Interview with Art-Ed Hero Amanda Davis

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I teach at Aldrin Elementary School in Reston, VA. I usually teach K-6, and occasionally I teach preschool.

How long have you been teaching art? Officially for 5 years, unofficially for ten years. I did a lot of long term subbing and summer camps before I came to Aldrin.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why? I love the mornings when I get to say hello to my students as they walk into the school. They share things with me about their life outside of school. It is so great to connect with them and hear how their soccer game went, or how their new puppy really likes chewing on their old mismatched socks, or about a new book they are reading.

Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feels similar? My last class of the day is interesting because they are also my last class of the week and that period always has its own special feel.  My first class on Monday mornings. They are usually pretty quiet and a little sleepy, yet somehow they are still able to do amazing work. They slowly become more alive towards the end of class, which is when we reflect on what we did during class.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? Oh, this is a tough one to answer, I have so many. I really like lessons that have students thinking of other people. I have a lesson where my fourth graders brainstorm needs in their community. They then make a miniature 3-D paper robot that helps with some of those needs. It is really inspiring to see robots that give homes and food to homeless people, turn piles of rubbish into public gardens, that rescue and care for sick animals, and help the sick and injured. My hope as a teacher is that these are concepts that they will continuously think about throughout their lives. All the different ways they can make the world around them a better place for others.

 What has you underwater right now? I am temporarily working from a cart for a few weeks while they do standardized testing in my classroom. So trying to get all the materials and projects onto the cart without losing random things all over the school is pretty challenging. I also have a few classes that don’t have as many sessions left to finish their current projects because of end of the year events. I wanted to make sure those classes are able to finish their projects, so I have squeezed in extra art class time for them into my schedule. Luckily, their teachers are ok with me taking them outside of their scheduled time.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? A Kermit the frog squeaky toy, a 3D hidden object capsule, and Keva building blocks. After a few classes, as a group they can earn working with the blocks. They usually try to do what I ask so they can have that time. It is amazing how every age loves to build with the blocks. Kermit is for that one kid that just needs something immediately to assure them that they are doing great. The hidden object capsule is for when a kid is really upset. I have them refocus on finding something in the capsule before we can process through their emotions. The hidden object capsule just does wonders for that.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? I do a lot of art themes and I don’t really focus on specific artists when I teach. They are kind of just sprinkled in throughout the area. I just share art that addresses the themes and concepts related to the project. However, my favorite story to share repeatedly with them is the story of the Inverted Jenny. This is a stamp that was printed incorrectly and is now worth a lot. They get so hung up on their mistakes in their work and I think it is important for them to understand that sometimes mistakes can create value. This story keeps them from throwing away a lot of their prints when we do printmaking.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? I do a lot of paintings that often tell stories, so in turn my kids do a lot of work that responds to a challenge in the form of a story. I have also started adding mural work into my school and hope to continue adding more to our walls.

What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues? My coworkers are very student centered, so if they are asking me to do something it is usually for the benefit of our kids. We are a big family, so I am happy to do anything they ask. Though one time there was an incident with a pretzel in a urinal, I did not want to have anything to do with that!

Do you let people borrow your glue guns(or art supplies)? All the time! I honestly should consider a check out sheet because a lot of the time I don’t remember where things went. I just hope they make it back to me. I usually just give them some guidelines for whatever tool they are using and hope that they share whatever they are making with me. We have a group of students that create an interactive math bulletin board every month, so I really want to make sure they are able to do what they need as well.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? Almost every project I do pulls from another discipline. The school year is winding down, but for next school year I am really excited about doing a second run with our 3rdgraders making miniature 3D paper monuments about a famous person they are researching for class.  This was the first year I did them and a lot of them turned out more detailed then I had anticipated.

If you had the stage in front of administrators and art policy-makers, what would you want to say about why art education is essential? In our rapidly changing world, most of the students that I teach will end up in jobs that do not exist yet. Because of that, our kids need to be empathetic and creative problem solvers for whatever careers the future may bring. Art teaches and reinforces skills that students need to succeed in an unknown future. It gives them a voice so that they may better respond to issues in their world. It gives them a chance to practice social skills and collaboration which increases their self-confidence. Art teaches them to value the ideas of others. Through art, I can create challenges that address learners at all levels. By incorporating math, science, writing into the art that I teach; I am able to support concepts that students will confront on standardized tests. Through art, perhaps most importantly, I can reach many students who wouldn’t otherwise be excited to be in school.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator? PRACTICE! Try creating something every week. This is true for anything you do, the more you do it the better you become at it. Don’t be afraid of trying new things and failing. It also helps to surround yourself with other artists and to learn as much as you can about the world. There are a lot of tough things about being an artist and art teacher, but it is one of the most rewarding jobs out there. Every day is so unique and brings different challenge

Who was your art-ed hero growing up?  We had a local artist named John Briggs who would visit us frequently in our little tiny art portable in elementary school. He would show us how he approached painting these really realistic landscapes based off the Florida wilderness. I remember being amazed at how much attention and care went into bringing a single leaf to life and became obsessed at a young age with how to recreate the world around me on paper.

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Interview with Art-Ed Hero Holt Brasher

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? How long have you been teaching art?
I teach at Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville, Arkansas. I don’t have grades, I mostly focus on courses that 1st and 2nd-year college students need for transferring to the University level so they can be ahead of other students in classes and creatively when they make it to their new home. I am very lucky though, as the college has let me create higher-level courses for students that stay in the community or stick around. I have been teaching art since 2014, and full-time since 2016. I’ve learned quite a lot in these past few years, to say the least!

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach?
I would say Printmaking I/II. I love Printmaking, it’s my passion in my art and my art career. It’s been that way since day one, and I continue to try and share that passion with anyone who takes the course. When I have a group of committed students like I do now, it all comes naturally. It’s not so much a lesson or a concept, but it is my favorite medium/course to teach.

What has you underwater right now?
That’s a rough one and a tough one to answer without stepping on toes at times. In terms of the arts and higher ed, I wish there were more students and funding state-wide and nation-wide instead of the assessment and success rate pipeline. I also wish teachers and professors were paid what they deserved. Community college instructors teach 5 classes or more a semester. That’s tough to do honestly. In terms of my art, always trying to find the balance of happiness, sleep, work, and creating art. Tough at times, but I’m very thankful for what I have that’s for sure!

What is saving your life in the classroom right now?
Students who are committed, care and want to work. I don’t care if it’s a lecture class or a studio art class, when a student is giving me feedback, working, and we are having a conversation then I know I’m doing well and they care. If it’s just 15 kids all napping and on their cellphones, I tend to lose my mind. Folks, get some sleep and stay offline in class and I promise you’ll feel waaaay better in your life and be much more fulfilled. The workers make my life easier and make me happy to come to class and help them succeed.

What is your favorite memory (or memory you cherish) of seeing a student you taught who is older and no longer in your school?
I see many honestly, and I don’t have a single one that stands out more. I see former students in Memphis and Arkansas having amazing installations and exhibitions, leaving an area and allowing themselves to be who they truly are, following their happiness, following their heart in music and art, and when they say I had a part in that….that means the world to me. I can’t express how many times I’ve been brought to tears by the kind words they say when I read evaluations or things they’ve written online. I’m a hardass, I push them to their limits, it’s all because I want them to be the best artist they can be (yes even better than myself) and they hopefully know they are by the time they leave. It makes it all worth it to hear it. I appreciate every one of them that says so. They’re my art babies. I love them.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about?
I have a few, most of these are from Art Appreciation because students will actually speak on them. You show them a Van Gogh, they nod and fall asleep…but these? We conversate.
Dread Scott, Hank Willis Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Pepon Osorio, Kathe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, Guerilla Girls, James Luna, etc.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom?
In pandemonium….chaotic….loud….angry….detailed. I suppose former students would say the same thing about my classes.
I try to teach students to detail their sketches, form their ideas, speak with others, then buckle down and try to perfect their crafts. Always be thinking, drawing, etc. So I suppose I drive them as nuts as I do myself.

How often do you let people borrow your glue guns (or art supplies)?
I order supplies for the students every Spring end usually. So I make sure we have enough inks, pencils, paper, etc. You name it, I usually have it for you already when you walk in the door, this is a huge positive about the CC I work at!

Now, my personal supplies? Only if needed, like a saw, or a scraper. I rarely, if at all, let students borrow my personal supplies, but this is because most are expensive and handcrafted. I am also OCD and was an only child. I’m awful, but this is why I make sure to order them the best supplies possible. I never touch their supplies except to do a demo and I try to use the least amount and my own tools.

Also, a lot of my students are at or below the poverty line. I want them to have good portfolios, sketchbooks, pencils, crayons, etc. so they can take that to the University. Also, if it’s not mine, they can be a lot less dear with it.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now?
Rarely. I rarely get asked to collaborate with anyone. I am about to paint a “planter” on Blytheville’s main street this week (Pink, Baby Blue, Black, and Violet? Gorgeous!) so I suppose you could count that. I gladly will edition anyone’s prints though! Sadly though, not much else to report. Maybe this will guilt my friends into collaborating? Ha!

What would you tell a 19-year old who is thinking of becoming an artist or art educator?
If you’re doing it because you love it, then keep doing it. You’re going to lose friends, miss out on fun things, never get to take vacations, have many failed relationships, have angry family members, and none of them will understand because an art major to them is as easy as Bob Ross. They will judge you because they did 15 hours of memorizing tests and 12 hours of art and math will kill you. If you can deal with that you’ll make best friends forever with eccentrics and weirdos and artists and poets and musicians and have great adventures. These people will be loyal forever. You will love every good moment, but the bad moments are tough. You will need to stay determined and work your buns off nonstop. Apply nonstop. Work nonstop. Then, with the will of everything and your hard work, get a good job.

Heck, if it can happen to me, it can for you too.

And if not? Blaze your own path. You can do it.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up?
If you mean elementary and high school years, then none. I didn’t have art at my backward north Louisiana school in Elementary and High School was just as bad. My Uncle would have been the closest to an artistic role model growing up. He always showed me comics, art, weird movies, and he always encouraged me to be myself. I loved him with every ounce of my soul, and I miss him every single day. It’s why I always encourage my friends and students to be the best possible they can be. He was the best ever, and the most encouraging person on the planet. I mean, who else buys a 16-year-old the “Kenneth Anger” collection? So rad!