20 December 2008

great shots.

there's always a quiet spot in the studio.

texture drawing.

my intermediate drawing & painting students are making value drawings of small areas of texture around the room enlarged to create abstract compositions. i didn't do this project last term because i was afraid it was repetitive with a few other things i like to do but it seemed to fit into this weird time between the beginning of the term and the break. 
and this class is so diligent and passionate they ate it right up. see picture below with tongue out in concentration.

19 December 2008

third fridays.

when i worked in brooklyn, friday afternoon happy hour get-togethers were a big part of teacher life. it was a time to chat without kids around, share stories, complain, and have fun. people don't do that sort of thing here. i think it's partly because our school is in the woods and everyone drives from all over to get here.

but this year i decided to try to start a new tradition of getting everyone together the thrid friday of the month. i figured this way everyone can plan on it, put it on their calendar, get a babysitter or whatever. it's been pretty successful so far and i continue to believe that socializing with co-workers, especially in an emotional job like teaching, is a good thing.

december would have been the 4th third friday of the year but it was a snow day...not just any snow day, but really a blizzard (that endede up lasting for three days). and we still had a group of 12 people come out. two peopl eeven walked miles in the snow to get there.

18 December 2008

when you teach at a school like mine...

...you get christmas cards like this...from kids who don't even celebrate christmas.

for the record...here and in brooklyn the most thoughtful heart-melting christmas cards i've ever gotten have all come from kids who don't celebrate christmas. hmm.

16 December 2008


in the second week of art principles i have my students spend most of their time interacting with each other and with the world of art. i find it gives them a chance to get to know each other better while developing language with which to discuss works of art. plus i get to observe how they work together in groups and what i need to add to my curriculum for this particular group of students.
one of the activities i like to do is to have them work in groups to teach the class to re-create a famous painting. they start by discussing and analyzing the painting. then they make plans and lists in their sketchbooks. 
finally, they get up in front of the class and try to tell their classmates verbally what to do. they are not allowed to demonstrate or show the class the picture. usually about a quarter of the way into it they realize how difficult the task is and it gets very funny. they realize how articulate they need to be and how closely they have to observe the painting to be able to get the class to re-create it.
it's always funny for the kids to see the results of the crazy yelling, talking, and gesturing. and then we answer one of my very favorite questions to ask teenagers...how would you do it differently knowing what you know now?

15 December 2008

blurry slide drawing.

this activity isn't mine. i can't remember where i read about it or did it myself but i think it's pure magic. i find a picture usually one with people and text and project it upside down at the front of the room using the lens of the projector to make it as blurry as possible. i give the kids charcoal, paper towels, and erasers, and tell them to draw exactly what they see...no more, no less. after about 20 minutes i focus the lens a little bit, lecturing them all the time that they need to keep up with what's on the screen. i continue to focus every few minutes until in the end the picture is totally in focus and the drawings are finished.

it works like magic every time. the students who have diligently drawn from observation as the picture adjust have perfect drawings. many make their best drawing to date on this day. and the smart asses who think they know what it is and try to outsmart the project end up with a word spelled wrong or a figure out of place.

following the drawing we have a discussion about the process of doing this...about building a drawing (which i say all the time but they usually understand during this activity) from the general to the specific.

talk and draw.

this is not an orginal idea...but one of my favorites, especially for 9th graders. i pair them up and one person gets to look at the still life while the other draws. the person looking at the still life's job is to describe what they see to the drawer, but they are not allowed to use the name of any of the objects. they are also not allowed to point to the paper the drawer is working on or gesture in any way. the goal is for the drawer to make an accurate drawing of the still life.

my students love, love, love to talk so it always cracks me up when they gave so much trouble doing this...and they do. after they finish we have a discussion about what it took to complete the task and what they would do differently if they had to do it again. and year after year they say the same thing. they would have started by calmly giving an overview of the set up so the drawer had a rough idea of what they were doing. then they would have described the shapes in more detail in an organized way, either from top to bottom, or from left to right.

i try to drive home the idea that the level of effort it took to observe, analyze, and describe, is the level of effort they should be putting into every drawing if they want it to be accurate and dynamic.

09 December 2008

index card project.

the first project i usually give my advanced 2d students is the index card project. they have to make 25 pictures related to their theme using at least 10 different types of imagery and 10 different approaches to materials...and they have about 4 hours of class time to do it in.

they consistently think this is THE most outrageous thing any teacher has ever asked of them and balk at the bulk of the work. 

my school is great for kids in many many ways but one thing it teaches them that concerns me is that the world will adjust to their pace. now i'm not a teacher who fusses over deadlines but i do think there's a lot to be learned especially in terms of artmaking by many thing very fast or one thing very slow...neither of which my students love to do. so i try to impress on them that there is something to be learned by working within my parameters. oh and by the way i went to 7 years of art school and have been teaching for 8 years so i kind of know what i'm talking about.
so i tried something different this term to try to move them along a little...to set the pace, literally. i gave them each the same 3 xeroxes and told them they had 15 minutes to make 2 pictures about their theme using only the xeroxes, glue stick, and scissors. and then...i set the magical timer. teachers know about the timer. what is it about it? the omnipotent timer. something about that ticking makes the kids take it more seriously and argue less. and they did it without debate. they each made 2 images in 15 minutes. next year i'll make it only 10.

and they proceeded to make the other 23 pictures without much complaint.

note the ever-present webs in the photos.

vitamin D.

so this is what happens when you don't teach a lunch class...you can get outside for a walk during the 8 hours of daylight we have these days (when we're lucky). what a difference this will make for me.

art principles.

this term i'm also teaching art principles. this is a 9th grade general art class. it's a little different than all the other classes i teach because it lasts for two terms. it's also usually a small class...this term i have 10 students in it. so i get to know the students really well and they become a sweet little supportive art community when all goes well.

to start out on the first day i have them do artistic interviews with one another. i give them a series of questions they ask their partner and then their job is to make a portrait of their partner as an artist and to introduce them to the class as an artist. i find this activity really opens them up. we laugh at all the funny stories of how art has shown up in their lives, especially in the form of bad art teachers or siblings who made fun of their skills. 

the portrait you see above is of a girl who got really angry when her elementary school art teacher told her to change the color of the sky in her drawing and who once found great success in an egg drop contest. i think it's a hilarious picture.

advanced 2d art.

this term i'm teaching advanced 2d art. it's one of my favorite classes to teach because it is so much about ideas. it's about the kids making their own work, not mine. it can be tiring but incredibly fulfilling for me...and for them.

i spend the entire first week teaching them how to develop a theme they can work with for the whole term. this year what i did was to put pictures of famous works of art around the room. i then asked them to walk around and look at the work recording what they observed. 
on the worksheets you see below i asked them to generally record themes & concepts (what the work was about) and subject matter (what was the work a picture of).
after a healthy debate about what i meant by themes & concepts, the difference between themes and subject matter, and a discussion about how anything could be a theme and the fact that many themes overlap we made this list as a group of possible themes to work with. 

we also decided as a group that a theme was a big idea and definitely something you could hold or touch.
after this activity each student chose a theme they were willing to commit to for the entire term and they made a brainstorming web with their theme at the center. i use these webs as starting points for almost all the projects over the course of the term. 
some students chose themes that are way too big. some chose themes that will go cliche real fast. i tried hard to control my natural tendency to save them by correcting these mistakes. they will suffer a bit, but through the suffering they will learn either not to choose such things in the future or how to grapple with it today. either way i'm pretty happy. 

we'll see what kind of work we get.

sense of place paintings.

here are the finished sense of place paintings from the oil painting classes. they came out very well and some of them are hanging in the gallery right now. i think the students felt good about the outcomes. they were finally able to see the results of all the hard work they've done over the course of the term.

and although i'm pretty sick of teaching these oil painting classes it makes me realize how very difficult it is to teach a beginner oil painting class in 12 weeks. next year...no beginners, no lunch class, and only one section...period.

more birthdays.

they're still at it... these advisory birthday parties...and i'm still going along...for now. this one involved a cute game where the birthday girls wrote down truths and lies about themselves and we tried to guess which was which. 

05 December 2008

new term, new kids, new outlook.

this is what my room looked like 10 minutes BEFORE class started today.
it's a new term.
i'm a happy teacher....who has gotten behind on her blog. 
more soon.

25 November 2008

it's thanksgiving...

...and i'm out. 

reflections on term 1 to come. stories about new kids and term 2 on the horizon.

21 November 2008


my advisory group decided we would have a thanksgiving lunch. the whole thing was organized by one student and she managed to get everyone to bring in food and supplies. i made my famous family thanksgiving recipe for cinnamon pears...don't ask. we all said what we were thankful for and shared our family traditions. i was struck by the potential of thanksgiving as a school holiday. it's not religous and so it feels a little easier to share. 

me...on stage.

yesterday i gave a speech...to the entire upper school.
it was terrifying and wonderful. my legs shook visibly through the whole thing. luckily the podium covered them up.

the head of the school asked me to do it...give a speech at the cum laude assembly. i went against my number one rule which is to sleep on big requests like this and get back to people. i said yes right away. maybe i was blinded by the beautiful light in his office or thrown off by the idea of being asked. either way i ended up doing it and it felt great...but maybe not for the reasons you might think it would. sure, it was nice to be recognized and get some compliments after...but here's what was really great about it.

i've had a tough fall. this is year 8 in my teaching life and i've been afraid that i might be experiencing true burn-out. i haven't looked forward to coming to school much and the kids have been driving me crazy. and everyone knows that when you start to get down on the kids you know it's bad.  

but thinking about what i wanted to say to the kids-at-large yesterday made me fall in love with them all over again. it made me feel the hopefullness that working with kids can give you. and when i stood up on stage and looked at them all at once smiling back at me it was hard not to cry...honestly.  

these kids were so generous. 

they laughed at my jokes. they smiled at me and waved. they cheered my name. and they came to find me later in the day to tell me how much they liked what i said. teenagers did this. privileged teenagers did this. lots of them...not just a few. they didn't have to but they did. and i love them for being so open and loving. i think i remember just how hard that is to do that when you're a teenager and your body and emotions are all out of whack.

you can watch the speech in these two youtube clips...

20 November 2008

surface and texture paintings.

these are the finished surface and texture paintings. i've written about them in the past. i'm excited about how they turned out and i think the kids are too. 

19 November 2008

great shots.

fire drill.

clever teens.

cereal in a cup...and with chocolate milk.

student quotes.

student 1: "if i donate my painting supplies back to the program will it help my grade?"

me: "wouldn't that be a bribe?"

student 1: "what are you? a cop?"

student 2:"well, she kinda is."

14 November 2008

student quotes.

the thing about teaching art is that the vibe in the studio is often like that of a quilting bee but with teenage energy. as the hands are busy so are the mouths. sometimes this is great because i find myself in teachable moments that extend beyond my subject. sometimes it's awful or exhausting to monitor what's being talked about. 

yesterday my 10th graders had a very heated discussion about who they would take a bullet for. i have no idea how this came up. i missed the beginning of it. the conversation moved into what would you grab if your house was burning down. it was fascinating to listen to. highlights included the logical analysis of how much a life is worth. for example, according to one student, your dog only lives 10 years so it is not worth as much as a human. another student pointed out that the worst thing a parent could experience is seeing their child die before themselves (very insightful) so you should never take a bullet for them (?). one student said the thing she would grab in a fire would be her computer. hmm

they could not understand why i would grab photographs and the quilt my mom made me when i left for college which reminded me how much work there is to be done here. if people ever need any insight into the world's problems they should look to our children and our schools. they're like the canaries in the mine.

clever teens.

today i discovered that many of the young women i teach carry their cell phones in their ugg boots for sneakier text messaging during class. it only took me two and a half years. 

and for the record i've been waiting for the ugg boot trend to end for much more than two and a half years. 

student quotes

important note: all of the students who participated in this conversation or were sitting near it were 10th grade boys.

one student describes to another his science experiment which will test the effect of noise on foul shooting in basketball.

second student says: "i love basketball. i'll be one of you testees."

long pause.


if you don't get it. read the quote aloud.

yes, this is my job.

13 November 2008


this is literally one of the most important teaching tools i have. 

i started to use it in brooklyn when the kids would not leave me alone. they were always wanting to chat with me and tell me their problems and i loved the feeling of being able to help them. but i wasn't getting any "work" done at school which led to me staying up late at home and coming in tired the next day. the more tired i got from staying up late (and not having a personal life) the less effective i became in the classroom. it took me a long time to figure out that it might be ok, and better even, for me to refuse to see the kids for limited periods of time during the day so i could plan effective lessons and assess their work. 

i found this sign at staples and have used it ever since. at the school i teach at now i have my own office, with a door....that you can't see through. i have the kids trained. if the sign says closed i set the clock for when i'll be available. this calms them down and makes it easier for them to wait. if it says open and the door is closed they can knock if they need something important. my advisees have special permission to knock at any time. this system works so well. i get a lot of work done during the school day and no longer stay up late. i've even got a personal life and a fledgling art career.

i have always believed that modelling behavior for students is one of the best ways to teach. my students know that i have a studio at home and another career i care very much about. they see me budgeting my time wisely so that i can do both things well (at least that's the goal). 

a very wise person once said to me that the best thing i can do for my students (especially as a female role model) is to let them watch me walk out the door. school is important but it's not the only thing...

drawing the face.

this monday i had my drawing and painting students studying facial features. they've been learning to draw the figure for the past two weeks and i thought this was the logical next step. my goal when teaching students in 9th and 10th grade is to give them the skills they need to tell visual stories about their lives and without faces a teenager just can't do that. their lives are all about faces (and bodies i guess).

i find that teenagers often draw the face as if the features were stickers, flat and with no relationship to the actual face, so i decided to have them do each feature separately in their sketchbook. we talked in depth about the structure of each element of the face so they would better understand why the eye is shaped like it is....flaps of skin wrapped around the sphere of the eyeball, or pieces of cartilage sticking out from the cheek. i don't think they really think about that stuff. they're so concerned with the way people look they don't even think about why things are the way they are on the face.

i don't have my students do traditional self-portrait in any of my classes. i know this unusual. self-portraits are usually the center of the high-school art curriculum. some students choose to do them as an answer to some of the assignments i give but i don't ever require it. i'm not convinced that teenagers are objectively capable of looking at themselves in the mirror and recording what they look like...and i don't feel terribly inclined to push them to do so. isn't it more important to give them the skills of observation and drawing that will enable them to do so when they're emotionally ready? i prefer to spend class time challenging the way they see themselves as individuals in the world by asking them to create symbolic self-portraits or family portraits.

07 November 2008


i took a mental health day today. probably not something to be publicly posting about except that it makes me wonder exactly what makes us so tired as teachers. and that makes me think about how we (i) can work on resolving some of these issues so we can be more energetic for the actual instruction and assessment we should be focusing on. 

here's my top ten list of what makes me a tired teacher...in no particular order. i'm too tired to put them in order. the list would have been very different two and a half years ago and, by the way, i'm much less tired now than i was then.

 1. cleaning cleaning cleaning...the brushes, the sink, the tables, the floor
 2. repeating myself
 3. being at work at 7:30am at the latest
 4. shifting focus every hour (or less)
 5. keeping track of 50 people's stuff (i know that's not much compared to public school but still)
 6. email
 7. continually establishing the boundaries of what's appropriate
 8. repeating myself
 9. not talking to grown-ups all day
10.remembering the names and life details of so many people

i'd love to hear what makes other teachers tired.

advocating for more arts in schools.

i've always been a big fan of the advertising campaigns run by americans for the arts. i've added two of their banners to the sidebar on the right. below are two of the new commercials they're running. they're a little ridiculous and i think they're fabulous.

p.s. for the record..i do worry about the argument that reason the arts are important is because they increase test scores and increase skills in math and science...that is until they start running commercials that say how math can improve your skills in the arts.

04 November 2008

drawing show in the gallery.

i recently hung this show in our gallery. i wanted to show the wide range of what we use drawing for in school so i included work from math and english classes as well as sketches and doodles from the art classes. 

my favorite part are the quotes. i emailed the entire faculty asking for quotes about their relationship to drawing and some of them are pretty funny. the quotes i got from kids are pretty poignant. 

03 November 2008

every once in a while...

...you get a big loving pat on the back and you happily remember why you do this job.

31 October 2008


when i left for work this morning it was....dark...and 28 degrees.



my school has what i consider to be a pretty cool halloween tradition. only the seniors are allowed to dress up and they come up on stage one at a time, sometimes with music, and often with a performance. the whole school watches and waits their turn till they're seniors. most of the costumes are awful and some are inappropriate. it's a great excuse for the boys to dress up like girls just like it was back when i was in high school. it's all in good fun and funny.
the art department loves to get involved. last year we did the wizard of oz. this year we decided to be fenway park with peter as the field, amy as the green monster, meriah as the bleacher seats, and me as the pesky pole. tara always joins us in these adventures and she was our player. the kids get a big kick out of seeing how hard we work to build our costumes since many of them are used to the store bought kind. 

30 October 2008

this is what faculty meetings should look like.

From Untitled Album
yesterday i was lucky enough to spend the day working at the home of one of my colleagues with my fellow lead teachers and the new teachers. it was so re-energizing to be out of the building for the day and to have stimulating conversations with adults about teaching. the energy was consistently positive and calm throughout the day. i feel so grateful for this group's love and support.

we began by sharing what we're calling brags'n'snags...high points and low points in our teaching lives. many of the snags focused on time management, getting everything done, and having a life outside of school. we brainstormed ideas about how to streamline planning and grading. one teacher even shared his system for giving comments on papers orally using a feature on word. this amazed most of us. so cool. another teacher talked about grading papers for only one thing at a time...grammar, spelling, etc. 

after sharing tips we worked on developing units and plans together in small groups. mariah and i brainstormed about her photo 1 curriculum and talked about how to do more with less. i remember learning this strategy from caroline who came into my classroom 6 years ago and said whoa there new teacher, you're trying to do too much. the kids are overwhelmed and so are you. so we boiled down all of her lovely ideas to about 2 essential questions and 3 units for the term, which is only 11 weeks long. 

we ate a wonderful lunch together and got to know each other better. i think everyone left feeling closer and energized. i feel lucky to work for a school that supports this kind of thing. we're hoping to do it a couple more time over the course of the year.

surface and texture still lives.

my oil painting students are working on paintings that force them to grapple with creating the illusion of different textures and surfaces. for this assignment i let them set up their own still lifes. i encourage them to make sure that the set-up allows them to work at their level and that it is interesting to them. here's what they've got going.

28 October 2008

thoughts on how girls dress for school.

in preparation for our faculty meeting this morning we were sent a list of behavior scenarios to read over and think about. the list included things like overhearing kids swearing or talking about drinking, seeing students sleeping or talking during all-school meetings, seeing a boy grabbing a girl’s rear end, inappropriate cheering at an athletic event, students leaving campus, and seeing a girl wearing a low-cut shirt. the goal was for us to talk in small groups about which of these issues felt challenging. at the end, we came back together as a large group to share our ideas.

the issue that each group focused on the most was how the girls at our school are dressed.

this pisses me off for a couple of reasons (and I’m sure I’ll think of more over the course of the day). first and foremost, the concept of the meeting was to focus on issues that made us uncomfortable. if every group talked about how girls are dressed i can only assume that we were really talking about were (mostly) the male teachers’ concerns. secondly, it bothers me that how the girls are dressed took precedence over substance abuse (drinking & smoking), missing out on education (sleeping), gambling (online), and assault (boy hitting girl on the butt).

now don’t get me wrong…i have jokingly suggested that i would like to give a workshop on undergarments to the girls in this school on numerous occasions. i have also had many, many conversations with girls about how they’re dressed and why it matters.

i think this issue is important!

but I also think that in a school that is not ready to truly enforce a dress code (we’re not) the state of girls’ outfits should not take precedence over some of the other topics that came up. i think the reason it took precedence is because it’s easy. it’s easy because men can bring it up as a concern and then say well, there’s nothing i can do about it because it would be inappropriate for me to comment. men are seen as sexual beings that can’t touch this issue without seeming inappropriate while women are seen as maternal, and obligated to “deal” with it. i get that the male teachers don’t want to deal with it directly and i’m not suggesting that they should. What I’m suggesting is…let’s move on.

in 2008 talking to teenage girls about fashion is tricky. clothes today are revealing. bra straps are in. leggings count as pants. on top of that we’ve got teenagers in this country exercising less than ever before so these kids are trying to squeeze all kinds of bodies into what’s trendy. it’s tough even for us grown women to figure it out. we are never going to agree on what’s appropriate unless we wear uniforms or enforce the dress code by meeting kids at the door like we did at my school in brooklyn. so let’s talk to girls about something OTHER than how they look. maybe if we take our focus off their looks they will too.

in the meantime i will continue to preach my mantra to the girls i teach…TIME AND PLACE. are you getting dressed to go to a club, to school, to church, or to a college interview? you don’t dress the same for all these things. where do you want the college admissions officer to focus…on your boobs or on your accomplishments? Only one of those will take you places. and i will continue to lecture my advisees about the length of their skirts, the width of their bra straps, and their cleavage. I won’t even try to get into the concept of slips and maybe someday i’ll figure out the leggings as pants thing.

i would like to take this opportunity to thank my Mom who made all this easier for me by making me wear a slip despite my griping, introducing me to strapless bras when it was time, and helping me to understand that “adult” fashion was something you grow into over the years. she taught me that i could be a powerful, sexy woman by being smart, talented, and opinionated. thanks Mom.

BUT…i will continue to be pissed off about women doing most of the work in raising our children…still, today, in 2008…even at school. we need brave, bold men to help us out once in awhile. i’ll take on the girls if you, guy, will take on the boys…

27 October 2008

this is what silence looks like.

my 10th graders are so into their imaginary place pictures you could have heard a pin drop today. they are driven...thank god.

talking to students about assessment

last week i had to submit mid-term grades for my students. i usually worry a lot about how the grades i give my students match their knowledge. i spend a lot of time talking to my students about how i come up with their grade and what their grade actually means.

in preparation for this conversation with my oil painting students i made this little drawing. what i usually say to them is it's my job to teach them something new. it's their job to learn something new and to show me how much they know. then it's my job to report on that learning. i say to them, "if they don't show me what they know how can i report that they know it?" if i don't see it i assume they don't get it. so they have many chances to do this...the blog, verbally, in their paintings, etc. they usually get this and it takes the focus off of a, b, c, etc. 

learning to develop ideas

my 10th graders at work on their imaginary place projects. it's the first imaginative project we do and i have them use "source materials" to develop their ideas so they're not exactly working from pictures and they're not exactly working from their imaginations. 

i find that although i want my students to develop their own concepts and work from their imaginations the work when they do so is often mediocre looking. mediocre looking work discourages kids in my experience. using pictures as a reference only, not to copy, seems to help them achieve the look they want. 

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