Interview with Art-Ed Hero Beth Reitmeyer

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Where do you teach and what grades do you teach?
I teach all over. I’m an Artist Mentor with the Frist and working with K–4 Art Teachers and their students. This year I’m at Rosebank, Inglewood, Eagle View, Amqui, Dodson, and Ida B. Wells Elementaries. With Turnip Green, I teach after school art clubs at Valor Collegiate and Warner Elementary. This fall, I was a visiting artist at Pegram Elementary. I also teach two art classes for home school elementary students in Murfreesboro. In the past, I taught Foundations classes to art students at Western Kentucky University.
How long have you been teaching art?
6 years
What is your favorite time of the school day and why? Any time a student has an “A HA!” moment. When they get a concept or figure out an art skill, there is so much joy. It’s amazing.
Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feel similar? The kids are the same and they are different. But I guess no. My teaching schedule is not the same from week to week.
What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I love to talk about color: color with pigments and color with lights. Seems so basic. But lots of “A Ha” moments with teaching it, because everyone assumes they know enough about color. And they don’t. And color is so magical when we get working with it and experimenting with it. Oh, and this is true from my littles to my college freshmen.
What has you underwater right now? Traveling from school to school — some days I’m at as many as four schools. It’s tough keeping it straight.
What is saving your life in the classroom right now? Holidays and talking about them and incorporating favorite things about holiday into art.
What is your favorite(or a memory you cherish) seeing a student you taught whose older an no longer in your school? 
It’s Fall graduation time at WKU, and several of my students are graduating from college. Most were freshmen when they were in my classes; many had me their first semester of college. I’m so proud of my graduating students. Today one of them wrote me thanking me and telling me that I was one of her favorite professors. Another one of my students now works as one of my studio assistants. It has been amazing to her work and to see her practice grow. Excited to see what she makes in the future.
Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? At the moment: Kehinde Wiley
What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make it’s way into your teaching practice? I’m an installation artist, and I make large, interactive environments based on landscape forms. I do a lot of work with the Nashville band, ELEL. I love to make lighted sculptures with my students. For OZ Arts Family Day in August 2018, we installed a school of 250 fish kites made by my students at Pegram Elementary. Each kite shared something special about its student artist. I’m basically making stuff and tinkering with stuff all the time, and in the classroom, it’s more tinkering and experimenting. The difference is that in the classroom, I listen closely to the students and ask them lots of questions about what they want and are trying to make. And then we figure out how to make it.
What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues?
Reports. With budgets.
Do you let people borrow your glue guns? No. But glue guns are $5 at Walmart, so they are great gifts. Really good scissors are good gifts, too. Oh, and I teach my students how to use glue guns — if they demonstrate that they respect my other materials. They take it seriously and beg to use them. I have about 10-15 small glue guns, and I keep them in an Easter Basket.
How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? There is a big STEAM focus within Metro Nashville Public Schools, because the district was awarded a Federal grant to create STEAM schools. Lots of integrating of Science, Math, Technology. The program with the Frist focuses on Art and Literacy, showing how key concepts are integrated into both.
What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an art educator or artist? For those thinking about art education: there are currently lots of art teacher jobs available within the public schools, so you will find a job. If you like kids and art it’s a great choice. If kids drive you crazy, try another major. These jobs are hard but can be rewarding. The system is broken, so you have to be ok working within challenging and odd situations. Some of the situations with the kids will break your heart. But you will also impact the lives of thousands of people. For those thinking about becoming an artist: you don’t become an artist, you are an artist. It is a lot of hard work and hustle. A lot of your time will be spent sucked into it. It’s rewarding. You’ll meet interesting people and see fascinating things and hopefully make cool stuff along the way. But it will probably take you at least 10 years of practicing and tinkering to be able to make what is in your head a real deal thing. That’s ok. If you’re lucky, the thing you make will be better than what you envision in your head.
Who was your art-ed hero growing up? My high school art teacher, Dennis Whitehouse. He showed me lots of things: for example, he taught me value and color mixing (both blew my mind). He was so fun, too. He really liked hanging out with us. And he had us all making different stuff, whatever, based upon each student’s interests, skills, and work ethic. My mom also taught me how to sew, and I made a lot of my toys based on Better Homes & Gardens articles. My 4th-grade teacher, Ms. Needleman, let me create all of her bulletin boards. I drew all the pictures and letters, carefully cutting them out and stapling them to the wall. I was making pretty big drawings before I was 10.
Any last thoughts?
 I love to make art and I love to make art with people. I consider myself an artist who teaches, more than an art teacher. I have an MFA and no art ed degree, so I’ve had to be creative about ways to make as much art as possible. I’ve discovered it’s amazing to be able to help people make stuff. I’ve been pretty lucky.
Find out more about Beth Reitmeyer:

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