I have been substitute teaching for what feels like a long time now – two and a half years -- to still not have my own classroom. Every once in a while I get to fill in for an art teacher, sometimes even teach my own lessons. Usually it is for just a day. Most often I fill in for classroom teachers in other subjects or in general education. And I find myself having to teach (convincingly) curriculum that I have no actual training for, having to adjust to differing classroom norms, having to remember names of students I’ve only just met, and having to do all this in front of an audience of students who know I’m “just a substitute.” It is hard to win their respect when they know this, let alone get them to behave as they would if their regular teacher were there instead of me.
Honestly, it gets discouraging. Looking for a full time art position for so long and applying for jobs where I don’t even get an acknowledgement that I applied wears on me, makes me question if it is worth it to keep trying. But then something happens to remind me why I keep doing it – waiting and hoping for my own art room and my own students.
Due to unfortunate circumstances on the part of the regular teacher, I am called upon to substitute for an entire week in an elementary art room, even filling in for the after school art club. I get to teach every lesson (granted they are not my own) to every student in every grade. I get to go in every day with a plan of what I want the students to take from the lessons and how I want them to feel about being in the art room. And though there are some students who don’t know that I am actually an art teacher and doubt my ability to make or teach art, those naysayers are quickly surprised to see what I can do with a pencil, paintbrush or piece of clay, and I win them over.
In just one short hour, students who said “I can’t” at the start of a challenging art assignment are saying “Wow, I did it!” when I’ve helped them discover that with a few “tricks” they have the ability to draw an accurate representation or mix a color. I give them the tools they need to develop their own artistic skills. I show them how I make the magic happen so they can make their own magic. I present them with a new way of seeing that changes how everything looks even outside the art room door.
And the students give things to me, too. Intagible things. Things they did not know they had to give. They remind me of why I need to be a teacher. I have just as much – if not more – pride in their successes as they do. I scrutinize their failures as if they were my own and take them to mean I need to show them another way to succeed. The students give me hope and strength and faith. Hope that I will have my own classroom. Strength to wait it out. And faith that teaching is the gift I was given and am meant to use to help students find the gifts within themselves.
And so after this week in the art room, I am renewed. I am reminded that I did not make sacrifices, did not give up certain securities, and did not accrue massive loan debt because I wanted to become an art teacher. It was because I need to be an art teacher. It is so much a part of who I am and what I know I am meant to do. I am not a gambler. I am not a risk taker. But I gambled my future. I risked my financial security. And I know that someday – hopefully sooner rather than later – my reward will be my own art classroom, my own students, and my own chance to share my gift.
p.s. Upcoming posts will show some art projects that I made with the students during this week of renewal.