As the school year draws to a close, I am always faced with mixed emotions. The prospect of almost three months of sleeping in past 7, being able to keep a manicure looking nice for more than two days, and focusing on tattooing and my own art full time is exhilarating. However, every year that I have been employed as a teacher in my county, I’ve been laid off due to “necessary reduction in force” – aka layoffs due to the severe budget cuts and mass exodus of families leaving South Florida public school systems. So there’s always been the worry that I’m leaving for good, even though I’ve been hired back both times after being laid off. And then there’s the paycheck, and how I’ll be able to make up for it. And honestly – especially on days like today – I really do love my job, and every summer I miss having a classroom and hanging out with kids all day.
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and several of my students expressed their gratitude in special ways. First, there was this delicious cupcake from Hey Sugar Cupcakes. One of my co-workers was helping their students write acrostic poems celebrating their favorite teachers and allowing them to be delivered to us – that was really cute, too. (Even if their spelling was a little off on the one pictured above… I’ll take a few extra letters, I don’t mind.) Last Friday I also had my kids express their love and gratitude to another important group of people being celebrated – Mothers! We made quick and easy frames from foam craft sheets, buttons and lots of glitter. (I just put a picture from a magazine into my frame to show what it would look like.)
In other school-related news, one of my students will soon be exhibiting her work at ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale. She has cerebral palsy and is mostly restricted to a wheelchair, but this doesn’t stop her from riding horses, painting, and enjoying middle school. I’m so proud of this student, the progress that all of my students have made this year, especially those with special needs. One of the saddest things about so many schools losing their art program is how much progress I have seen – and the thought that it might not have happened otherwise. I’m not suggesting that I’m some kind of miracle worker, (even though I was just voted Middle School Art Teacher of the Year by my local professional organization, woot!) but giving students an hour every day (or even every week) to work with their hands to paint, sculpt, draw, cut or glue can be totally transformative. Art builds confidence, too. It allows kids to make SOMETHING out of almost NOTHING, and to claim it completely as their own if they make the brave choice to be themselves in their work.
That, in essence, is the ethic of artmaking, of creating. It’s why I do everything that I do, and keep doing it even when I’m sleepless, burnt out, overwhelmed or even unemployed. There’s never a right or wrong answer in art – there’s just doing your best. Recently, I’ve learned a phrase in Japanese (thanks to watching lots of Kaasan – Mom’s Life!) that has become my new mantra: Ganbatte! No, I won’t tell you what it means. Look it up!