Dear, sweet, innocent, substitute teacher, I don't even think you realized what you said today when you said it. There we were, discussing the fact that you're new to the county, you were asking me questions about schools in the area, I was giving you tips on where to apply, all while the Kindergarten class you were assisting with were toiling away on their creations. The conversation was going alright, albeit a little distracting and inappropriately timed, but pleasant nonetheless. And then you said it. Right there, in the middle of my art class, "I never understood how to teach crafty things to little kids. All that glue and stuff." And then, your next question really did it, "How do you manage it?"
I'm sorry, how do I what? How do I teach crafty things to kids? Crafty? Oh honey, I don't think so. I don't teach kids crafts, I teach them art. There's a huge difference. Crafts involve gluing pompoms to Popsicle sticks and sprinkling it with glitter. Art, what I teach, what I went to school for six years to become highly qualified to teach, is about teaching kids how to create, how to paint, how to draw, how to look at the things around them, solve problems through experimentation, investigation and problem solving. How to look at and evaluate a huge challenge and break it down into smaller, more manageable and doable steps. I teach students how to succeed in a situation they may not be familiar nor comfortable with.
On my list of pet peeves, the misconstrued perception individuals outside of art education have about art education ranks high on that list. As art educators, we deal with this ignorance on a daily basis. Take for example a colleague of mine who was engaged in a conversation with a second grade teacher. The second grade teacher couldn't understand why my colleague had a problem with the class missing art when "all they ever do anyways are color sheets." As you can imagine, my colleague was deeply offended and put-out, not to mention a bit angry. We shouldn't have to defend what we do to others, but we often find ourselves in a position in which we do, as my colleague did when she explained that the students receive color sheets after clean-up, at the end of class, as a treat.
I would never question what another teacher does in his or her classroom, nor make light of it. I would never question his or her education, although most elementary teachers I encounter nowadays are less educated than I am, but I would never presume that this means they're less capable of teaching in their subject area than I am. I assume that every teacher I meet has received adequate training and education in their field of choice. Unlike the occasional classroom teachers who are shocked when they learn that art teachers, art teachers need to have a degree to teach. And not only that, but some of us even have Master's degrees. The colleague I previously mentioned has, on more than one occasion, had to explain to other educators that yes, art teachers have to be certified by the state in order to teach, just like regular classroom teachers.
I don't know where the idea that art teachers only do crafts with students came from, but it's insulting. Most of the time I am quite capable of letting these ignorant beliefs roll off my back, and I move along with my day, fully aware of what my job entails, what my qualifications are, and with the full knowledge that what I do, what I teach, matters to students and their educations. Most of the time. But sometimes, sometimes, the ignorance is so in-my-face that it indeed ruffles my feathers, works me up, gets me going. And in that situation I say, dear substitute teacher, don't worry your pretty little head over it. I spent six years in college to become highly trained in the science of teaching kids how to not only open glue bottles, but also how to gently squeeze the bottle in order to get the glue out. So go back to your clean, safe classroom and leave the messy stuff to us crafters, er, I mean, art teachers.
(Small disclaimer: Please don't think I believe all non-art teachers feel the same way as the few teachers I talked about above. I know many regular classroom teachers who understand and support what it is I do in my classroom.)