You may or may not know that March has been designated as Youth Art Month. If you teach art, you probably know. But then, every month is Youth Art Month to art teachers. It doesn’t just begin in August and end in May or June, as some would like to think and snidely remark, “Who wouldn’t want that kind of job…” What they may not know is that our summers are usually reserved for workshops, gleaning ideas from magazines and YouTube, and planning. Art Teachers’ families and friends just have to understand that we may be on the beach with them somewhere, but we’ll probably be picking up shells to bring back to school. “By the way, are you seriously thinking of throwing away that bottle cap?” Our job also doesn’t start at 8 and end at 3. Most art teachers spend hours and hours of planning and cleaning, sorting and scraping, displaying and grading long after other teachers have left the building. But then the custodians (who we try to make our best friends) are usually nice enough to watch us walk safely across the dark parking lot to our cars.
Some of us work in environments that appreciate what we are bringing to the students everyday. I am blessed to work at a school that continually supports my profession. However, many Art Teachers go unnoticed, unthanked and overlooked by their colleagues and administrators. It’s heartbreaking to read posts where Art Teachers talk about how they feel undervalued. So, why do they do it? Why not give up? Because they chose a profession that has intrinsic value every month and every day. Because some art teacher somewhere along their art journey changed their life through art. Because they were lost and they found an art family. Because they want to find students like them and make a difference in those students’ lives.
The other day, before students began working on their various projects, I distributed some index cards and a few pencils. I asked them to write on the top of the card, “Why Art Matters to Me.” I then asked them to write why art matters to them, personally. I told them not to write what they thought I wanted them to say (they can be such teacher-pleasers). They took this seriously. Some even stapled some cards together. They had so much to say. Most of them said that art helps them to express themselves in ways that they can’t express in words. (However, they did a pretty good job communicating through the cards)! I think that giving them this opportunity helped me to understand that art opens up communication. What a gift to know that my students feel safe to express themselves in my Middle School Art Classroom! And that, my friends is worth every late night at school. It’s why I love where I have chosen to spend my time. Because long after I’m gone, there will be a fingerprint or two left behind. And that is why, #VisualArtsEdMatters .