Thursday, August 18, 2011

What's mine is yours - Welcome to my room

Click here to view my beautiful art classroom
The year was 2009. January. I was about to start my first position as a new Visual Arts teacher. The students would be arriving any day. My head teacher showed me my classroom. It was tired, dusty, lifeless. Possibly because the 3-5 teachers who had used it for short periods before me had never made it their home. I didn't care. I was excited to have my own room. And so, with cleaning products in hand I cleaned away as much of the dust as I could and filled up bag after bag of paper, cracked paint trays and old clay heads made by students I'd never met.

At the time I didn't know how much work it would take to make this room my own. My head teacher's room was light, dust free, organised, colourful and huge. I was a little jealous The old unused mac lab was also part of this room. Ooooh, it was nice.

My room was small. There was zero technology. Lucky for me my head teacher hired me because of my interests in technology. I claimed the mac lab as mine. I cleaned it till it was shiny. I introduced small units of work where these labs would be used.
After a year or so my three days a fortnight turned into full time, then eventually permanent.
I began to use my head teacher's room as I was keen to use the smartboard technology. This didn't work so well as some things in her room went missing or got broken by my kids. It became very clear that I needed to take ownership of my room and make my room work for me.
In my room I asked for a smart board. I got a projector. I asked for a laptop even though I was not one of the teachers on the list for that rollout. I showed others how interested I was in incorporating technology in the classroom. I projected images on the whiteboard with great success and was able to use the white board marker to underline key content. Now that's interactivity for you ;-) Only three times have I run my finger down the board to 'scroll down' accidently forgetting I am not using a smart board (much to my kid's amusement). Lucky for me I have never used a marker on a real smart board.

One day I ran a lesson where I showed the kids a movie clip on Expressionism. Within a minute it became very clear I needed some decent speakers as the kids couldn't hear a word. Good thing I had an alternitive activity up my sleeve. After a year or so, a music teacher asked me if I wanted her speakers. I set them up in the room. "Cooooool Miss! Where'd you get your speakers? They're awesome". I started to let the kids play some tunes when doing prac. I've never been so happy to have such fabulous speakers!
I've painted the cupboards and around the sink a few times. I've painted the display cabinet outside my room to show colourful student works. I try to rearrange things. I put up posters where there is space. Books go missing, things get broken, dust resettles, and paint gets spilled. I've learnt to live with that. At times my internet freezes as my laptop runs off the router which is located in the music room next door. I make sure that I can continue with the lesson whilst I wait for a Prezi or website to load so that the lesson is not too disruptive. At times I fear all of my Year 10's are simply too big to be in this room, although we often have prac lessons spill outside. The unit of work using soapstone carvings based on the sculpture of Henry Moore has been a huge success - the Year 10's loving the tactile nature of the stone, although the dust makes my classroom floor as slippery as an ice rink. Even if we work outside, the shoes of 20 kids brings the dust back inside.

I've come to see how the setup of the classroom directly influence classroom management. I've tried moving tables, removing tables, adding tables. Although I've always come back to the original set up, I still keep trying new things.

I'd like to welcome you all to my classroom. I've made a link above using the very cool app '360' - a nice panorama shot of where I work. I would love you to visit if you have the time.
I can honestly say this room is now my own. It is mine to share with my kids. I am responsible for it. I've completely come to love it. My door is always open whenever I am teaching and I always encourage people to visit.

All the best,
Ms Leaney

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My World (and) the Artworld. Opportunities for reflection.

A Henry Moore Bronze outside the Art Gallery of NSW: I love it when I see an artwork I have been teaching the kids at school!

At the university I attended,  there is a first year assignment that requires the university student to interview a practicing Visual Arts teacher for one hour, the goal being to gain an understanding of the complexities of teaching the Visual Arts.
Whenever a first year student approaches me requesting an interview, I always say yes. I have also made it clear to the university that I am always very happy to participate in this task. I complete the interview, mostly at the end of a working day when I am at my worst - tired, not really 'into it', and very zombie like. I fear the students may think I am drunk or a little ditzy, as I fight to speak of my practice in a state of sheer exhaustion from teaching all day. However, I know these students appreciate my participation, and I know that as new teachers, they hang on to every word I say...
It was not that long ago that I too was a terrifed first year who struggled to find a teacher to interview and who, during the interview, was terrified the recording device would fail and I would end up with no interview at all (there were stories of this happening!). It was quite traumatic to say the least, and whilst many of these students appear more confident than I was, I know there is a level of nervousness that can only be quelled with a cup of tea and a good educational chat.
During my last interview, the interviewer asked a very fine question indeed: "How do you stay up to date with what is happening in the artworld". Oh dear. I was tired, I couldn't think. How do I? As an art teacher, I know it is important to know my subject, and this includes staying up to date with what is happening in museums and galleries and the contemporary artworld. As a relatively new teacher, I realised I had been spending so much time putting all my energy into improving my teaching practice and classroom management skills, as well as building my PLN (professional learning network), that I had neglected this part of my practice. I realised I now needed to extend my efforts in another area.
So, I took to this task like I did in developing my teaching practice and my PLN. What did/do I do to extend my knowledge of the artworld?
  • I extended, and continue to extend, my Twitter contacts to include as many art galleries, publications, artspaces, festivals, etc. as possible.
  • I participate in arts conversations on Twitter and other forums, and I mention exhibitions or festivals I have seen to my followers.
  • I belong to my professional association, and am an active member in this association.
  • I continue to read the arts segments in major and local newspapers
  • I put aside time to watch Visual Arts programs on tele
  • I take time to watch clips on TED, or on gallery websites
  • I pick up free publications which provide information on Visual Arts activities happening in Sydney
  • I try to read as much as I can when I can
  • I try to get a friend to accompany me to an exhibition so that I know I will go! Sometimes I will just find the time to take off by myself to soak up the art.
  • I try to fit in gallery trips during my school holidays
But after a busy week teaching, I've got to admit...sometimes the sheer exhaustion means I just do NOTHING. And that's ok - there will always another event, article, TV show. I don't have to be an art superstar - I just need to put in the energy to get out there sometimes, and to really get to know my subject. Getting to know my subject means I improve my confidence in teaching, and it has helped my to answer some of those curly questions students can at times throw at me:

"Miss, I saw a painting that is just a white square...I don't get it".

I will keep hoping students from the university will  continue to visit me at school and ask me about my teaching practice. During a one hour interview, I gain an opportunity for reflection that I don't get anywhere else. In a profession where being said to be 'time poor' is an understatement, I will always have the time for these students because they help me as much as I help them. Bring on the questions! I hope I have difficulty answering them...

Some sweet links for you:

VADEA: Visual Arts and Design Educators Association (NSW)
The Sydney Fringe Festival (September)
Oxford Arts Factory
RealTime Arts - a cool free mag
Art Nation ABC - Awesome segments for the art classroom.
ABC i-view

More links to come...must run. The world awaits!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How do you manage?

This year I became a permanent full-time art teacher after having taught at my current school for 2 years as a part time Visual Arts teacher and learning support assistant. I came to the school straight from university and I thank my lucky stars every day for the role I have now, as I know how difficult it is to find full time positions in schools as a Visual Arts teacher.

In the last 6 months I felt somewhat confused as to whether I can still call myself a 'new teacher'. The label of 'new teacher' has, I feel, helped me reflect on my mistakes in a more positive manner as I know I have much to learn, and I am on a steep learning curve. I found myself thinking that if I am no longer a new teacher than surely I should know better, be better, manage better, teach better...SURELY I SHOULD BE CONTROLLING THOSE YEAR 10s BETTER BY NOW!!! (insert hair tearing here).

All this reflection, and discussion with peers and my PLN (Personal Learning Network) brought me to the conclusion that it does not matter how long one has been teaching - those kids will sometimes raise their troublesome heads. And regardless of whether or not I am green around the ears, I hope I will always be in a state of reflection, always eager to learn more and always eager to improve my practice.

After teaching those kids for 2 years now, I am slowly 'getting there' (wherever 'there' is). I am learning what works for me by asking others, reading, searching the net, etc. I love how Phil Beadle says that however off the air these kids are, and no matter what happens in my classroom, it's a good thing to keep smiling. And if it gets worse, keep smiling. This has worked for me.

On Friday afternoon when I reverted back to a little yelling and lecturing, it was further reinforced that kids respond so much better when I smile. I'm 5 foot 3" - it's pretty clear yelling and lecturing does not work for me. Just to let you know, dear reader, I tell you I reverted to a tactic that I know doesn't work because I acknowledge I still continue to make mistakes - I just hope that from these mistakes comes growth and change. I'm a slow learner but I know I am a good teacher who is on a steep learning curve and is willing to keep growing.

My students know how much I love to learn. They know I am always trying new things. They know I make mistakes. I think that is ok. They seem to have been really into art lately.

This weekend I pulled out my tattered copy of "Cracking the Hard Class" by Bill Rogers, purchased recently from Amazon. I find some really interesting tips I can apply to my own classes. (I wish I knew what other 'desperately seeking better teaching methods newbies' or 'always looking to improve' old timers have used this copy previously - I bet there are some stories to tell!). I'm ready to try some new things tomorrow and to keep using what is working well.

So, my message here? Keep trying, keep reading, keep asking, stay willing to try new things, try not to think that you 'should know better', accept that some things will not work and it is ok to make mistakes. I know I am going to keep trying. Oh, and smile.

I would love to hear from anyone out there about what your experiences with classroom management are.