Thursday, October 13, 2016

Your community needs an art teacher. Part I: How my job made me crazy

In June of 2015 I decided to quit my "cushy" .75 art teaching job in the public school system.  I had been part-time in the same school district for eight of my nine years there and I wasn't going to get tenure.  As part of every art teacher's unwritten job description, I had worked constantly to advocate for my program and it just wasn't doing anything.  I was tired. My time there was done.

I didn't just walk into the principal's office and decide to quit. It had been on my mind and in the works for over a year, and it wasn't easy.

Do you have those days when you are at school and you've prepped this pretty cool lesson that maybe you've taught before, or maybe is new and you are kind of excited about. The kids start to file in, and your smiling and greeting them, because you know to make that personal connection and it's fun to see them. But then, one kid is pushing another kid, and they start chasing each other around the table, and there goes a kid over by your desk for no reason, and they all start talking, and one kid is sitting in the wrong seat, so another kid starts to push the kid who is in their seat, and you walk over to deal with that, meanwhile another kid is on the floor crawling under the tables, and another kid is grabbing crayons and moving piles of supplies and finally your like "what the hell?"  Yeah.

So, the kids go back in the hall and you practice lining up quietly and you talk about tip toeing like mice and sitting like the Mona Lisa and looking for ready tables and keeping hands to ourselves and not touching supplies and smiling at Mrs. Kostal and... one kid pushes another kid who bumps into another kid who steps on another kid but they manage to sit down but they are still talking or touching supplies or making noise.  Your standing in front of the room looking like a maniac with your hands folded and a deranged smile on your face modeling the Mona Lisa again thinking "what the hell?" Yeah.

So, you kind of wait and wonder if you should go back in the hall or start with kind of a clap or a loud "ALLLLllllll RIIIiiiiighhhhhht CLLAAAasssss."  Your still standing there with the deranged smile on your face when one kid starts shushing everyone. Not a nice shushing either.  A loud, obnoxious, oh my goodness, way worse than the talking shushing, shushing.  Another kid yells, "SHE'S WAITING!" and although you are waiting, that's not helping, and you now realize you've lost complete control.  You're still gripping your hands in front of you in the polite Mona Lisa fold, but now the skin underneath each fingertip has turned white, and there are actual nail marks forming in the top layer of skin.  The deranged smile has definitely morphed into a clenched mouth and your nostrils are flared.  Yeah.

Almost every class, almost every day.  I'm not a new teacher.  I know when I've lost control of a class, and I know what I have to do get it back.  I know when I'm actually teaching, and when I'm just controlling an environment.  I know when my kids are learning too.  I also know that teachers can't do it alone.  I was coming home physically and mentally exhausted every stinkin' day and I hadn't felt like I had actual taught in a long time.

I had only been in my old school district one year when I first tried to get out.  I was teaching at three schools, one was art-on-a-cart, one had a principal who made the special area teachers sit at a child size table during a staff meeting, and one had a passive aggressive secretary.  However, the window for getting a new teaching job is kind of small, and art postings are slim.  Bonus however- I'd need a maternity leave my second year so I stayed, and finagled part time and two schools. Although, without some headache. A certain principal wanted me to teach the same exact amount for .75 time.  I started trying to get out again four or five years later.  I would start looking in February.  I would religiously stalk all the nearby school districts websites looking for postings.  Did I even want to BE a teacher?  What if I never got a new job?  What if I'm stuck here forever?  What else could I do?

I contemplated switching careers all together. Could I do graphic design?  Should I try getting into illustration?  I took a design class at our community college, and eh... I started trying to build up an illustration portfolio. eh. I decided to start on my masters degree. Luckily the program in curriculum and instruction fell through and I ended up getting my MA in art ed.  I don't know.  I love art.  I love making art. I'm just meant to teach it, even though my situation was driving me insane.

I had to take the bull by the horns and change the situation.  I couldn't keep letting year after year pass without it getting any better.  I started thinking of places besides a school where I could teach.  The park district, the library, after school programs.... Ughhhhh that seems hard. I wouldn't have a classroom, I'd be lugging around supplies, I'd have to advertise, I'd have to talk to people...

I kept not doing that.  At some point though, I did that.

This was the email I got from the administration office on my last day of work.  I had worked in the district for nine years. I wasn't expecting a love note, but geez... a little cold.


  1. I'm fascinated to hear more of the story! Are you totally on your own now? How is that going? I can totally relate to your description of the kids all coming in bumping and all over the place!! I had thought about a private art Studio set up but I'm not sure I'd like to work nights and weekends. How is that for you? Thanks for sharing your story and wow, that note isn't a very caring send-off!

    1. Holy cow... someone actually reads my blog? :) I knew my worksheets were getting downloaded but I figured my ramblings were getting scrolled over. Part II is on its way! Thanks for reading!