Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How I'm Spending Summer Vacation

In taking a cue from the often overused question posed to returning students, I am dedicating this post to outline what I've been doing since school ended in June.

First, I must apologize for my absence from blogging. I've been without an internet connection for a while, which limits my blogging options. Yes, I could have taken the laptop to a place with WIFI, but honestly I've had other things on my mind.

Just before the school year ended, I was sad to hear that the summer camp where I have taught art classes for the last three years has suffered a massive drop in enrollment this year. I usually count on the income from this job to get me through until September when I can go back to subbing, so it was quite a hit to learn that my classes were being dropped completely. I have been faced with the daunting task of finding a summer job when most of them were already taken by high school and college students. The most I have found has been working as an usher at my local music theater. Now, this is a fun job since I see all the shows -- often more than half a dozen times all the way through -- but the pay is minimal as are the hours. I was planning to pick up a second job in a new restaurant that is opening soon, but the opening has been delayed due to political paperwork. So I am for the most part, unemployed. And, needless to say, I am very stressed out about it.

Well,  I was determined not to waste the summer hours that I now had to so whatever I wanted to do. I WAS determined to make more art, organize things, listen to free concerts, etc. Thing is I WAS determined. But instead I find myself looking for a permanent teaching job and a temporary or part-time second job. And when I am not doing that I am worrying about what I will do if something doesn't come through soon. All this time wasted worrying means I have no finished art to share.

Now, you may be thinking that if I have wasted so much of my own time worrying, why waste anyone's time reading about my doing so. Well, I haven't been completely unproductive. Before I began the worrying cycle, I looked into some online classes that I could not afford to take. But rather than just say to myself that it is shame I can't take this class, I decided to get the required reading for free from the library and read the books on my own. I am very glad I did because now I can share them with you.
The first book I read is The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. This book by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. was a very fast read. I'm sure many fellow art teachers will relate to its contents. Robinson describes your element as the place where your passion and talent meet. It is a sweet spot where if you are lucky enough to work in your element it does not feel like work at all -- it energizes, inspires, and replenishes. Reading this book confirmed what I already thought but did not have words for -- teaching art is my element. This book also offers insight in how others can be helped to find their element. The element can be anything, by the way, not just something in the arts. Reading this book gave me some perspective on how I'd like to be an instrument in helping my students reach the same level of bliss that I have when I teach.

Robinson has also written Out Of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative. This book is still on my summer reading list, but after just a brief perusal it seems like just as interesting and easy a read as his other book. More on this book later.
The second book I have begun reading, but not got very far into is The Hundred Languages Of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach - Advanced Reflections edited by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman. It is a denser read written as a series of interviews with those involved in the beginnings of the schools in Italy and those practicing the approach in the United States. Although it has been tough to get to because of the writing style, I have found it to be enlightening. There are some aspects of my personal teaching philosophy that I have found differ from the general model in public schools. Things like really involving families and communities in a substantial way. Or promoting open communication through sharing of documentation to the world (like these blogs). I thought my ideas were somewhat out of place with what I was taught in college or what I've seen in some schools -- a cookie cutter approach to education with too much emphasis on standardization. Turns out my ideas are not that strange and are in fact in line with many of the founding principles of Reggio Emilia. Reading this book has prompted me to look for teaching opportunities in non-traditional schools as well as made me more determined to continue exploring my ideas in my own teaching regardless of where I teach.

So, that is how I'm spending my summer vacation -- for now. There is still the month of August, so who knows where my journey will lead.