When most people think about spring in the Portland, they think of the flowers blooming and the nearing end of a cloudy winter. Rainbows often arch over the rivers, mountains and bridges because the rain has yet to leave but the sun starts to peak out. Late March hosts spring break for all students across the state of Oregon, so families are seen exploring various locales across the Pacific Northwest. I love this time of year. I look forward to the return of light and long summer days tending to the garden and sipping lemonade on my front porch.
This year I am trying to stay optimistic as I look forward to warm days ahead while consumed with my current life question. What will my job look like next fall? In my experience as an art teacher in Portland Public Schools, jobs are constantly changing, administrators leave, classrooms are taken away, or schools decide they would rather have music. So art teachers are left scrambling and teachers who are friends battle it out in interviews to find a happier place.
While on my career development leave (also known as a sabbatical) I have been teaching online part-time and writing curriculum. My leave will soon be over and I need to decide what's next. When I left my job, I was working with 4th-8th grade students part time. The school has changed a lot since then. It has new administrators, is a middle school only, and my job is now full time. When I began this blog a year and a half ago to document my journey into the unknown territory of my own art career, I did not know where it would lead. Teaching was still a huge part of my life but I wanted to test the waters in the art world, learning new materials and immersing myself in the expansive art and design culture here in Portland. Exploring what it truly feels like to be an "artist." On the horizon was always my return to the brick and mortar classroom.
The past year and a half has been rich in so many ways, career wise. Not only have I spent time making a series of work, writing this blog and teaching online, I have also been offered opportunities and time to explore my many interests. One of those focuses has been on researching the experience of the online art teacher. At the National Art Education Association convention in Seattle last month, I co-presented a session called "Can Art be Taught in a Virtual Environment?" My colleague from Georgia, Wendy, and I spent months interviewing and surveying other virtual art teachers about their experiences and gathering information about commonalities in our jobs. I also co-led a second session with my STEAM friend, Kristin, that challenged participants to think about the similarities between the engineering process, design thinking process and how those relate to the Artist Studio Habits of Mind. And at the same time, I currently score student teacher visual arts work samples for EdTPA, facilitate design thinking workshops, write curriculum for design education, illustrate artwork and a kid's book, meet makers and designers, attend maker and design events, show my artwork, and am piloting a design challenge project that introduces industry professionals into 8th grade math classrooms. It is clear that I am not bored!
This week, I interviewed for two high school positions and found myself literally laughing as I flailed my arms above my head demonstrating what my current career looks like. I had spent hours prepping, thinking about the valuable sessions from NAEA, my time in many classrooms at various levels and my teaching philosophies. Trying to explain that in a twenty minute interview, when the teachers and principals have district required questions, made it difficult. I realize my gesture was not the best way to impress the interview committee but I felt scattered because of my many interests. All I wanted to do was explain what is at the heart of my teaching and it just came out in a big ball of tangled knots. So, my Friday was spent rethinking my approach, examining my answers and soul searching.
After an exhausting week, I picked up book that has been waiting on my bedside table called Body of Work by Pamela Slim. It starts by asking What do you want to create?, Who do you want to help? and thenWhat drives you? The goal is to find the common thread in your life to figure out "the rest of your journey." I was too tired to delve in but these questions must have been ingrained in my awareness. When my young son asked for an early morning snuggle, my mind began to spin.
In all of those experiences that I have put my energy towards during this "vacation" from the classroom, what binds them together? Even while writing that list of ten or so explorations, I have mixed feelings about my expansive energy output. Why am I doing this to myself? Which one of these is where I am supposed to concentrate? Whoa, that's a lot of work! I'm not qualified to do that! I often find myself explaining to friends that are curious to know what I have been doing with my time that I like variety because I am embarrassed by my curious dabbling. But this morning as I lay awake with my son dreaming next to me, I was thinking about that linkage. Maybe as I continue to process I will come out of the fog and realize that all of these experiences have something in common.
So, today, when I think about my interviews, I am examining them from this angle. What did I say in that elevator pitch of my current career? Maybe I did get some good points across and maybe next time I will be more concise because I'll have discovered the commonalities. Instead of waving my hands above my head the whole time I can eventually bring them together at my heart to share with them how all of these experiences have brought me to now.
Maybe the answers will spring up with the flowers or return with the sun. After all, spring is my favorite time of year.