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[teacherartexchange] teacher-artist-hiring-elitism?


From: Michele Ritchie-Harris (shelley60_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Jun 10 2006 - 11:14:14 PDT

The fact that thoughts have continued unresolved for years in the debate
(per below discussion excerpts) over teacher-as-artist vs.
artist-as-teacher, just "irks me" (to quote Maggie the devil's advocate),
WHEN it's a factor in the hiring process. Why can't both sides of the coin
be equally valued?

This belief, in one part of the debate over the other, gets attached to many
issues. For example - Why isn't it seen as courageous & highly innovative to
find ways to teach to the standards, if that's what's needed for the
education of our children & youth today, and if one finds avenues to connect
children to the world and our history in those guidelines? To be comfortable
teaching other core subjects by integrating them with the arts, when our
children are failing and need all the reinforcement we can give as
educators? To not have to defend that integration takes away from the
quality of art education, when one sees it can actually enhance and enrich
it (for the student, teacher, school, community)? To not feel one has to
apologize for finding their greatest joy in teaching art, not in doing it
for recognition as an artist? To be proud of being a teacher first? To
recognize our critical role really does "bring L-I-F-E to life"? To value
the process of teaching art as an artistic process? That as "special"
educators, students DO tend to love being in our classes, whether we have
exhibits or not? When you give demos, how many times do you hear, with awe
in student voices, "Wow. You're a great artist"? Whose eyes do we need to
impress more - students or adults? I, like Jayna below, do not have serious
classroom management issues because I'm a natural with children, and youth
naturally talk to me about their life issues -- I'm a teacher that should
have a permanent place in the lives of children (i.e., a permanent art
teaching position). I do not believe anyone can teach art skills -- Teaching
skills takes talent & knowledge; teaching is an art; to combine teaching &
teaching art is a privilege. To be denied this privilege, due to someone
holding the opinion on one side of the teacher/artist coin (and literally
the paycheck), is against everything America values.

I have been complimented many times by teachers, esp. when I'm in long-term
sub positions, and even during my student teaching experiences, that the end
product of the children's artwork with my teaching style was better than the
end product from the regular art teacher (this is even said by the regular
art teachers). I am not a practicing artist, nor can I afford the high cost
of framing my most recent works to exhibit. (I'll admit, I do have sketches
and idea files & long for when I'll have time and money to carry them out.)
In the meantime, I do pull "Quality Art" out of young minds and hands. I AM
a talented Teacher - who loves art, adores and respects children, creates an
atmosphere in classrooms where children DO feel they are being nurtured and
instructed in how to express their own messages/styles/thoughts/ideas with a
range of skills & methods; where they do feel someone believes in them &
their potential, and with that, they become courageous about where they can
go in life, they become critical thinkers, they become good problem-solvers.
Isn't that why we are hired - To prepare children and youth for their

I have been denied positions because I have not exhibited new work in almost
3 years. I, like Amy below, DO need to balance motherhood with teaching (and
a tight budget since I'm single without benefits). I sometimes sense ELITISM
in use of the artist-as-teacher belief to thin out job applicants to make
the hiring process easier, or just to validate a personal belief that the
teacher must be a practicing artist. I have a beautiful teaching portfolio
including my own works that have won several awards & scholarships, quite a
few embarrassingly good references, etc.; but this exhibit issue is an
issue. It's a Catch 22 for someone who has a low income due not being
employed fulltime. Further, how many of those who get the job, due in part
to having current exhibits, actually continue to do art once hired vs. go on
to start their own families and get away from creating art until they are
older? Is there Ageism here, too, since people over 40 usually have families
and community demands to balance with careers? (Having a 15 year career in
administration, I think I could prepare a case for it.)

Even IF we could all agree that art teachers must produce art, to be in
touch with the creative process, would it not be just & fair to be asked in
interviews, "Can you meet our expectation for submitting a current piece of
your work to the annual faculty exhibit?" Would that not offer an "equal
employment opportunity," based on skills and abilities needed for the job &
its expectations, rather than proof of current exhibits that could all end

Another ELITIST attitude in the hiring process - since 1982 (yes, that is 19
-8-2...but young in heart & mind!), I have volunteered with various
children's programs to teach arts & crafts, to facilitate collaborative art
projects, Art for Peace, murals, etc. (This started decades before I one day
said, "Self, change careers and go get that art ed degree!") While I hold
memberships in local arts organizations, I prefer to "take art to the
masses" - NOT to the smaller group of kids whose families can pay for
classes offered thru arts organizations. I have brought guest artists to
Brownie & Webelos meetings. I have taught everything from mosaics and folk
art to girl scouts, recycled art for environmental and scout camps, origami
& paper sculpture & sidewalk art at Earth Day events, multi-media projects
for church youth groups, etc. This is how I present lifelong learning and
arts appreciation to many 100s and indirectly to their adult leaders. I go
where kids may not have any other exposure to a real artist. I go to
organizations that do not have help from a real art teacher. I cherish this
Community volunteer work. But, it's not paid work, it's not volunteering for
a professional arts organization, and it's not really VALUED (except by me &
those who benefit in the community).

Aren't we, as teachers, to be part of the community? I get asked that in
interviews, too. But, WHO decides who is included in that community where
the ARTS are concerned? WHO decides learning to produce art is more
important in the classroom than talking about art & developing thinking and
appreciation skills "the masses" will use forever (vs. developing production
skills that only a few will use in adulthood)? I had wondered if it's just a
problem in my county that's infiltrated thru the hiring process by people on
School Boards. But, here it is in this discussion group...

The Big Question: Does anyone else see an underlying elitism in the
decades-old debate about teacher/artist when it's applied to the hiring


Subject: funny and cool-Stacie
From: Jayna Huffines <>

It is really awesome when you find the balance between having high standards
and excellent classroom management while being funny and cool at the same
time. ...I can honestly say that the biggest discipline problem I've had is
when one of my middle schoolers says something rude about another student,
or when the class simply gets too loud. The kids just aren't rude to me
because they never feel like they have to be. ... If you project the image
of being approachable but firm, that's the key.

Subject: Re: Artist/Teacher Portfolio
From: Maggie White <>

This is a situation that somewhat irks me about art teachers applying
for jobs. Does it seem that we're the only ones expected to have a
professional body of work, if not an actual exhibit schedule? Is the
language arts applicant expected to have published, or at least show the
Great American Novel in progress? Does the math applicant have to
develop new theories of algorithms in her spare time? Does the science
applicant spend the summer searching for a cure for cancer? Does the
P.E. teacher bring in a teaching portfolio in a gym bag?

Maggie, playing the devil's advocate


Subject: Re: Artist/Teacher Portfolio
From: "Amy Broady" <>

I, too, am sensitive to the whole issue of expecting an art teacher to have
an artist's portfolio/exhibit schedule/etc.

The reason I am an art educator is because I am more excited about sharing
my passion for and knowledge of art than I am about making it. There is
nothing I enjoy learning about more than art...but when I learn about it, it

is with mindset of "how can I teach this concept?" or "what could my
students gain from this?" or "what could my students do with this?" or some
other question regarding how something will apply to my curriculum and
benefit my students.

At one time I thought I would become an artist, and eventually go into
teaching. What I found was that I had no direction as an artist; I wanted to

learn a little about so many things, ...I sill wanted to explore surface
design, computer graphics programs, printmaking, photography--I wanted to
dabble in all of it!

I realized that since I DID feel a sense of direction about becoming a
teacher, I'd become a teacher first, and eventually I'd find my way as an
artist. Teaching provides for me the perfect framework on which to
contextualize all the art topics that interest me. Teaching gives me the
reason to keep seeking knowledge and experience with techniques, media, art
history, and more.

Being an art educator fulfills my creative drive and allows me to serve in
my community. For me, it is an ideal match.

Of course, I teach elementary art. Back when I taught high school, I felt
very awkward that I did not have a well-developed body of work that I could
share with my students and say, "this is what I do" or "this is what I am
working on right now" or "come see my work that is currently on exhibit."

... My current challenge is trying to find the balance between teaching and



Subject: Re: Artist/Teacher Portfolio
From: Woody Duncan <>

>> Maggie, playing the devil's advocate ...

I have always believed that art teachers who kept themselves active as an
artist made much stronger teachers.
Perhaps I don't mean a practicing artist, but at least a serious attempt at
individual creative efforts. In my district we expected every art teacher to
display work in one teacher artist exhibit each year. Hardly a difficult
thing to expect. It could be jewelry, ceramics, painting, fibers, etc.
anything in the visual arts. ...

Perhaps at the elementary level it is not as important, but I'm not sure. ..
Our educational system suffers in part because we have far too many people
teaching subjects they only know about through reading and study and not
through actual experience...


Subject: Re: Artist/Teacher Portfolio
From: Patricia Knott <>
... Traditionally, those of us in the "special" areas only get recognition
through displays of skills. Nobody cares about how well we can write about
or analyze the arts -- they want to see art.

I always believed I brought something different to my teaching because I was
a practicing artist. Any body can teach skills...I'm interested in teaching
the creative process...

Even when I'm not making making my own art, the artist in me prevails. The
courage to be different is what I find hardest to teach. ... I want to give
my kids the path that makes the difference so they have the courage to go
down lonely roads. You will never find me teaching anything to standards or
proficiencies --- ain't the artist way.

The world expects the artist to be odd, so don't expect to be under the same
expectations as the english or math teacher. They have rules---- we break
the rules...

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