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[teacherartexchange] 20 Questions for an Old Art Teacher


From: Woody Duncan (woodyduncan_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Nov 11 2007 - 12:41:20 PST

I had an ex-student contact me. He is in college back in Kansas. For
an assignment he sent me 20 plus questions about being an art teacher.
It was both a compliment to be remembered and a challenge to rack my
brain for answers. Below is what I sent back to Alex. Is is quite long.
Would you have answered in a similar fashion ? Reflecting upon what I
should give as answers was an education in itself. Should Alex decide
to become an art teacher - I would want to provide honest guidance.
I also thought my answers might be of help to other new teachers just
starting out since that has been a topic on the list lately.

> Interview Questions for Woody Duncan
> 1. As an Art Teacher, what (did) you do on a daily basis?
Since I'm retired now, I changed the question. On a daily basis - I
"was" quite busy juggling thoughts in my head as to what I had
planned, how it might work out,
what materials and art exemplars I had available, how might this
lesson best reinforce earlier assignments and what I might follow the
lesson with ? I had to arrive
early enough to get materials ready and plan out how I'd switch
materials for different classes during the day. I also had to be
quite flexible in case things did not
work out the way I'd planned them. I think this answer is better than
listing things I did in sequence 1, 2 , 3 etc.

> 2. What motivated you to become and Art Teacher?
I had two exception art teachers: 1st Mr. Mc Waid in Northwest Junior
High and later Miss Hughes at Wyandotte High school. They were my
biggest influence
and served as mentors. I didn't start college to be a teacher. I
dropped out to get a real job (working on the assembly line at
General Motors) because we started
a family and the bills were coming due. I continued school part time
while working and the "hard physical labor" soon convinced me that
"work" was not what I
wanted to do forever. I switched to Art Education as a course of
study thinking I'd enjoy doing it.

> 3. Do you think Art is as an important subject as any other?
I'm convinced that the arts are extremely important to a well rounded
individuals growth. My area of choice of course is the visual arts
but I feel strongly that music,
dance and theater should be available in the schools. Every student
needs to understand the beautiful and meaningful things in our world.
On another level -
the world is changing and those individuals who can think in a
holistic right brain fashion will be ahead of the game. It will be
the creative thinkers who shape
our future.

> 4. How long (did) you (teach) Art?
Counting the first year as a contract art substitute teacher I taught
for 28 years. 27 of those years were all at Rosedale Middle school in
Kansas City, Kansas.
I never wanted to teach at a different level. I just wanted to be the
best at the middle level.

> 5. Do you find it difficult in giving each student individualized
> attention? (seeing as each student will different strenghts and
> weaknesses in Art)
Of course it's a struggle to provide attention to each student
especially as the class size increases. But I tried to make each
student feel that I truly
cared about them even thought I might not spend a lot of minutes with

> 6. Do you benefit from being an Art Teacher personally?
I always said I taught for a very selfish reason. I taught for what I
got out of it. The students kept me fresh and actively learning all
the time. I was always
having to research and learn new things. I was always learning from
my students especially when they would take an unusual twist on my

> 7. Do you have any regrets about getting into this profession?
Never !! Of course it made it easier because my wife had a "real" job
that paid better and had benefits. She was also very supportive of
what I wanted to do.

> 8. In class, do you do Art projects that you enjoy or is there a
> curriculum for Art?
I helped write the curriculum and later the standards and benchmark
but seldom worried about following them. I joked that I was teaching
above the standards.
I was lucky to have supervisors and building principals who seemed to
trust what I was doing and left me alone to do it. I don't know how a
true art teacher
could stick to any ridged set of guidelines for very long. If we want
"art teachers" to teach creativity then we must be willing to leave
them alone to be creative
it the way they teach.

> 9. How do you discipline children in Art class?
At first, not very well. But after I got comfortable in my teaching
it got better. Perhaps I lucked out, but when my lax discipline
worked I think it was because my
students thought I knew my subject well and respected me. It also
helps to keep them very busy and involved in what they are doing.

> 10. What is the hardest part about being an Art Teacher?
Perhaps it was dealing with other teachers in the building, not other
art teachers because our district had a strong art staff. I the
latter years it was a pain to deal
with all the so called standards and the hours of meetings to learn
about them. When I got an award near the end of my career I spoke to
the school board.
I told them (three things) that they should hire strong qualified
teachers who knew their subject matter, teachers who loved kids and
teaching, and then get out
of the way and let them teach.

> 11. How do you motivate students in class who are taking the course
> ONLY as a requirement and have little artistic abilities?
Everyone can be taught to draw, everyone can have their eyes opened.
You motivate by showing others that you care about them and truly
in them and their ability.

> 12. Is the amount of time of the class appropriate for the subject?
No - but you work with the time you have. We were cut from 55 minutes
down to about 43 minutes. I had semester classes (18 weeks) cut to a
(9 weeks). I tried to get longer periods of time but I was always out
voted or over ruled. I would have loved to try teaching on a "block
schedule" with at
least 80 to 90 minutes of time. I wanted to try it to try teaching
differently. I dreamed of having time to correctly introduce a lesson
- time for students to
work - and the time for a meaningful closer to the lesson, but I
never got to try it. I saw other schools where block schedules were
put in place. Unfortunately,
most teachers kept teaching the same way as before - just longer. I
thought that was a shame.

> 13. What else do you believe in doing with your Art classes that do
> not involve doing Art projects?
I always believe strongly it including exposure to art history and
learning about artists. I tried several was to do this. I hope some
of it stuck with my students.
Also, I tried to bring artists into the school when possible and to
get my classes out to museums. The best learning is outside of school.

> 14. What Art classes (did) you teach and why? What are your
> favorite Art classes to teach?
The titles of the courses were prescribed to me by the school and the
district. The content of what I really taught was mostly my decision.
As I said earlier,
they left me alone to do my thing. Personally, I'm a watercolor
artist - but I never felt I taught it well. I had my best success
with printmaking and perhaps
with clay sculpture. I found that I could get the most amazing images
from the least talented student through printmaking. There seemed to
be something
magical happen when students "pulled a print". I did develop an
entire 18 weeks for the seventh graders around the face. In every
lesson the motif was the
face. We started with simple one day cut paper faces and gradually
built up to long projects in clay or linoleum. I taught one of those
lessons to teachers
here in New Mexico - just yesterday.

> 15. When you became an Art teacher, were you able to teach all the
> subjects in Art?
Reading should be taught through art and hopefully through every
subject. Hopefully it is included seamlessly so it is not just stuck
in to fit some imposed requirement.
I hope I was successful at sneaking in math concepts. Art is hands on
and it is a place where you naturally apply measurement. In my
workshop, with New Mexico art
teachers yesterday, I told them they needed to teach students how to
create an equilateral triangle using a compass because they would not
learn it in math. Most
math classes are about theory and taking a test - art classes are
about application. Also many math teachers don't give pointed objects
(a compass) to their students.

> 16. How did you know you would make a good Art Teacher?
When students come back and tell you they really loved the classes
and gained a lot - that's a strong indicator. When an ex-student
sends you an e-mail with 22 questions,
it helps reinforce the feeling. The strongest indicator is the
respect of your peers (other art teachers in the district). My last
three years, I was lead art teacher in the district
with the responsibility of designing and implementing inservice
programs for the district art staff.

> 17. Did other more advanced prospective Art teachers make you
> hesitate in becoming an Art teacher?
No - but perhaps because I was much older than most when I started
(about 33). I recognized who the strong teachers were and tried to
learn from them. But too, teaching
art is such an individual thing that it is important not to copy what
others do. I borrowed a lot of ideas - but I adapted them to fit my
style and personality. Lessons by other
teachers should not be seen as receipts or patterns to be followed
but only to give you ideas to adapt.

> 18. On days when you (were) not teaching do you still do Art? (Or
> does teaching it take away from the joy of art?)
Every June I drove to Taos, New Mexico to paint. But during the
school year I did very little of my own art. In latter years I
learned to set aside one evening a week
to paint with friends (other art teachers). This is so important - I
would urge all new art teachers to find some "self time" to create on
a regular basis.

> 19. In your opinion, what makes a good Art teacher?
I believe strongly that the best art teachers are also artists - or
trying to become one. A good art teacher should love kids. They
should have a burning desire to
learn new things and be willing to change and test themselves. I am
very laid back and quite easy going - I don't know if that is a
necessary quality. I always
worried about the keyed up hyper teachers for their health and sanity.

> 20. Would you recommend this career to others?
Definitely, I'd recommend teaching art if that is what one is leaning
toward. The money will be tight but the rewards are many. It helps to
have a supportive and
understanding spouse - one with a real job too.

> 21. Anything else that you think I should know about the "Art
> teacher"?
The prospective art teacher should devour books about teaching and
about art. They should visit museums and galleries and talk to
working artists about their work.
I would urge every new art teacher to join NAEA (National Art
Education Association) and to attend state conferences when possible.
That is where I presented
yesterday. Also I suggest joining a "list serve" with other art
teachers around the country and the planet. Check out: http://
and join at:

> 22. Are there any additional comments you would like to say?
I'd like to thank an ex-student named Alex for asking me to answer
these questions. It helps to put your thoughts down (on paper or
computer screen) to force
yourself to reflect upon what you are thinking. That's one of the
reasons I maintain a blog on my web site:

In retirement I'm getting to paint my watercolors much more and they
are improving in quality. I'm currently president of NMWS (New Mexico
Watercolor Society)
and I'm a dosent at the Albuquerque Museum. And, I do workshops at
art teacher conferences from time to time. I hope to do a couple of
hands on workshops
at the (national) NAEA in New Orleans next March.

But, most important - I have wonderful, talented, nine year old
triplet grandkids to us as subjects in my watercolors.

Watercolors on Note Cards

Read My Blog:

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