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Irvine says it is important for art teachers to continue pursuing creative endeavors and honing their skills. "They must continue to take their own creative risks if they are to convince their students to do the same," she says. "It is risky to do your own work and hang it on a wall. But risk and mess are two things artists understand. When you are working in such a demanding job, you need to constantly renew your energy by doing your own work."
The Skytop Art Workshops for Young People offer art education students opportunities to apply their skills in a classroom setting.
Junior Rebecca Rothamel found that the workshops reinforced her decision to teach. "This is an important opportunity because you apply what you learned in class to a real situation," she says. During one week, a student may teach 8- and 9-year-olds. The following week the student will be the teaching assistant for that age group. On the third week, the student will work with another age group. "The 8- and 9-year-olds tend to be the largest group," says McLaughlin, who supervises the workshops. Occasionally groups for older students may include only a single participant. The smaller classes, while not typical of today's classrooms, provide the most effective indication of how well students connect with a particular age level.
Sitting on a chair clearly designed for a preschooler, senior Shirley Ting beams as she explains a lesson to workshop participants Peter Klim, 7, and Rachel Heagerty, 6. "Today, we are going to draw ourselves," she says. Before turning them loose with paper and markers, Ting first tries to impart a little art history. She shows them portraits done by artists ranging from masters to novices. The children, immediately set at ease by Ting's warm smile and gentle manner, share their thoughts on the portraits. Peter describes how he thinks the light was hitting the subjects' faces when the portraits were painted. Later, when asked for his thoughts on the workshops, Peter prefers to discuss the high points of a movie he recently saw. Junior Mikkel Guthartz, Ting's partner for the day, laughs at Peter's vivid descriptions. She has seen this many times in the past several weeks. Once the lessons are over, the little kids are ready to spend the rest of their Saturday morning simply being kids.
By the time students like Rothamel and Ting participate in the workshops, they are confident in their choice of major. For others, the workshops offer opportunities to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in a classroom setting before deciding on a career. Junior Jennie Schaeffer, for example, seems to have a natural rapport with young children, but it did not come easily. As a result, she has decided that teaching at the elementary level is not for her. "I used to be afraid of getting to the level of the elementary school-age kids. I found it difficult," Schaeffer admits. "But it was important for me to find that out now. I really think my strength is at the high school level. I am thinking about the possibility of working with a museum education program."
Because their teaching partners change from week to week, students quickly learn the fine art of cooperation. Since they discuss the lessons beforehand, the collaborations usually succeed. But as the workshops continue and teaching styles form, it may become harder for students to adapt one style to another. "Both of you have your own way of teaching," Guthartz says. "That's good because you really get a chance to see different ways of doing things."
Art education student Shawn Curtis '00 helps a workshop participant with a drawing assignment. SU students work closely with the children to help develop their creative talents.
While adaptation skills can be learned, Irvine concedes that a great artist doesn't always make for a great art teacher. Some people are just not meant for the classroom, and she has no qualms about steering those students in other directions. "This program isn't for people who want a teaching degree as a backup," Irvine says. "I want them to be as fanatical about it as I am. It's just too hard to do it as a fallback."
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