Monthly Mentor

Benjamin Tellie (September)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Benjamin Tellie is an art and design educator at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) in Rockville, MD. He has served in many visual arts teaching capacities at various intuitions, and is currently a doctoral student at The George Washington University. Ben was named 2019 Eastern Region Middle Level Art Educator by NAEA. Click "GO" to read his full bio.

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September 09, 2019

Insect Interventions

By Benjamin Tellie

As part of my pedagogical practice as an art educator, I have engaged my students in conversations and art making experiences that respond to difficult topics and difficult collective histories since I entered the teaching profession. I have since built upon my art curriculum to create various projects that include students’ voices and inner experiences as they respond visually to difficult topics and histories within their lifetime. Topics that include bullying, natural disasters, school gun violence, terrorism, to name a few. I welcome all conversation around this area if it interests you as I would like to know more about how art educators handle the many difficult issues and topics of our current time in the art classroom with your students.  

I am sharing a project I created several years ago that I use continually use with my middle school students that centers around the topic of bullying. I hope it might be useful or adaptable to your art teaching practice. 

Insect Interventions

I believe that students can examine bullying through studio projects that challenge norms, invite imaginative role play, and empower them to become change agents in their school communities. In contemporary school culture, the ways students bully has evolved by using technology and media to bully others. Roasting, for example, is the humiliation of someone either online or in person, through acts of verbal and emotional abuse. Roasting, cyberbullying, physical and social bullying are prevalent forms of bullying behaviors in American schools. Deepening students’ knowledge about bullying through the lens of creating, can be the beginning of a healing process for bullying victims, a learning experience for students, and an intervention for bulliers. 

Insect characteristics as metaphors   

In a studio project I bring to my middle school students, Insect Interventions, I asked my students to design their own insects, including characteristics that serve as metaphors to help themselves or someone else in a bullying situation. Students made an annotated insect sketch, including their insect’s name, habitat, 3-4 characteristics they have and how they are metaphors to solve specific bullying situations. They also built a three-dimensional model of their insect using recycled materials and objects.

I started the project by discussing our culture’s mainstream definition and viewpoints of bullying and cyberbullying. We discussed differences between peer conflict and bullying behaviors and why students might get bullied, investigating prevention methods and resources for the school environment. We turned to some great online resources including Bullying by the Numbers: A Breakdown of Bullying Statistics and Facts, by Michele Wheat of wristband.com; Stopbullying.gov; www.niot.org; www.itgetsbetter.org; and http://groundspark.org.  

Students also examined the artwork of Rafael Gómezbarros, Jennifer Angus, Chris Goodwin, Regina Silveira and characters of Pokémon Go. We explored how these artists use materials and media to create artwork about insects and characters, weaving in metaphor. Some questions for discussion were, “what might bullying mean to you? How would you prevent bullying behaviors at school? How do we take your solutions and ideas of being an upstander and make them into characteristics say for an insect?” Students learned that an upstander is a person who is proactive and takes a leading role to prevent, address, or stop bullying behavior when exposed (more to come in the next post). 

-BT

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