Monthly Mentor

Shelly Breaux (December)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Shelly Breaux established the Art Program at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy in Lafayette, LA. In her classroom, Breaux focuses on inquiry-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, conceptual thinking, and constructive criticism. She believes in using art as an educational tool, and that art provides her students with a voice and an outlet. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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March 02, 2018

Finding your Inner Spirit Animal and Ultimately Yourself…

From: Jennifer Pulbratek

After being invited to write for this blog, I got on here and checked out who had written before me.  Holy Guacamole!!! THE Katherine Douglas… I adore her! That’s like trying to follow Queen, Prince, Blondie. I just can’t. I messaged a dear friend and fantastic art teacher and told her I’m sick to my stomach. (I don’t belong here.) She reminded me to be myself; that’s what makes me a good teacher. 

I often tell student teachers they need to find their Spirit Animal, or themselves, their “thing”. They can’t be me. Just as much as I can’t be other teachers I adore: Bob Ross, Cassie Stevens, Sister Wendy, Clara Lieu, Gerry Brooks, or Snape to name a few. As teachers we have to find our own thing, embrace ourselves, our odd quirks and what works for us. Some teachers embrace technology wonderfully, then use it! Others are awkward… why force it? Some teachers are really great at lecture, while others can lead kids in fantastic conversations. Some teachers use sarcasm well while another teacher using the exact same line would be a train wreck. Find your thing, and then mine the heck out of it. I learned first-hand this year that when you don’t because you are nervous about what kids expect, you will fail. 

This last year I moved to a new school and replaced a well-loved teacher. I had a student who really struggled with the change. Another kid was in my room after school when there was a tantrum from the struggling one. The second student said to me, “Man, when I’m in Ceramics 2, I need you to be you.”

A few years ago at my former district, my best friend was cut due to budget and I was given the advanced art classes (her babies). I was always second guessing myself. I so desperately wanted to do right by them. I was really nervous one day and asked how my friend did something. One kid said, “Don’t worry how she did it.  We need you to do things your way.” I stepped into the storage room and cried.

The kids need us. And they need us to be us. Full of our quirks and our flaws. They need to see our mistakes and our rawness. Don’t be afraid to be human. We are not perfect, but that’s what makes us perfect for our kids. To be fair, we have to accept their flaws. We have got to be okay when a kid nervously chews on a pencil. Or fidgets and rips the clip part of a pen cap off. Yeah, we should address it with the individual, but we have to forgive them and build that relationship with them. 

If we lose a piece of work, we must admit we lost it. If we blow something up in the kiln, we have got to own it. We need to ask for forgiveness and model how to say, “I’m sorry.” How else are kids going to learn to take ownership if the adult in their lives don’t do it, and do it often? 

And then let your passions hang out. If you tell jokes, do it. If you give compliments, do it. I held kids to high standards. I would give compliments, but then ask them deep questions about their designs and where they intended to take them. And I’m fairly blunt. Sometimes it takes a while for kids to get used to a new personality. I experiment, I explore, I address each kid as their own artist. I try to give each individual a purpose to their assignment. If something isn’t of a standard it should be, I tell a kid. And that’s me. It’s taken awhile for some to warm up. And to be fair I think it’s taken me awhile to get comfortable enough to be me… to get to the point where I keep parents’ phone numbers taped to my computer and set times on my phone for kids who are easily distracted so they have a dead line for each sub step. 

But I’m happy to report my spirit animal is back. A kid spotted it yesterday in the middle of chaos, kids doing what seemed like 100 different things, including a “secret” therapy smashing session (of unclaimed glaze ware) for a kid who was having a rough day. The observant kid walked by to see what was going on, came up and whispered to me, “You are a good teacher.”



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