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Lesson Plans

Re: Motivation (long post)

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Ruth Voyles (rvoyles)
Sun, 03 Nov 1996 02:10:59 -0500 (EST)

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This must truly be something we all struggle with. Thank you so much for
bringing it up. I am often admonished by well-meaning colleagues,
friends and loved ones not to do so much. They all fear that I will "burn

But you know, every once in a while something happens to keep me
motivated. Something that is entirely unexpected. Something that is
outside of my control. Beyond doing my own art, beyond trying new
things, doing the unexpected and/or the impossible...every once in a
while I am made to realize that I have sparked in a child the kind of
love for art that I have.

I know all of us have had these things happen. For instance, today in
between Saturday art classes that I teach at the museum I dropped my
daughter at home (she takes classes at the museum also). It takes my
entire lunch hour to get her home and get back to my class. I stopped
in at home to grab a soda and check the mail. In the mailbox....that
motivation was waiting.

In September I did an artist residency in a tiny town called Greenwich
in Ohio. When I walked into the classrooms to do my thing, beginning on
my second visit, the children cheered. That was incredible in and of
itself!! Today, I received fifty thank you notes, drawn, colored and
written by second and third graders. Each one was different, each one
was wonderful.

Today, I went back to my afternoon class, Jr. High Drawing. One of the
girls, had taken a picture home and finished it. She was so excited, she
could hardly stand it. She said "It is the best thing I've ever drawn. I
didn't think I could draw before your class. I didn't know how to look
at art before your class." She hugged me. I was stunned. This was
followed by one of my tough, macho boys saying how much we had learned
in the class and that he hadn't thought he would learn anything.
Finally, we had done a group project where I took an image and divided it
into squares. Each student took a square and drew it using the grid
method. We did a drawing of the discus thrower from the Acropolis. Today
we finished it and got it hung. The kids were amazed. Many of them
admitted that they had not thought it would turn out. Smiles abounded.

Two weeks ago I was in the restroom in the museum. A group of girls from
a school tour came in. Suddenly I was surrounded by a
dozen little girls, hugging me, saying "hello," and asking if I was
going to show them the museum. I had done a residency in
their school in Port Clinton. We made floor to ceiling totem
poles. Each child choose and designed their own animal. The girls
were talking about the animals they had chosen and where they put
them at home, how the sixth graders were impressed (these were
second and third graders). At any rate, that day I was tired and
depressed and wondering why I had chosen the career I had. WHat
timing, no?

This summer, a group of second grade girls in my "mummy Mysteries"
class organized and threw a surprise party for me. There were
decorations, food and party hats for all. I was presented with a
crown and wind dancer. It was not my birthday. I was their
favorite art teacher they said. "Art Class Rules" chanted the boys.
I had no idea they were doing this, and to this day have no idea why they
did it. I only had them in class for one short week.

Last spring, I taught a studio session at the museum to a group
of children ranging from moderately vision impaired to blind. We went
to the African galleries and played african instruments, touched
african masks and sculpture and made an african mask by glueing fur,
beads, seeds, foam, sandpaper and a huge array of other textural
materials to a paper mache mask form. When we were finished the
children made a mask as a group for me to take home. We hugged and
they insisted I take their picture with their masks on. Two weeks
later, I received thank you notes in braille. They have asked to
return this year not once as they traditionally have in the past, but
three times.

The summer before last I taught at-risk teenagers to weave. They were
employed in an art project in which they were paid minimum wage to make
art. Everyone told me there would be no way I would get them to sit
outside in the dead of summer and weave. We wove on laplooms a project
that was researched and designed by the kids. The finished piece was
six feet by five feet and was displayed for a year in the Toledo Museum of Art
Education department student gallery. We also wove one of plastic, foil
and magazine photos. Even the boys wove. For six weeks in 100 degree
weather, six hours a day we wove. We had a reputation on the project
of being a little "strange." We were "The Weavers." It was a
reputation the kids went out of their way to encourage.

They created two pieces, one entitled "The Forgotten Past" made of
traditional fibers with a Native AMerican theme,
and the other "The DIsposable Future" a sort of woven photo
montage/collage dealing with contemporary issues such as politics, aids,
violence, the economy, modern morality and the environment. The pieces they
made and the artist's statements they wrote far exceeded anything I could have
thought possible. They went far beyond my expectations and admittedly
beyond their own. I still wear the t-shirt they had made for me that
says "shut up and weave." The standing joke was that we were really
making a giant plush toilet cover or potholder. I still smile when I
think of it.

I know we all run into past students who share with us ways in
which we were inspirational to them. I know we've all gotten the thank you
notes or other surprises. Sometimes for me the motivation is something
as simple as the obvious joy a child gets in handling art materials, in
making something of their own, or in connecting in a meaningful way with
a work of art. It can be as simple as a look or a smile.

Reflecting back, I know why I choose to teach art in a country
and time that does not value it. Nothing has ever challenged or
rewarded me more. And at no time in my life have I felt more able to
make a difference.

Forgive me for running on so. Thank you to the person who first
posted this topic. I, too need to be reminded.

Ruth Voyles
Art Educator
The Toledo Museum of Art
The University of Toledo

On Sat, 2 Nov 1996, Roy Liebergen wrote:

> I am agonizing about motivation myself right now, and I do love my job
> and my kids, but it does seem like it gets harder and harder. Right now
> I have students in second grade who are functioning at 2 years below
> their grade level. I struggle and struggle trying to find ways to share
> with them the skills they need while still producing recognizable art.
> I know, I know, it's process not product that is important at this
> point, but why then, do our administrators want us to fill bulletin
> boards in the administrative offices, and why do parents say, the second
> week of school, during open house, "Is this all you've done so far?" I
> am also thinking about the discussion several weeks ago about cookie
> cutter art and I cringed wondering if some of my stuff looked like
> that. I find in my room, if someone does something creative, the kids
> recognize it as such, but then, everyone does the same thing and the
> creation is lost. I put out what I call "the cool stuff" box, with just
> a bunch of materials in it, that students can use as they desire as long
> as it adds to the finished work and does not become the finished work,
> and they will all want the same thing from the box, after someone has
> found a use for it. (I try to solve this by only putting small amounts
> of any one thing in the box.)
> I know I got off the subject there, but right now I am tired and I am
> still trying to think of ways to do my job, keep my cool, and to make
> art a joyful, creative experience and not just another class. Thanks
> for listening, Carol

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