yourself and your students getting in a rut, one of the best things you can do to invigorate your own art making is to go see some really cool and amazing artwork in art galleries and museums. One of the assignments that I give to my AP Art students is to do a gallery visit and write about it. They are required to go to an art gallery four times a year, once per term. I love reading their papers and finding out how this experience changes and influences them. I remember one recent paper in particular. She wrote about how she realized that in order to create the loose, distorted style she has been striving for in her work, she needs to figure out how to make it look deliberate and not accidental. I have read many papers where students have made discoveries about themselves and the reasons they are creating because of looking at the art in galleries and speaking with professional artists about their work.

Yesterday, we spent the day riding a school bus from the little rural town where I teach to go to some of the best art galleries in Utah. There were three art teachers and one student teacher from my school who escorted 50 students to the Springville Museum of Art and the BYU Art Museum. Both shows were incredible. Currently at the Springville Museum of Art they have two exhibits – Curiouser & Curiouser: The Artwork of James Christensen, Cassandra Barney, Emily McPhie & Family and the 42nd Annual Utah All-State High School Art Show. I fell in love with the show by James Christensen and his two daughters. The entire show was meant to share with the public how the Christensen family has fostered creativity in their home. I especially loved the family tree wall with a portrait of each family member created by every member of the family. They drew names and then created a portrait of the name they drew. There were all levels of artwork, from very amateur works to very professional works because they didn’t leave anyone out. Even small children were expected to participate. I really want to do this in my own family. I was mesmerized by the artwork of James, Cassandra and Emily and it really made me excited to get back to my studio and work.

Students listening to docent explain gallery etiquette
Students listening to docent explain gallery etiquette

The High School Art Show was amazing as usual and is a great opportunity for students to see what they themselves are capable of. It also helps me as an art educator to think of new ideas and reminds me to keep pushing my students to do better.

My student next to her own painting in the All State High School Show
My student next to her own painting in the All State High School Show


At the BYU Art Museum, we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see the original artwork of several European artists in the exhibit called “Sacred Gifts”. Wow, these paintings were spectacular! They were huge and just thinking about the amount of work it must have taken to get these paintings out of frames and transported to Utah was incredible. I loved seeing the paintings by Carl Bloch especially because I have grown up surrounded by prints of these pieces my entire life.

Every time I broaden my horizons by visiting an art gallery or art museum, it helps me to be a better teacher and artist. I totally recommend that you make an opportunity to share this experience with your students.

-Michelle Montierth

Saturday 03. 1.14

The Circus Life of an Art Educator

I’m pretty sure when I signed up for this gig, I wasn’t prepared for the circus element of it. I remember taking art classes all my life, sitting there, getting inspired, getting in the zone, then going forward and making  art. Because my dad was an art educator, I was always surrounded by art supplies and interesting art. I grew up making my own glue – you know the flour and water kind, cutting, pasting, drawing, painting, sculpting, sewing and even turning my attempts at baking into works of art. I truly thought that being an art teacher was going to be all about just being creative and helping kids fall in love with making art all the time, just like I did. 

I didn’t think about all the other horribly mundane things I would have to do. I had no idea that I would be spending so many hours writing lesson plans, coming up with project criteria and rubrics, and working on a myriad of PLC goals. Then of course there are the hours and hours spent on grading student work. Sometimes, I feel like it takes me more time to evaluate a student’s work than they actually spent creating it, especially the students who just hurry to get it done. I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but I never took one statistics class, ever, for a reason. So, the emphasis on collecting, keeping and analyzing data is completely wrecking havoc on my right brain. Putting all of my assignments online, so a few kids who were absent can find out what they missed, is cumbersome and time consuming and I am always behind. And, man is it harder than I thought it was going to be, to really teach kids how to draw. 

I decided to be an art teacher because I LOVE TO MAKE ART and I LOVE TO TEACH. I truly love it when a student figures out for the first time that they CAN draw, they CAN shade, they CAN paint, and they CAN create! Wouldn’t it be great if we could just focus on that? Shouldn’t that be what we should be spending our precious hours on? 

In my 14 years as a high school art teacher, I have learned to juggle--that’s my circus act. I have found that I am actually pretty good at it too. I have also found other talents that I had no idea I had. I’m sure you have too. For instance, I have learned to talk and take roll at the same time. Sometimes, I have about 20 balls in the air at once, and yes, sometimes I drop some of the balls. But I must be doing well enough because they haven’t kicked me out of the circus yet.

For my month of blog contributions, I am going to be writing about juggling my life as an art teacher and my life as an artist. I am going to share some things that I am working on in my classes as a teacher to be more focused on helping kids love making art and the things I am doing in my studio as an artist. I’ll let you know how it goes.  

-Michelle Montierth