I remember walking down the hallway from my classroom after a very stressful day. Scheduling at the elementary level in some districts can be very tough. Specialists tend to be thought of last when decisions are being made. I was dealing with an overcrowded room because of combined classes, students being pushed into classes where they find it hard to be successful, lack of prep time to get things ready for students meant they missed out on valuable on task time, and little to no time for lunch or time to connect with the other staff members in the building. I was not happy. Health issues aggravated by the stress and physical strain of the job had me in constant pain. By the time I returned to my classroom after that walk down the hallway I had made a decision. It was as clear as glass for me. This would be my last year in the classroom. Things in the school district had changed much over the years, as it has for districts all over the country. It was no longer fun. Don't get me wrong, my time with the students was still great, but it was tainted by all the other stuff. I didn't feel I was able to give them my all anymore. Out of the three "jobs" I was doing, the ones that made me the most happy and stress-free was working with other art teachers through The Art of Education and working in our ArtsyBug Studio. So, it was decided. I went home and told my husband that it was time. Though I could have left after January of that year (that would be my 20yr mark) I knew I would finish the school year. It would be tough, but I would continue to do my best all while preparing to move on. It was a challenge with lots of pain, hidden tears, and fears about the future. I didn't share the decision until after the first of the year though I had hinted several times. A PE teacher friend chatted to me about what we would be facing next school year during a staff meeting. I quietly told her that I won't be here - that I was going to take an early retirement. She laughed at me as she said, "Yeah, right!".
As Spring rolled around, it was time to begin to tackle the task of going through 20 years worth of stuff in three different buildings. In that many years you acquire many things that were personally purchased. What would I take? What would I gift to other art teachers? What would I pitch and what would I just leave for the next person? Many, many boxes packed up and labeled for this person or that. I ended up taking home very little which is what I wanted.
My favorite part of the whole process was going through all the tubs of project examples. You get just a glimpse of this in the image above. That green tub is actually one of the largest ones you can buy stuffed full of examples used in 1st-6th grades. There was a separate container just for Kindergarten. And...this was just at one school. It took me a couple weeks in between classes and sometimes while students worked to pull out and digitize all the examples I wanted to save. I kept some examples to gift away and a few that I wanted to save, but most ended up going in the recycle bin after taking pictures of them. As I pulled out each one, memories flowed. I remember the fun classes that the students and I had as we worked on the lessons. I found some old favorites and wondered why I had stopped doing some projects. Others sparked new ideas for lessons expanding on them.
Though I won't be teaching these lessons to new classes of students, those works will be the inspiration for many of my future blog posts. I've always loved sharing ideas with other art teachers through blogging, but in recent years there has been little time. I look forward to posting even more now.
Though I've left the classroom, I don't feel that I've left the field of Art Education. It is still and will always be a very big part of my life...just different. I'm teaching artists of all ages at our studio and feel like I'm reaching even more students by helping teachers in my grad classes.
Change is good!
Theresa Gillespie spent over 20 years teaching Art in the Moline School District in Illinois. She has a BA degree in Art Education and a MEd degree in Education & Technology. She also is a graduate level instructor for The Art of Education