Interview with Art-Ed Hero Nichole Rich

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I teach at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School (PreK-4th Grade) in Mt. Pleasant, TN.

How long have you been teaching art? This is my fifth year of teaching art.

 What is your favorite time of the school day and why? The mornings are my favorite time of the school day because I have the most energy. Also, I teach kindergarten in the mornings and I love their enthusiasm. Also, I love to teach kindergarten because I love being the one who gives my student’s their first experience with art.

 Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feel similar? All my classes have a similar feel to it in which I’m always promoting my students to use their imagination. There is not one project that looks like another one. I think it’s very important to keep my student’s artistic choices authentic and original.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I love to teach papier-mache with fourth grade. I have it down to a science now. Also, I love teaching first grade about craftsmanship, I have an acting bit in which I faint and fall to the ground on purpose. I start off with showing students works of art that are messy and boring. Then I teach my students how to create art that is complete, neat, and creative. Also, I love to teach kindergarten rotating creative centers. This is where I teach a concept, element of art, or skill and have students work in rotating centers. For example, I will teach a lesson on shapes (two tables will draw shapes, two tables will build with shapes, two tables will practice cutting shapes).  After 5-10 minutes, the students will switch their supplies to another table and so on until every student has had a chance to use all art supplies. And of course, after a fun day of rotating centers, we have to have a 2-minute dance party with a disco ball to celebrate our fun time in art.

What has you underwater right now? Surprisingly I would have to say myself. I know sometimes we like to put the blame on others. But at the end of the day, I always reflect and say to myself “did I handle a situation well?” Now I’m not saying that I constantly am hard on myself, but there are days in which I do feel like I’m underwater and I start to think about if whatever I did was the root cause of why I feel like I’m underwater.

 What is saving your life in the classroom right now? ORGANIZATION, ORGANIZATION, ORGANIZATION. I literally have everything in my classroom color-coded and labeled. I also teach my students about organization. I don’t get out supplies for first-fourth grade and sometimes kindergarten. Their job is to get supplies on their own from the supply station and put them away on their own neatly. I do not have table captains or supply managers. I think it’s important for every student to be responsible for their supplies and know where they go.

 What is your favorite memory of a student you taught whose older and is no longer in your class or school? My favorite memories are when my former students bring me their art and write letters to me via their younger siblings. It makes me so happy to see that I’ve made a difference in their life and that they still think about me.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Crazy to say, but I really don’t like to teach much about artists. I just see my students as the artists and we all learn from each other and get inspired from each other’s artistic style. However, if I must choose an artist, I would pick Frank Stella. He is a great introductory artist for abstract art and you can always incorporate math into his lessons.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? I’ve recently got into visual journaling. I use my journal to not only create art in it, but I use it as a gratitude/prayer journal. This journal translates into my classroom because it seriously helps me, especially during the hard days. It helps me to find something positive about the day and it helps me to pray for anyone or a situation. I’ve noticed a big change this year in my teaching by writing and creating art in my visual journal daily.

Do you let people borrow your glue guns? I’m nice. I’ll let anyone borrow it. However, I do make sure to write my name in big bold lettering, so I don’t lose it.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? We have weekly data team meetings and classroom teachers send the activity teachers lesson plans, so we know what concepts they are teaching that we can bring into our own instruction. I don’t have anything huge going on right now with collaboration, but in the past, I’ve collaborated with our high school and my 4th-grade RTI enrichment group and we worked on a tiny house project, which was awesome. I took my students on a walking field trip to the high school to check out their mechatronics program and see how they’ve designed their own tiny houses. I also love to incorporate STEAM into my choice-based art program. For me, STEAM comes naturally. It’s not anything I think about for days or months to come up with a project. How I think about STEAM and my choice-based art instruction, in general, is by asking one question: what do my students need to know for the future? As for someone that has never had art until college, I’m constantly thinking about how I can grow my students to carry art into their adult lives. I always think what do my students need to absolutely know before they leave elementary school. As art teachers, we must understand and know that our students might not have art after they leave us. In my situation, I think what if my students move to an area that doesn’t offer art, how can I teach art in a way that can be carried over with them when they move onto their next school. I also know not every student will choose art as their elective when they get older. So, it is up to me to teach them how art can be carried over into real-world situations. I love to teach group projects, design, animation, etc. I think about different careers my students are interested in doing when they grow up. A lot of my students want to be YouTubers, doctors, vets, builders, firefighters, photographers, fashion designers, bakers, etc. I do whatever I can to teach students the skills to think beyond the basic art skills and help them to be exposed to the creative skills and communication skills they will need to take along with them for the rest of their lives.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an art educator?Being an art teacher is one of the most rewarding careers. However, before you begin teaching, make sure that you are comfortable with who you are. Also work on creating good habits to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. In addition, know that compassion is a four-letter word spelled L-O-V-E. Love is the key that will keep you focused during the good and not-so-good days of teaching. Learn to be calm no matter what and give your students grace. And most importantly, have fun…you’re going an art teacher for crying out loud! You’re going to be the rock star of your school…so own it.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? Surprisingly, I’ve never had art until I was in college. I went to school in a county where they only provided music…and yes, I was a band geek, a clarinetist to be exact…no shame.  I don’t even really know how I got into art education, but I always had an appreciation for art and loved how art made me feel and how it can change people’s lives. I don’t know if I could pick an art-ed hero, but I will have to say I was inspired by all my teachers in grade school that promoted creativity in their lessons and I was also inspired by my art professors in college.