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.
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