My passion for teaching began at a young age when I got my first job as a tutor. Since that day, I realized that teaching is a profession that stems from a deep desire to help and empower others with compassion, kindness, and empathy. In helping others, especially as an arts educator, I have been able to share knowledge, passion, inspiration, and curiosity, all of which are important factors for navigating life.
One of the main ways I do this is through a deep practice of social-emotional learning in which students learn ways that they can connect to themselves, each other, and the world. My curriculum reflects this in numerous ways, as it includes projects that explore topics such as self-narrative, artistic and personal freedom, and collaboration. In teaching this, I am able to amplify an awareness of diversity, community, and freedom. In turn, these concepts enable students to feel empathy, form positive bonds, be aware of their own emotions, and make positive decisions. Because art is such a powerful tool for change, growth, expression, and communication, it is important to me to incorporate POC and LGBT+ representation widely throughout my curriculum. As a nonbinary teacher myself, I feel confident that I can be an ally to students and faculty alike who are seeking to understand and be understood. On this same note, I want every student who steps into my classroom to feel respected and seen. This also means that I am constantly educating myself and adapting my practice to be more inclusive of all students' needs, especially for students who are disabled and ELL students. In the future, I hope to chase many opportunities to shadow and learn from paraprofessionals as well as one day teach abroad and develop many useful skills in connecting with and empowering ELL students.
With the role of an educator, it is important to know the power I have to make a difference in the lives of my students and hone it in the utmost of positive ways. This means that I try to be crucially aware of my students’ needs and the needs of my students’ communities. This is important because it can tell me the most effective ways to help my students. Keeping track of these things highlights the mindfulness I try to maintain in and out of the classroom. In addition, being mindful of myself and my presence as an educator has helped me make sure I am promoting a healthy environment for my students, checking my own privilege, and teaching with useful and healthy takeaways in mind.
Being a mindful and empathetic educator also means highlighting the importance of mental health. Art can be a great solace from the other stressors of life and school because of its ability to wrap us up in what psychologists call “flow,” or a “mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009, p. 5). This flow can enable students to contend with deep inner workings and experience a healthy healing outlet. While students may create work that directly reflects the struggles they are contending with, they may also simply use the tactile nature of materials to escape. This is reflected in a concept called “play,” in which students learn from manipulating materials rather than executing and perfecting an idea or concept. Play can be empowering for students because it can break their preconceived notions of what constitutes “art” by having them spend time with materials, pushing them to and past their limits. Play motivates a sense of discovery and reassures students that it’s okay to make “mistakes” within their art. But no matter what students are going through or how they approach art making, I will always seek to approach students from a place of understanding. Part of this understanding also recognizes that a healthy balance between school and life is possible, and thus I hope to aid my students in advocating for this as a standard within our education system in the future.
Ultimately, I believe that it is equally important for youth to be heard, seen, and valued within our education system as it is for teachers. There is no doubt that teachers matter; we are the vehicles for learning. But I think it is the students who make up the true backbone of the school, because they are the learners that will one day become the future. If we as teachers are able to zoom out and see our education systems as a pathway from childhood to adulthood and our school’s community as a complex world our students will one day enter, then I think students should be given the same considerations. Part of these students’ ability to change the future starts young, as they are consciously and unconsciously learning ways to be, what and who to value, and picturing what tomorrow will hold. If these students will one day become the future, then we should make sure we are promoting multiple intelligences, amplifying voices of diversity, encouraging questioning and understanding, empowering character and confidence, and finally, celebrating differences in a way that unifies rather than divides. ︎