Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Biggest Secret about being an Artist and an Art Teacher

This photo was taken my very first year teaching, in a portable, some 20 years ago. It was field day and my room was being used for the face painting station. I was 23, clueless and completely freaked out about teaching art. I'd moved 6 hours from my home in Indiana to Nashville, Tennessee without knowing a soul or having any idea what in the world I was doing. I wanted to share my journey with you in this podcast episode. I'm not going to go into too much detail here as I want you to take a listen. Think of this blog post as the visual for that episode. What I have to share took me 10 years to figure out...and changed my art teacherin' and art makin' life FOREVER.
If you like to take a listen, here you go:
I attended middle and high school in a rural school in Indiana. If you are from Indiana, I attended Northfield High School, just outside Wabash. My graduating class had something like 70 kids. It was super small and, I would NEVER have admitted it at the time, I loved that it was small. 
I was the big, weird, sassy, annoying, artsy, drama kid back in the early 90's. There weren't too many of us weirdos at the school as many kids wanted to fit in. It's human nature. I wanted to fit in too until I realized I just never was gonna. And then I started to embrace that weirdo. As seen here. 
I had the lead role in most of our small productions. I was on the speech team and traveled every Saturday to schools across Indiana reading prose, reading comedy, doing dramatic pieces. It was fun. I found my people. We were all just a buncha kids who didn't fit in but had each other. 
I was pretty confident, for the most part. I didn't mind being me.
Until I went to college. College was very hard for me, especially my freshman year. I attended Indiana University which had a student body of 30,000. Suddenly, in my mind, every kid was more creative, better at acting and public speaking and more unique than I was. I clammed up. I stopped talking to people. I began to hate myself. When was I going to be as cool and confident as I perceived the people around me to be?
And then I took an oil painting class the summer of my sophomore year. I literally fell in love. I made big messy paintings full of stories. I don't think I ever finished a single painting! But I loved making them. Suddenly I found something I felt I was good at. I had a purpose...and confidence. Again. 
While I was in the BFA painting program, I was also pursuing my art education degree. And that's where I noticed something strange.
When my painting professors found out I was also getting an ed degree, they stopped taking me seriously...after all, I was not focusing solely on my art so why should they? And my art ed professors? Well, let's just say one of them, after coming to my art showing, said I should stick to painting. She was tired of grading my lame lesson plans. 

The read-between-the-lines I was getting was that I had to pick a side. I had to choose a team. I had to figure out if I wanted to be an Artist or an Art Teacher...because, according to their message, I could NOT be both. 
In August of 1998, I took a job 6 hours from my home in Nashville, Tennessee. I became the K-2nd art teacher at Hickman Elementary. 
I had a portable classroom that was under the flight path of the Nashville International Airport. I literally had to stop talking and hang on to something every 15 minutes as planes flew overhead. I had no idea what I was doing and I was so scared of messing up. The art education of these kids depended on me and I was CLUELESS. I decided to devote all of my time and energy learning everything I could about being an art teacher. 
It was then that I decided to join Team Art Teacher. 
And I spent every moment of the next seven years reading every book, taking every class, decorating my art room, making lesson plans, doing name it. If it involved teaching art, I was all in. I was gonna be the captain of the flippin' art teacherin' team. 
And I was miserable. 
You know what a miserable person is as an art teacher? A miserable art teacher. I had neglected creating art. I had gotten so far away from my art making side and allowed myself to only focus on teaching. The face in this photo, taken when I first came to my current school about 15 years ago, says it all:
Tired. Bored. Uninspired. Uninspiring. 

I knew I had to change something. 

I knew I had to create something. 

I knew that I had to rejoin team artist...but how? How could I give up my time to my students and (selfishly, in my mind) make time for me? 

You have to, y'all. You HAVE to do both. You HAVE to be an artist and an art teacher. You'll be happy. You'll be fulfilled. You'll be what your students need. But, most of all, you'll be who YOU need. I hope you enjoy this episode...and the many more to come. 

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  1. Hi Cassie. Thanks for your thoughts. As an illustrator and graphic designer for many years, I finally realized that when people call me an 'artist' I have to explain that I am an illustrator, not a fine artist. But after listening to you, I agree, lines are crossed all over the place with us creatives especially creatives who refuse to be put in a box. Let's be who we are darn it. And be proud.

  2. I think you are the captain of the flipping art teacher team! You have inspired me more times than I can count. Keep up the creativity.

  3. Hi Cassie- I really enjoyed your podcast! I also started teaching in 1998 and I was also very lost. I've always been a loner (most often, not by choice) and was scared to death when I started teaching high school. In high school I was fortunate to attend a magnet school where I learned black & white photography. During my final semester, I had a teacher who said that I would be a great teacher, and I told her that she would make a great comedian! I was fortunate to have my photography as I learned how to be a decent teacher. There was hardly a day that passed that I wasn't shooting or working in the darkroom. I'm still working it in my darkroom, to this day! Thanks for talking about how there is no right way to find yourself! I've always tried to communicate this to my students, although most parents would disagree! I'm trying to return to teaching after several years (I've had to recover from a broken back) and I'm scared and excited about it! Thanks for sharing and keep being weird!!

  4. This happened to me in college-- my admin told me if I started taking education courses to be an art teacher, that's all I'd ever be and never taken seriously in the realm. So I didn't take anything for education until about 4 years after graduating. How sad is that?

  5. Good morning, Cassie! THANK YOU so much for sharing your experiences and insight. I just completed my tenth year in Art Education and this was right on time for me. The pictures are awesome and your personality is refreshing. Please, keep doing what you are doing. Touching more lives in a positive way than you will ever know. THANK YOU ! :)

  6. As I make my final month PUSH to let go of a little bit of me-and head back into my classrooms-thank you for this Cassie!

  7. Hi Cassie,

    Kinda funny, but I feel similar to you about the art, and college and all. That about your professors, was true for me too. I also moved far from home and taught in a mobile unit for 5 years. I have not listened to your podcast yet, but I will.;)

  8. Cassie, I just want you to know that I think you are amazing. At 50, I entered a teaching program in which I teach and do my coursework at the same time. What the heck was I thinking? Your podcasts have helped me immensely! I too have a quirky personality (must be an Indiana thing- I grew up in Cicero) and have struggled to get a handle on things during my fist year of teaching. I have used several of your lessons and you have saved me! I will miss you on the Art of Ed, but will follow your blog. Thank you for all you do!

  9. I tried to double major in Art and Elementary Education, but my academic advisor (an art professor) dissuaded me from this idea. I abandoned the thought ever since, but seeing your work and all that you do has been very inspiring... so who knows? Maybe Art Teacherin' isn't a pipe dream. :)

  10. Cassie, just wanted to say you're awesome and although I don't know how, I hope to get a chance to meet you! You have such an amazing positive energy about you...I want to be you when I grow up! I've been following your blogs and using several of your lessons for years now. For 6 years, I have taught Elementary Art. In my previous life I was in Architecture, try to figure out that transition :) At my core though, I have always and will be an Visual Artist. Thanks for all you do for us artists and teachers alike!

  11. You made me cry, I loved this podcast. I am 45 years old and just about to graduate with my teaching degree. I have been following you you a few years and you inspire me so much. My dream is to become an art teacher but, sadly we don't have an Elementary Arts program. So, I plan to build it into my curriculum. Thank you sharing your experiences and keep it coming, I'll be listening.


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