How I Became an Art Teacher

Most teachers I talk to fall into one of two camps: They have known they wanted to be teachers since they were drinking juice boxes and wearing light-up shoes, or they never thought they would be teachers and somehow landed there -- from another career, from confusion, from strange pathways through college.
Both groups seem pretty happy, overall. Me? I'm a little of both.

I loved school the whole way through, and I wanted to be a teacher or a librarian when I was in elementary school. I had a GT teacher, Mrs. Hajovsky, that I adored in elementary school. I got pulled out of my regular classes once a week to do amazing projects and puzzles. I wanted to do amazing projects and puzzles all the time, so naturally, I wanted her job. I'm incredibly fortunate to have had lots of great teachers throughout school; I'm still in touch with many of them, including Mrs. Hajovsky.

I often joke now that if you had told me when I was in high school that I would end up teaching high school, I would have cried a little bit. I was determined to make a living out of my art skills, though I wasn't really sure on the specifics of that. I decided I wanted to go to art college by the time I was 16 or so, a decision mostly supported by my family, though there were a few "why not medical/law/business school?"s. 

Fast forward to summer of 2013. I had just graduated from RISD, my dream school, with a BFA in illustration. I had some experience in game design via a few internships I had completed after my junior and senior years. I liked doing that, and considered going in that direction, but I looked for jobs in the gaming industry. They all wanted 3-5 years of professional experience, preferably with my name associated with AAA game title or two. And my portfolio was largely painting-based, not game-assets-based, and definitely not programming- or writing-based.

I decided to come home to Houston. I kept looking for something to do, for jobs to apply to. I started working for a coffee catering company owned by my manager from a high school job. I talked with my high school art teacher and dear mentor, Mrs. Stiffel. She is very involved in a non-profit that brings art after school lessons to underprivileged kids and suggested I start teaching for them, so I did. 

 Needless to say, the girl in the front was a character.

Needless to say, the girl in the front was a character.

I more or less liked doing this, but I felt like I had more to offer than and doling out pre-packaged lesson plans and teaching proper scissor usage. (Hindsight is 20-20 though; I have high schoolers that need to be schooled on proper scissor usage.)  I enrolled in an alternative certification program with the intent of teaching high school. I passed my content and pedagogy tests and began looking for teaching jobs. 

That spring, Mrs. Stiffel told me she was going to retire. She and I hoped that I would be able to take her spot and continue her legacy at my alma mater. I did get to interview at my former high school, but didn't get the job. She and I are both thankful for that now, but that's a post for another day. I found the school where I teach now, Energy Institute High School, at a district job fair. I'm saving more details on my school (which I love!) for another blog post. Stay tuned!

I'm really glad I became a teacher - my job is stable, I get to do lots of creative problem solving, and I can spread the joys and importance of art to a lot of students who have had very little exposure to it. I still worry about burnout sometimes as the job is undeniably exhausting in so many ways, but I hope to be teaching until I retire for good.