My students are amazing. Full stop. The end. AND. Sometimes they challenge me, sometimes they push me to think harder, sometimes they force me to change my ways in order to better serve them. AND. They always bring me joy.
We’ve done a lot of work this year to get to this point. We have worked through all the units, exploring and understanding materials and methods. We are now in the “Theme Unit” and students are blossoming into themselves as artists. Even the students who didn’t do much before (or anything at all before).
A Little Background
My belief is that all kids can learn. The end. It may not be at the time I would like them to learn or demonstrate that learning which of course is frustrating and ego deflating. I refuse to give up on kids and continuously offer kids the opportunity to do the work, to support them, to grow. Even after 3/4s of the year happening and zero work being done, even after they sleep or try to sleep every day, even after they yell at me or curse at me, even after they just.don’t.do.the.work. I still greet them each day anew, I apologize if I lost my cool, I check in with them and invite them to do the work for that day, and offer them the time afterschool to do the work they might’ve missed.
This is the hard stuff. This is the stuff that makes me confront my bias, my initial thoughts, my own experiences. This is where I continuously have to put aside the dialogue I hear from colleagues about “just teach the ones who want to be there” – because honestly, the ones that “want” to be there they don’t necessarily need me at all. If they want to be there, I can set up the situations for learning and push them hard, but they don’t need me. The ones who don’t want to be there, well, they need me. They need me to show up each day and invite them back in. They need me to show them the love. They need me to NOT give up on them.
Choice and their Own Voice
The moment students understand that their own voice matters to me is when they really start to flourish. My units have been set up for students to explore and learn, then they try out their learning in a piece. I have slowly taken away the scaffolds so students are using materials to create their own work into being in a space where students are exploring ideas and their own interests using materials and techniques that they want to.
Here’s the slideshow that I borrowed heavily from my friend Jaimee Taborda that students have access to and we revisit. I chose the themes Memory/Past, Recreate/Reiterate, and Function/Form mainly because they are super open while also keeping a landing for students as they leap into choosing their own materials. I gave them artists to research within the themes because they needed some scaffolding within that in order to leap into the materials with no scaffolds. And seriously, it’s always so magical when I get to this point with my students.
Here’s the magical part:
These three images demonstrate the power of both choice and never giving up on kids. These three students have done almost nothing all year. These three students have fought me in so many ways. These three students have walked out, have slept, have avoided, all the things with me almost every day. These three students have completed this assignment. And in the end, I don’t actually care about the assignments (shhhh… don’t tell the kids) what I care about is their learning, their belief in themselves, their voices. They each decided what they wanted to make and figured out that paint was what would express their idea best. And although they hadn’t totally completed the painting unit at all – they did the work. They explored the paint so they could get the right colors, the right “look” within their piece. And they were so proud.
The work coming out of this unit has made me so proud, it’s definitely showing me that work that has occurred before was well worth it. Here’s a taste of some of the other creations with artist statements.