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 2016 | Main | May 2016 »

Thursday 04.28.16

Preference vs. Responsibility

From: MaryJane Long

During my past weeks on a cart, I have been spending a lot of time in the reading room.  On the wall I saw the following quote, “It may not be my personal preference, but it is my professional responsibility.” It made me laugh a little because it is so true! I asked the reading teacher where she found it and we talked about a training she went to and how she uses it a lot on her daily paperwork. 

I like the quote, but the more and more I thought about it, I was perplexed. I am a public school teacher who lives and works in the same district. My general personal preferences should be the same as my general professional responsibilities. However, in recent years, my preferences are in stark contrast to my professional responsibility. I support the Arts. I believe in a parent’s right to opt their child out of state testing. I know beyond a doubt that students learn through play. However, I am currently “Art on a Cart.” I must listen, help, and promote the importance of state testing. I need to make sure all students are engaged in the creative process of art, limiting creative play in art class. As a teacher, my view of education should be close to what is required of me. Why is it so different? 

Well, the answer to this question is simple and complex. The easy answer; I am not the person making the decisions. However, administrators were once educators, but they are not making the decisions either.  Who makes these decisions? In Delaware, our General Assembly comprised of elected officials from many backgrounds including business, transportation, law enforcement and education. These men and women are doing that they think is best based on their personal experience and the experience of their constituents. But, do they talk to their constituents or do their constituents talk to them? Maybe or maybe not…

Please share your personal preferences with your local school board members, local city council representatives, state representatives, and your national representation. Only when we all share our thoughts, vision, values and beliefs can our personal preferences become a part of our professional responsibilities as educators of children.


Friday 04.22.16

The Golden Circle

From: MaryJane Long

I was searching for something the other day and came across a few books that I read over this past summer. Start With Why by Simon Sinek was one of these books. Simon Sinek coined the term, “The Golden Circle.”


This circle is an excellent visual that illustrates the mindset and perception of people who will change the world.



WHAT YOU DO: This is a very easy question to answer. What do you do? I am an elementary art teacher, I teach grade kindergarten to 4th grade. My students have a various of abilities and disabilities. This is a question that everyone can answer very quickly. What do you do?

HOW YOU DO IT: This questions is a little more challenging, but still pretty answerable. How do you do what you do? I teach through personal experience, modeling artistic behaviors, discussing famous artworks. I use many vocabulary and writing to learn strategies to improve student comprehension of artistic information. Art teachers know how we do our job.

WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO: This is the kicker. Why do I teach art? Now, I used to say because I love it. Others may even say to make money. These are reasons that are actually results, not purpose. WHY is about your personal belief, cause, or purpose. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? This question took me awhile to figure out. And then one day it came to me; I want to be the best version of myself. Everyday I want to be a little better then I was the day before; not perfect, but better. I get out of bed each day to help others be the best version of themselves each day. That is my purpose, that is what makes me tingle all over when I think about it. This is my WHY.

I know that focusing on WHAT I do will not drive me to do my best, especially in the high-stakes testing, art on a cart environment I am in right now. WHAT I do will not carry ME through the next 20 years of my career. If you only think about WHAT, you will burn out and wish you never became a teacher. However, if you can find your WHY, and keep it at the forefront of your daily thoughts, you can teach for a lifetime.

My Golden Circle: WHY: I can be better, you can be better, our society can be better. Let me help you find the best version of yourself today. HOW: We will explore, think, reflect, respond, and create. WHAT: I am an art teacher. Come and create a better world with me!

What is your Golden Circle?


Friday 04.15.16

Have computers gone too far?

From: MaryJane Long

I was reading the Drudge Report, the only news I really look at during the week, and saw an article about a computer painting a Rembrandt. A 3-d printer loaded with smart algorithms painted a painting so close to a real Rembrandt that is was very hard to tell the difference.   

Have we come so far as a technological society that we can now use technology to create classic artwork from long ago? Technology can do, be, and make anything. We can spend time communicating to others without even opening our mouth or laying eyes on a human being. We can change ourselves into that thin supermodel on YouTube with a few clicks of a button. We can recreate any photo, any artwork, anything, including a plastic gun that functions. Have computers gone too far?

I remember a time, not that long ago, when value was placed in quality, patience, and specific skill. Today everything is more about quantity, speed, and reproducibility. I wonder what is going to happen. Will our society settle for copied forgeries? Will we settle for knock off items because they give us a cheap high in the short term and leaving us yearning for more in the long? 

I see it all the time in my classroom, students wanting that quick fix, unwilling to spend the time and effort to secure a quality piece of artwork. My students lack the patience to master specific skills to be creative leaders. Technology is and always will be a tool; a means to an end, NOT the end. Computers have gone a long way, when will the human race catch up?

Read more about the New Rembrandt


Wednesday 04. 6.16

Testing Season…

From: MaryJane Long

April 8th is a date that I have been dreading for a while. I am dreading this date because this is the date that I will start teaching art on a cart at one of my buildings due to testing. The school year is almost over and I have to rethink my planning, rethink my teaching, rethink by behavior system, and even rethink where I eat lunch. Why does my whole day have to change because of a test that has nothing to do with my class? I do not blame the teachers, the reading specialists, or even my administrator. I blame the system; the educational systems that I unknowingly helped create for my community, systems that focus every last resource on testing, including my teaching space.  

I am very fortunate to work where I do. The Capital School District is located in central Delaware, the capital of the first state. In November 2013, The Capital School Board approved Resolution 14-048 declaring, “That no professional employee in the Capital School District shall be placed on an improvement plan due to Component 5,” the student achievement part of our teacher evaluation system linking student scores to teacher performance. Resolution 14-048, with Resolution 16-109, supporting Parent Op-Out, reflects a change in community priorities. My school district has started on a journey of self-reflection. Hopefully, this journey will give my school district a realistic view of our educational system; currently one that is unequal and over focused on high-stakes testing.  The Capital School District is on the right track to finding needed balance in public education. Find more information at .  

I am an optimistic art teacher and I know there is hope for our educational system. Hope comes from within, hope comes from me; a linchpin, an indispensable individual in my community. Yes, I look at April 8th dreadfully, but also as an opportunity for me to create change. I have a dream that one day I will not lose my space to testing. So, I will proceed through April 8th and all the days after, observing, listening, documenting, and reflecting on ways to make “the system” better.

Please share any ideas or solutions you have found in your situation. 


Friday 04. 1.16

Am I Indispensable?

From: MaryJane Long

I am currently reading the book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, written by Seth Godin. This book was part of the recommended reading list for the NAEA School of Art Leaders. This book asks the same question over and over, “Are you indispensable?”, "Am I indispensable?" I don’t know. I am a mom, a teacher, an artist, active in my community, a morning walker, an American; an average American woman.

I don’t know if I am indispensable. Honestly, my life is far from unique. I have a family, a job, bills to pay, parents to care for, diapers to change, laundry to wash, and list continues. Am I indispensable? I would like to be indispensable. To be valued for my talents and not a clog in the public educational system, but how can I become indispensable? 

I have found that I already am…I am indispensable and I became indispensable when I believed that I was.    

Yes, I am the average American career woman. I have a resume that doesn’t fit on two pages. I have achieved many things in my life and will continue to achieve because that is want I do, but I never considered myself indispensable until now. It is truly a state of mind. 

Today, we have to live outside the box and believe we are linchpins. I know that I can create order from chaos, find beauty in disaster, and find comfort in times of great pain. I am an artist and these day to day, minute to minute states of mind make me indispensable. 

Being indispensable is a choice. I can go to work and go through the motions, never really seeing my students or hearing my colleagues or I can go to work and make a difference. I can say good morning as students walk pass me in the hall, get a student to really think and learn, or make a friend laugh. 

Every second of the day we have a choice to make. Do we go with the flow, blend in, and create no waves? Or do we stand up, create a light, and become indispensable in our community? I have made my choice, what is yours?