I don’t know about you, but my favorite class in school was always art. Hours of sitting in front of a blackboard listening to teachers pontificate was never my thing, so it was always great to take a break from the prosaic world of math and science to explore the more tactile, visual world of art. Unlike other teachers, who were often pressured to prepare us students for rigid standardized tests, my art teachers were the ones who taught the ever-important lesson of thinking outside the proverbial box. To celebrate those fantastic box-breaking, brain-bending, mind-enriching people we call art teachers, we’ve decided to highlight some of our own favorites, starting with my close friend Romina Wixom.
With a warm, empathetic personality and a delightful sense of humor, Romina seems perfectly suited to be an art teacher. A recent graduate of Pratt Institute’s art education program, she currently works at Art Shack, a Brooklyn-based alternative art studio that offers preschool, after-school classes, and summer camp. Located in a cozy, light-filled space in the quiet neighborhood of Clinton Hill, Art Shack looks exactly how one would want an art classroom to look. Color is everywhere you look in the small space, from the multicolored string lights that hang from the ceiling rafters to the seemingly infinite number of supplies populating the shelves around the room. It’s slightly disheveled, but in the charming, energized way that lets you know that this is where creativity happens. —Max
Continue after the jump for our five questions with Romina about her experience as an art teacher!
1. Why did you decide to become an art teacher?
Hmm….a very tough question. For me, there are many reasons. Chiefly among them, I love to create, I love to work with others on creative endeavors, and I still hold strong to my sense of dissatisfaction with my own education. I think the reason teaching has continued to appeal to me is the ability a teacher has to curate an experience for a group to engage in collectively. I love coming up with a lesson or project and going along for the ride. Art projects in particular open up the air for discussion, and I have been privileged to hear some of the most clever and witty elementary aged conversations.
2. If there are budgetary issues at any school, art is usually one of the first things to get cut. Why do you think it’s important to teach art?
I believe that the arts can create a synthesis of all school subject matter. A hands on experience, coupled with a topic of discussion or an abstract idea, can open up doors for different kinds of learners. I mean, I don’t know many people who read something once and have it memorized. For most of us, a physical, emotional, or visual experience accompanies information we process and retain.
With my incoming pre-k class, the first unit focuses on the word “awareness.” We’ll discuss the meaning of the word as it relates to projects such as self portraits, leaf rubbings and map drawings, to name a few.
3. Who was your own favorite art teacher and why?
Oh, I’ve had so many teachers that I have loved! However, I have to say the most influential character was the former chair of the Pratt Art Education department, Amy Brook-Snider. She is a fiercely determined individual who sets the bar for what an art teacher can be.
4. What are your favorite projects to do with your students?
I love to set up projects with an element of surprise and discovery to them. For example, I’ll fill the surface of a table with highly textured small objects (think combs, leaves, buttons and coins) and tape down a huge sheet of paper over it all. When kids enter the room, I let them go to town rubbing at the paper with colorful crayons to reveal the shape of the objects underneath. They yell out things like “I think it’s a leaf!” or “this might be a button!” and you’d be hard-pressed to think its not a real treasure they’ve found.
5. What have you learned from being an art teacher?
I’m still learning from it, all the time! So far, I think it’s helping me to become more flexible and “in the moment”, and to always strive to do better. Might sound cheesy, but it’s true!