The Artist-Teacher Partnership: A Teacher Reflection
Written by Jaime Clough,
2nd Grade Teacher at Margaret Brent Elementary Middle School and
Summer Arts & Learning Academy Classroom Teacher
“This hit, that ice cold, Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold.” As soon as I heard the music echo into the buzzing auditorium, I knew it was time. Katherine Dilworth, my artist partner, and I put on our old lady gardener hats, fluffed our red feather boas, and strutted through the crowd of children gathered for the first day of Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) at Thomas Jefferson Elementary Middle School. Waving and pointing to our new 1st and 2nd graders, we introduced ourselves as not just teachers, but people. We pulled out our best, but simultaneously horrible moves, and leaned into making ourselves look as silly and approachable as possible. It was fun, it was full of life, and we created it.
This scene, this first real moment of SALA, is a small snapshot of what the entire summer felt like for us as teachers working with Young Audiences. Neither Katherine nor I had ever worked at the Summer Arts and Learning Academy before and we were a bit hesitant about what fully integrating the arts into each lesson would look like, especially in dealing with Common Core math. Coming into this program, I had just completed my third year as a Baltimore City Public School teacher. I was less concerned with management, and more concerned with how to plan arts experiences all day, every day. Katherine has taught many residencies all over Maryland with Young Audiences, so she was more concerned with the management piece than with planning content. Young Audiences did a beautiful job of pairing us together because our strengths complemented each other perfectly and we filled in the gaps for each other seamlessly. Looking back, one of the massive assets of the SALA program is that teachers and artists work together so that the best of both art and content is intertwined beautifully into each students’ day.
Another huge asset to SALA is the freedom we had in planning our content to help our students enjoy their experience through art. We had a variety of types of art involved in each day, from movements associated with how a plant grows to full projects like weaving flowers based on patterns to create a “community garden” like in our story City Green.
One of my favorite projects that we planned and implemented was a math lesson that focused on symmetry. Our math skill that day was understanding the value of the equals sign and how to make true number sentences. As a hook strategy to help students understand this concept, we let our class choose magazine photos that we had cut in half. Then, we taught them about symmetry and allowed them to try to create the second half of their picture so that both sides had equal patterns, lines, and shapes. Not only did this art connection engage our students so that they were excited once math started, but it gave them confidence and helped them understand much more clearly what it means for something (like a math equation) to “look equal.”
Lessons and experiences like these projects enriched our students’ understanding and knowledge in a way that I did not expect. This summer, I was able to clearly see how differently an arts-integrated classroom functions compared to a non-arts-integrated classroom. In an arts-rich class, students are more engaged, they have fun, they are more willing to take risks, and they come to see each other not just as students capable of learning, but as whole people capable of creating incredible things. On that first day of SALA, we were introduced to our students not just as teachers, but as whole people. Because of this, we were able to build more trusting and holistic relationships with them. This experience changed the way that I will teach, always, and I hope that it changed how my students feel about school and learning.
If you are a K-12 certified academic teacher interested in teaching in our 2018 Summer Arts and Learning Academy, email us at [email protected]. Professional artists interested in using their knowledge and expertise to transform the lives and education of City School students should visit Summer Arts Corps to learn about our paid training program.