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  • Writer's pictureMary Margaret Blum

My Teaching Journey

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

My Journey as an Art Teacher

In the Summer of 2017, I worked for the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu designing various workshops and leading classrooms of Nepali students ranging from ages 4–13. From students in an orphanage to those in a private school, I tailored my goals and lessons so I could be most successful as each group’s teacher. Witnessing the joy my students experienced through the workshops I created sparked my love of teaching and to finalize our work together, I curated an exhibition of their artwork titled “A Child’s World” which depicted houses on a hill, a lotus pond full of wishes, and Mount Everest covered in create-your-own adventure booklets. This exhibition was in direct response to the destructive 2015 earthquake by centering Nepali children in the rebuilding process and framing them as the architects of the future. I believed then as I do now that art education empowers students to create an exterior reality that mirrors their interior worlds.

Here is that exhibition and the mural I painted.

One year later I took a train to Grand Central Station with a 60 pound suitcase, a GPS app, and the promise of an unpaid internship. Although a novice to all things New York, I chose to pursue museum education in Brooklyn so that I could learn about cultural institutions in an internationally recognized hub of multiculturalism.

As a girl from Kentucky who had spent the previous 4 years (mostly) in Pennsylvania, I had absolutely no knowledge of the subway system and instead of force myself to learn it, I walked everywhere and took the ferry to get to Manhattan when I had to go to SVA for my continuing education classes in oil painting and tattoo design. (tattoo design is horribly difficult and I respect anyone who does it well)

Working at the Museum of Food and Drink (MoFAD) taught me inquiry based teaching and about fostering student-centered discussion, especially when discussing with students who have completely different backgrounds and experiences than my own. Below, you can see me demonstrating the use of a wok for a tour group. (It is very difficult to do and the chef usually does the demonstrations!)

However, leading tour groups gave me a snapshot of the state of our educational system and the blatant disparities between types of schools: When a private elementary school from Connecticut and a public high school from Brooklyn toured MoFAD on the same day, I saw a clear difference in educational quality between private and public, resourced and under-resourced, white with white teachers and non-white students with white teachers.

The private school students were better prepared for the tour, clearly having discussed the topics before in class, whereas the public school students had been given no background knowledge as to what to expect upon reaching MoFAD. The white teachers of the public school also blatantly disparaged their students’ ability to engage and also showed a lack of respect for our museum, sometimes talking over me. In contrast, these students, primarily Black and Latinx, were able to relate the tour to their own experiences and share deep insights. What the teachers seemed to label as “unwilling to learn” was clearly rooted in their own bias and failure to engage across cultural and racial differences. The teachers with this group even stopped me to apologize that her students are so uninterested in learning which clearly said way more about her perception than it did about them since that was not the experience I was having at all.

(I will note that this was a rare occurrence and for the most part teachers were very supportive of there students and the museum, but that day I will never forget)

I felt that I was encountering educational inequities that I could do nothing about as a museum educator. And so I volunteered for AmeriCorps in 2019 in order to explore school education since museum education could not satisfy my desire to improve the lives of the students I had. I had never envisioned myself working within “the confines” of a school as I saw it, but I felt it necessary to explore: I was tired of knowing students just for a an hour.

At Trinity Academy in Hartford, I experienced the difference I make in a child’s life by working within their school setting as I get to know their personalities and their learning more intimately. In that role, I designed art projects that deepen social studies lessons and incorporated reading to encourage language development. Working within a school is not restrictive, I realized, but an opportunity for collaboration and innovative teaching.

Similar to making art, there is a process with teaching that is organic and develops in response to our intuition and anticipation of our students. When that goes well, you can feel it. Just like you can feel when a brush stroke is right, you can feel when you say the right thing to reach your student.

Below is a letter written to me by a 2nd grade art student named Naeema and a drawing given to me by two girls to whom I was teaching English and who I helped navigate online learning during Covid during my time at Trinity Academy.

Those two girls are named Htee Eh Paw and Htee Moo Paw and this image shows the three of us together. (Htee Moo Paw drew it) These girls have three more siblings and an amazing mom. They are all Karenni refugees from Burma who lived at a refugee camp in Thailand until December 2020. I miss them and I try to visit every couple of months. When I first started working with the girls I was just teaching them English. They couldn't even ask to go to the bathroom and now they are just working on their fluency. I am blown away every time I talk to them.

Through the leadership of art teachers, I foresee an educational paradigm shift in which students reclaim education as a means to freedom, and I want to be at the forefront of that movement. I had to leave the beautiful family that gave me this drawing and the elementary school I loved to move to New York City again and further my education. So it is important to me that I make it count. Since I began my studies at Teachers College, I have developed as an activist and philosopher in the field of education and I have recognized the multiple ways in which art education helps a student develop cognitively, emotionally, and socially.

While in grad school, I became a children's art teacher and yoga instructor with Spark NYC. With Spark I taught private art lessons, art camps, and after school art class for elementary and middle school students. I also helped middle school students apply to art high schools in NYC by helping them prepare their art portfolios. I look forward to student teaching next year and graduating in May 2024.

Thanks for reading!

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1 comentário

04 de mai. de 2023

You are one of the most thoughtful and multifaceted people I know. I learn more about you every day and learned so much reading about your journey! Thanks for sharing, Moo Moo 🤍

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