Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Art Day

It’s 7:55 one morning late last week and I’m perched atop a wheeled step ladder in the middle of an inclined hallway taping mixed media self portraits to the upper reaches of the walls. Not exactly a routine day in my rotation at Generic Middle School. For me, it was Art Day.

With my student teaching experience all but complete, I was loaned out to the art department for the day, a turn of events not nearly as random as it may sound. Weeks ago, I let it slip that I actually might not be interested in teaching English; that I’ve been plodding along the whole time with a double agenda. See, I chose to pursue English certification, well, for the English credentials associated with having a master’s degree in the field. Basically, I wanted to be able to teach an occasional freshman comp course at the local Community College with a view toward boosting my stock as a writer. Just check out the dust jackets of any best sellers you happen to have kicking around your house. I’m willing to wager that, to a book, all that literature has been penned by an author who--as the jacket blurb will attest-- moonlights at some university or other. Feel free to test me on the theory. As I write this, I’m reaching for a New York Times best seller I picked up at the library mere hours ago. Knowing absolutely nothing about the author and never having read a word of her work, I’m confidently cracking the spine and—lo and behold—I’m about to read a Booklist top pick written by a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who now teaches creative writing at said alma mater. See, that’s how it works. But I digress.

With my attention solidly focused on becoming a Serious Author with a Standing University Gig, say, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, I haven’t spent much time thinking about the state teaching licensure that comes with my masters program. It’s not that I’m adverse to middle schoolers—rather the opposite, actually—it’s just that I find the job I’ve been performing for the past 10 weeks to be a little, um, overwhelming. From morning attendance to afternoon dismissal, papers are flying across my desk in all directions-- all needed to be graded and logged; hands are shooting in the air, invariably attached to someone needing a complete lesson review, medical attention, or counseling; and—most alarming of all—there’s the perpetual stream of state-mandated assessments, assessment “predictors,” or post assessment assessments requiring immediate administration. It’s an environment frankly not conducive to creativity.

But on Art Day? The minute I stepped through the door beside the faux stained glass window, I was Home. Flooded with natural light from a bank of well placed windows, the studio was a showcase of color and life. Color wheels! Plants! Large reproductions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Colorful masks. A kiln firing in the back of the room. Students gasping in wonder at an optical illusion. This—this I could do all day, in any school, anywhere—and still have the mental fortitude to craft prose.

Which brings me to my double agenda. I’ve known all along that after you secure state certification of any kind, it’s a relatively simple matter to tack on an additional endorsement area to your license, provided you know the subject and can answer a hundred or so questions on a standardized test. Which is why I was sent to spend a day in the art room—to see if I still feel like returning to my pre-masters program role in which I thrived, part-time for 6 years.

Which means that my new, post-grad school life would ideally look a lot like my former, pre-grad school life. A healthy dose of art, spilling seamlessly from the canvas to the printed page. Except with better pay and more opportunities. And that might even sound better to me than that University Gig, no matter how it reads on a dust jacket.

Which was all well and good until a couple of my English students found me in the art hall and threatened to take my duct tape, bind me to the wheeled step ladder and deposit me back in the English room.

Interesting as that might be, I fear it might be an exercise in futility.

I sense a renaissance coming on.

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