Interview with Art-Ed Hero Dee Dee Melton

L to R 1-4– Morgan Haye & zine pages | 5/6-Marvin Haye & zine pages 7– | Dee Dee Melton w/Mcgavock students 8– | Dee Dee & Mcgavock art teachers at Student exhibit 9-11– | Dee Dee Melton’s professional artwork. 

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? How long have you been teaching art? I’m entering my seventh year of teaching and my 4th at McGavock High School. I teach 9-12th grades and my classes include Intro to Visual Art, IGSCE Cambridge 2D Art & Design and Drawing.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why? I am just a morning person. Everything is better in the morning. Fresh coffee, fresh start.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? Mixed Media. I love it when my kids blend techniques and start playing with different mediums. I think their creativity blossoms and it helps them get away from the preconceived concept that all art is skill and raw talent. Mixed media is the epitome of a growth mindset.

What has you underwater right now? IGSCE Cambridge Art and Design. I have not been to training and no one else has taught it in the district/ state. I am seeing where the wind is going to take me on this one. Buckle up buttercup.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? AVID. My school invests in AVID which is a national professional development program that is so applicable across all classes I teach. Everything I have learned/ am learning from AVID is worth it. If you work in urban education you need AVID in your life.

Also, my co-workers. I work for a kick *** faculty and administration. Their trust and kindness make my job tenfold better than yours.

What is your favorite memory of seeing a student you taught whose older now and no longer in your school? Recently, I had a student graduate and ask me if we could get coffee together. That was very flattering. I felt liked because I am a person! I live near where I work and getting to see my students, current or former, in the community is so nice. I mean, they now know I buy Q-tips, and that is weird for us both initially. I will say, sometimes I feel the need to identify myself to onlookers, because, stranger danger! I’m a hugger. I tried to not be. It was more awkward.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Local Nashville artists and Shepard Fairey.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? Chuck Close has that fantastic quote that says “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and work.” This was always a driving force for me with my students and in my own practice. I don’t paint nearly the amount I should be or want too. In the past two years, I have been making more progress in my practice.  A majority of that had to do with letting go of this expectation that my painting had to revolutionary and driving this idea home with myself that in order to have work you must make the work. I have been making small dog paintings for family and friends for twoish years now. I kept thinking “It’s lame that I like to paint dogs”. Then, I decided I’m okay with being lame, because ya know “amateurs”. It’s just where I am right now. I need to paint (the dogs) it out of me. Why do I feel the need? I think because I cherish how much I identify with my pet and how others identify with theirs. I also have fun doing it.  That has transformed my teaching. If my students aren’t having fun realizing their ideas through their chosen media, what am I teaching them about art? What am I teaching them about work? So, what if you want to paint your dog? Just promise me you are painting your dog, the way you want to paint them. Besides, we live in Nashville. Would you like a customized dog portrait?  I also have been painting more abstractions and plants. I recently made a clay dog sculpture, did some throwing, and have gotten into more bookmaking. Working small rocks when you don’t have a lot of time and feel intimidated. Sketchbooks are more important to me now. I use my sketchbook as documentation of my thinking/ life. This fuels my big ideas. Therefore, sketchbooks are becoming a bigger component in my classroom. I use the same supplies that I have school purchase for my students. If I wouldn’t use it then I don’t ask them too. For example: crayola watercolors. WHY? I buy my own and my students’ supplies from Jerry’s artarama. The manager, Amanda, cuts us great deals and things are reasonably priced. I want my students to understand that crap paper means you will have crap watercolor painting, but I don’t want them to spend a fortune. No one has dreams to be starving.

What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues? I think you can guess!

Do you let people borrow your glue guns (or art supplies)?

Glue guns: Yes.

Paper: Yes.

Color Pens, Markers, Sharpies, watercolor, paint brushes: If you are currently my student and you are having fun/ making work. ( Yes, a lot walks away.)

Paint: No one. Is it possible to have too much paint?

Random Misc Crap: Probably.

Define “people”. McGavock student I’ve never met before? Probably not. You know your project is due next period anyways and that paint ain’t gonna help your apathy.

Teacher? Yes. I am a sucker for my underpaid friends.

Administrator? Absolutely. Also, I have been needing more……

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? The AVID team is always collaborating. Currently, I have been collaborating plans/ thoughts with the art teacher at Overton on IGSCE Cambridge art and design. I am looking forward to seeing what all Kim and I accomplish this upcoming school year with the IGSCE students. Mike Mitchell and I are collaborating on bringing in some Nashville artists to speak and make work with our students and do some exchanging.

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? We know that education is the most powerful weapon we can give our students in order to better themselves and this world. Art is the most powerful weapon we can give our students in understanding themselves and in turn how to sympathize with the world. Art meets our basic needs of belonging, power, and freedom, but it also brings them to light. If we aren’t meeting our students’ basic needs, and guiding them to trust themselves, are we putting them at any advantage in the world?

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? Melanie Anderson was my art teacher in my senior year of high school. She was the one who helped me remember why I love visual art. I believe she still teaches. She was kind, smart, and happy. I was always impressed by her and her ability to teach and be a successful painter. I just looked her up. Guess what she paints now!? Ironic.

How are you using Number Inc. in your classroom? Last year, I used Number Inc during a Zine project.  I have a close artist friend who has been making zines for years. I knew I wanted to do something more with Number than just have my students read it. My students get easily frustrated with reading and there are huge differences in reading abilities in my classroom. I have life skills students, Cambridge students, and a mixture of 9th- 12th graders. I want to use this newspaper in a functional way.  I had the epiphany one day of having them create zines while thinking about collage and literature. Having my student create a zine seemed like a functional way to use the newspaper. I used the newspaper when I introduced the idea of a zine. I spoke about how zines are sometimes fan art or cheaply made playing off the idea of the word magazine. I gave my students parameters of 6+ half pages and that the zine must have a theme, or tell a story, or set a tone, convey a mood or emotion. They could use really anything they wanted to create it. I threw out all the supplies for them to use: watercolor, acrylic, magazines, the Number newspaper, glue, ink pens, etc. Then, they got busy. I am not sure they are really zines anymore. I keep referring to them now as ” handmade artist books”. They got so in depth they didn’t really want just newspaper. They wanted color and paint. Some have the zine quality though and I still love them. I love the uniqueness to all of them. This year, I plan on using the articles written for class discussions and colleges.

What has student response been to using Number Inc.? Students are often not going to read much until you make them. They found the artwork interesting that was showcased. I plan on making them dig deeper into the paper this year. While working on his Zine Marvin had this to say,

“I love dark colors, or as in art terms, neutral colors, because they go well with anything. Since my theme was supposed to be on depression, I would need black and white and the newspaper (Number Inc.) had that. What a coincidence that colors such as green and orange go well with black and white. I collaged the cover of Number ninety-one. The left corner had some black and green. I had to take some of that out though. LOL”


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.

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!


Interview with Art-Ed Hero Kris Bespalec-Davis

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Student Work

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach?

Currently, I teach on behalf of the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN.  My position mainly works to build connections between the museum collection and the community: helping develop curriculum, working with school groups that visit, and working with after-school groups like our Jr Docent program which teaches youth how to ask questions about and engage in conversations about art with their peers. I also recently started a monthly Hands On Art History course at Walker State Faith and Character Based Prison.  The class focuses on how art is connected to the time it was made as well as how it continues to influence our world today.

How long have you been teaching art?

I was a public school art teacher in Chicago for over 8 years and have been teaching at the college level for over 5 now but I have been working as a teaching artist in community art centers, nature centers, pop up neighborhood projects and museums since I was 13!  I have always loved working with my hands and getting people to explore their world and express themselves through art.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why?

I love setting up the studio for a class– getting the materials ready, making the demos, problem-solving, etc.  I love thinking of all the possibilities of what could happen once the class starts and then getting to reflect back on it once things have quieted back down.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach?

I love drawing connections between the past and present– being able to help place peoples minds into how things were when the work of art we are studying was created and being able to empathize or relate to that in a personal way really bring the work to life. I also hope it makes the case for supporting the arts right now.

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 have stayed in touch with students from many of the places I have taught and have been overjoyed to see how they have grown and often made positive impacts in their communities.  An especially touching moment was when one of my students from the very 1st year I taught elementary school sent me a photo of a drawing she made of me from that year– I loved that she still had it and continues to check in with me to let you know how she is doing!  I also love when I still get the occasional “can I ask your advice?” question from students– semesters or even years after I have worked with them. I always want my students to feel like we are partners in learning, and I want to be there to help when they need it, not just during class.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about?

I get excited teaching about artists I know– people that are making and struggling and doing the work right now.  It’s too easy for students of any age to feel like success is limited to museums or “fame” of one definition or another, rather than really viewing art making as a discipline and a job they can develop using the skills and resources in their community.  It’s work! and there are people making it happen all around them every day.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom?

I have a studio space set up in my house and I am sure to schedule or at least make space in my life as often as possible to get in there!  Sometimes it is research and gathering of materials, sometimes it is playing with techniques and making– usually all of the above at different stages! I always find inspiration in the classroom– from the art I am teaching about and the insights from students as well.  The more I talk about art, the more anxious I am to get back to making it!

Do you let people borrow your glue guns?

Only if people ask nicely! and I can see what they are working on….

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now?

All the time! I love collaborating with teachers who are not or were not thinking about art when they started designing the curriculum and finding ways to bring their lessons to life even more with it.  I also really enjoy getting to work with different departments in the museum–we have so many creative and inspiring people on staff that are eager to collaborate and make the ways we interact with our visitors and supporters even more fun and memorable.  I love some new hands-on spaces we are developing in the museum.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator?

Expect to work really hard and fail a lot!  Learn to not take it personally and keep going. Offer to help when you can– volunteer, intern, and get as much experience as you can in the real world! Also– be quiet and listen more.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up?

Not growing up, per se- but Rebecca Keller continues to be an inspiration and has become a dear friend of mine! She was a professor I met in grad school, and she really embodies for me how multi-talented and flexible artists need to be.  As an educator, artist, writer, historian, mother, partner etc– she exemplifies the hard work artists do to support their work, their students, their families and themselves.  It’s always a balancing act. Her unwavering support and willingness to offer advice and friendship is a priceless resource I will be forever grateful for!

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Ellery Nief

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I teach at Inskip Elementary School in Knoxville. I have around 530 students from Kindergarten through the 5th grade.

How long have you been teaching art? I am in my fourth year teaching art; I have been fortunate enough to teach at the same school for all four years.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why? My favorite part of the school day is when students share their artwork with their class. I try to allow time for students to get to share their artwork with the class’ undivided attention. It is amazing how students will come out of their shells for the opportunity to share something they worked hard on.

Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feel similar? Every year when Kindergarten starts a couple of weeks after the rest of the students, I am reminded of how young they are. Many of my kindergarteners come to the first day of kindergarten with no experience in a classroom setting. It is always a challenge to take a step back and remind myself that they are still learning how to be at school. Even though this is a challenge, their eagerness for learning and their amazement in new materials always makes the challenge worth it.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? My favorite concept to teach my students is idea generation. Through my district’s curriculum and the new Tennessee Visual Arts Standards, my students are gaining idea generation strategies that help them to create artwork that is personally relevant and engaging. It is such an enjoyable concept for me to teach because it gives me a chance to hear all of my students’ great ideas for creative and innovative works of art. My favorite strategy to use with them is a collaborative brainstorming list where all the students are throwing out ideas making a huge inspiration list. Most of my students end up creating art from ideas that didn’t make the list but are proof they are taking this strategy from a teacher-led activity to an artistic habit.

What has you underwater right now? What has me underwater right now is the lack of time in the day. I have many duties in my school and in my district and even though the days seem long, most days do not have enough daylight. School-wide scheduling difficulties make it hard to get everything done during the day. The populations I teach require me to be at my best when I am at school, so a work/life balance is super important to me and unfortunately hanging student artwork is sometimes the first to give. It breaks my heart because I believe hanging student artwork throughout the hallways is one of the most important parts of being an art teacher and when the school day is scheduled to the second, it makes it hard for me to get that done without staying hours after work.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? I am privileged enough to have an intern (student teacher) this year. Katy O’Dell is an art education teacher candidate at the University of Tennessee. She has been such a great asset to my classroom. She was quick to jump in and get to know the students and they love her for it. With a busy daily schedule, new curriculum, and new state standards, it has been so great to have a second pair of hands and another brain to problem solve within the room. With this being my fourth school year, I am still a new teacher myself and I believe we have both learned so much from each other, at least I hope so!

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? I love to pull in artists as the students are working. With a choice-based curriculum, I am not spending a ton of time making sure students recognize famous artists. I have been really pushing the exploration of materials with my students. Sometimes they are hesitant in working with materials in an exploratory way instead of immediately making an image. It always gives them a boost of confidence and freedom when I show them work by artists like Cy Twombly or Helen Frankenthaler.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? My studio practice is a juxtaposition of so many different mediums. I work primarily in mixed media collage and pull in anything that lends itself to the project I am working on. I have most recently been working with gel printing plates and collaging the prints I make. Through my own studio practice and my training as an art educator, I have gained at least a basic level of knowledge in so many mediums that I feel comfortable bringing many new materials and tools in my classroom. My students are definitely gaining skills in experimentation and exploration and they think of ways to use materials that I would have never thought of. They teach me as much as I teach them.

If you had the stage in front of administrators and art policymakers, what would you want to say about why art education is essential? If I had the stage in front of administrators and/or policymakers, I would encourage them to visit their local art classrooms more frequently. I would encourage them to talk to young art students and teachers. I would encourage them to volunteer and be a substitute in an art room. It is one thing for art teachers and art education researches to tell administrators and policymakers the importance of art education, but it is a completely different thing for them to step into art rooms and experience the benefit of arts education.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an art educator? I would tell a 19-year-old art education student to create a network of colleagues. When you find a job, if your district does not provide opportunities to be around other art teachers, create your own, look online, reach out to other schools near you, and call your art education classmates. There is power in a community of fellow art teachers. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to see other art teachers at work, get into their classrooms, go to conferences, and share lesson plans and resources. Your art teacher friends and colleagues can be your greatest asset.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? My art-ed hero has always been my family. I am a fourth-generation artist and have been fortunate to grow up in an environment that values the arts and supports any creative endeavor. My family serves as a constant source of inspiration for me. Both of my parents attended art school at different points in their lives and my dad has a custom woodworking business, Wood Designs by Glenn G. Nief. Both of my paternal grandparents worked in the arts, my grandmother worked as a cartoonist for General Motors, and my grandfather was a freelance window display artist and sign painter in Detroit. One of my great grandfathers was a design engineer for Ford Motor Company. My aunt, Jan Heaton, is a watercolorist based in Austin, TX and Laguna Beach, CA, and a cousin, Christine Vaillancourt, is a painter out of Boston, MA. In addition to an artistic family on one side, the maternal side of my family is full of teachers. I am lucky to have too many art-ed heroes to name, but can’t forget to shout out to all of the art professors I had at the University of Memphis, they have been so integral in who I am as an artist and art educator, I think about their influence daily.

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.

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Brandon J. Donahue

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I currently teach at Tennessee State University

How long have you been teaching art?  I have been teaching at the university level for 8 years. Before that, I taught private and public airbrush workshops.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? No favorite. I think all of my concepts and lessons link back to problem-solving whether it’s drawing, painting, or basic design principles. Lately, I’ve been really excited about teaching and assisting in mural painting.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? Students who are self-motivated and push themselves beyond the lessons that I teach are life-saving. They inspire me to work harder in my own studio work.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Top 5; Jacob Lawrence, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Jannis Kounellis, and Joseph Khalil

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? My practice outside of the classroom is made up of collecting materials that I transform into other things. Either through reconstructing or painting. I airbrush, paint murals, well as sculpt from time to time.

Do you let people borrow your glue guns(or art supplies)? Yes. I have a bin of coloring pencils, crayons, markers, and construction paper that I have available for people to use. I do keep some supplies strictly for myself.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? Very Often. I’m excited to be working with the University of Tennessee on a student exchange program.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator? Do it only if your heart is into it. Do not do it with money as the main goal!

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? Tanya Armstrong, Mr. Greenwell, Tony “Fuma” Tunstall, and Tim Hammond Sr.

Find out more about professor Donahue’s at