Two Voices Separated by 1 Generation
PAINT ME A PRETTY PICTURE
I had tried to take classes for years but every time I did the memory of that art room from long ago stopped me cold. I knew I had it in me to take advantage of what was offered in other rooms like that but the memories from that old room would soon rope me in and I was once again bound and tied to a terrible time in my childhood. I let this deep yearning and desire for self expression go underground and hide for half a century. However, this January I made a New Year's resolution and decided to take matters into my own hands again. To be more precise I decided to take paint brushes back into my own hands again. The Maitland Art Center had no idea their new well over 50 year old student was really an 11 year old, scared out of her mind, little girl.
My emotionally traumatic art experience happened at David Fairchild Elementary school the spring of 1958. The art teacher was an attractive brown haired woman around the age of 28 who came into our classroom every Thursday at 2 in the afternoon. I sat in the back of the room alone as I was not well liked by the other students. Kids can be cruel. I spent most of my time in this school trying to ignore everyone calling me fatso. I was the only kid 40 pounds overweight at David Fairchild and I wore the shame and embarrassment of that as obviously as my Lane Bryant fat girl dresses. The pretty thin art teacher didn't have a clue. I would like to believe had she been aware of my inner turmoil she would have never done what she did to me that fateful spring day. The assignment she gave was simple-draw and paint your yard and house. I panicked. I had never been able to let myself relax enough to draw and paint anything. Stick figures was it for me. . I tried hard to give the art teacher what she wanted and when it was done I actually was rather proud. The colors were good and the house had shape. One by one she held up the other student’s paintings and made very flattering comments about them all. She was being kind and generous. When she got to mine she took a little longer looking at it and my sense of pride was growing. Then, as if in slow motion, she scooped my picture up and held it high for the class to get a good look at it. "This is the most awful, immature thing I have ever seen and I want you all to laugh at it". I went into shock. I remember laughing at my picture along with the rest of the class but when the end of school bell rang I ran out the door crying so hard it was difficult to find my red english racer bike to get my self home. By the time I was at my front door I was literally hysterical. I had been humiliated to my core and the worst part was that it had been done deliberately by an adult who should have been there to teach me, encourage me, and protect me. I have often wondered if that behavior from a teacher today would be tolerated. Perhaps Elizabeth can speak to this question as she is an art teacher. My new art teacher, Glen Ward, is an amazing artist. He is patient and informative but I'm not sure he knew what to do with me last Saturday. I had a major meltdown. I was doing great until I looked at my painting. It looked like a 4 year old had done it. Glen was doing his best to encourage me but that old shame and embarrassment won out. I didn't run out of the class hysterical this time but tears were definitely rolling down my checks as I gathered my things and left. Of course I don't want to go back but this time I will. I absolutely will not give up. I want to be an artist.
No matter what a piece of art looks like from a child, as a teacher, it is your job to nourish and encourage each student. A teacher's role in any classroom shapes the future self esteem of each student they come in contact with. That is the joy of teaching. Touching students lives, watching them develop and thrive.
There will always be people out there who were never meant to be teachers. I'd love to be able to say that every person who graduates with a degree in teaching is caring and well prepared to deal with what is thrown at them in a classroom. I'd love to say that every teacher I had made an impact in a positive way. Alas, as this is not Neverland, I too have experienced horrendous people who I have been forced to call teacher. One math class in high school, we nicknamed the teacher Hitler, which you can assume is never a flattering comment. It pains me that I will forever reference that woman with an infamous performer of genocide. Unfortunately, with schools being severely underfunded, classes growing by the dozens, and with arts programs being cut like they mean nothing, the monitoring of teacher's behavoir is ridiculously lacking.
Out of the roughly 35 kids and adults I've spoken to under the age of thirty, all of them have had more than one teacher that has left a scar on their education. The good thing I found is that they have been able to move past these issues due to a larger number of teachers that have inspired them to be better at whatever subject they were exposed to. I still speak to my art teacher from both elementary school and high school. These women have kept my spirits alive and my artistic juices flowing. I only hope that one day one of my students comes back to me and tells me what an impact I had on them when they were young.
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