Integrating the Arts is Important

 

I have always believed that I had never been one of those practical, traditional teachers whose teaching lied directly on the state standards and assessments.  One of the reasons I went into teaching was that I wanted to be

different: the artistic-teacher so to speak. Now in my sixth year of teaching children of various ages and abilities, I wonder seriously how I strayed from such a meaningful tool to learning. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to be like every other teacher.  My last two principals were very “by the book,” and I think I just conformed into the great “Jell-O mold” and felt pressured to be traditional in a somewhat conventional system of education.

“The arts…are tremendously liberating for individuals who spend a lot of time assessing and evaluating others and being assessed and evaluated themselves” (Powell, 1997, p. 452).  How true!  Being constantly assessed, observed, and critiqued when I was a young student and a younger teacher appeared to be the common trend.  Benchmarks, evaluating what one is teaching, also appeared to fit in that mold.  My colleagues, being able to show me their checklists and grade books organized and alphabetized by essential state learning standards, tended to make me feel anxious.  If they were doing this, and they had at least twice the number of years of teaching experience as me, then why shouldn’t I?  This paper will be address this question and give the rationale and importance why I feel the arts are such an important

and needed modality in my life and teaching career.

I have encountered many positive thoughts, visions, feelings, and ideas, by integrating the arts into my curriculum.  To start with, I realized I was ready for a change in my life.  I was craving to feel like a student again.  I was also excited to learn strategies and lessons to liven up my teaching practices and restore a part of a curriculum

which I felt was missing. 

I didn’t know what to expect from this class.  First feelings of apprehension, nervousness, and anxiety flooded my mind and body.  However, as I sat with so many others like myself, I quickly became excited and comfortable in the class.  I knew that I was a part of something that felt innovative, real, and true.  I realized that am that student “that can make my own ordinary self “extraordinary and uncommon.”  To “invent a broader universe” in which I can experience “new dimensions” and “visions of the world as it was, is and might be” became a great part to my awakening

(Fowler, 1996, 49).

Returning to my classroom on the first few Mondays directly after this class put me on an automatic, natural, and crazy high.  The motivation to begin a Monday (which the hardest day of the week for me) is still to me so

wonderful and amazing!  The thrill of having so many fun, innovative, yet relevant, ideas caused me to find the energy that I didn’t think I had! 

 I see so many artistic and different ways to approach a topic, issue, and subject in every aspect in my teaching.  I even changed my principal observation lesson to include more of an artistic expression in math.  My principal (who is new this year) absolutely loved my integrated artistic lesson that involved creating fractions by drawing.  It was so real to the students, and they really got something out of it.  I also feel more of a relaxed approach in my teaching opposed to a teacher who always needs to be so prepared.  I have more of a carefree attitude to allow students to do more creative things-

the way they want-not the way I want.

The developmental needs of children in my classroom are very diverse and challenging.  Students here at White Center Heights are predominately non-native speakers of English. The language barrier often is a challenge when I need to talk with a parent (especially by phone) on a concern I have about their daughter or son.   Our population consists mostly of these ethnic backgrounds: Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and African-American.  These groups make up about 85% of our school.  About 85% of these students speak a language other than English at home.Not only are these students that are ESL, but also 90% receive free and reduced meals.  Most students live in low-income housing and are at the poverty level.  Because of this, often our scores on statewide tests are much lower than surrounding schools and districts. 

Among ESL challenges, I have two special education kids and one student who is has been diagnosed as being bi-polar.  Because of this great diversity and other factors that make up the developmental needs of my classroom, I truly believe that the arts are able reach my students on a multicultural level.

Although I highly agree with Eisner that the arts increase diversity among students, in my situation, I feel that integrating the arts into my lessons bring my students closer together.  There was this universal feeling. We became a group with the same purpose, talents, and abilities to create something so wonderful. More specifically, this was highly evident when I did the oil pastel picture/poetry lesson in which all students covered a piece of drawing paper with oil pastels to music.  Afterwards, students walked around the room and placed colorful, positive, words and phrases on post-its on their classmates’ pieces of art.  When finished, students timidly used those words to create a poem in any form they wanted.

Afterwards, we also read them aloud.  This experience brought them closer together.  Each individual expressed universal, supportive compassion for each student who read his/her poem aloud.  Without prompting, students

even applauded each other! The results were uplifting.  Each child looked as if they had for the first time in his or her life, experienced the muse that each one of them had in his/her soul.  That is the best way to explain the universal feeling I got

after doing this lesson. 

No matter what one looks like from the outside, whether one is Hispanic, whether one speaks English or Vietnamese, “art is perhaps humanity’s most essential, most universal language” (Eisner, 1997, p. 35).

They were on the same track and speaking the same language despite cultural and linguistic differences.

Now, in regards to the question that I have proposed to myself several times as a teacher and in this paper, I believe the arts have brought me back to the teacher I truly want to be.  When digging deep in my soul and roots of

who I am, as a person and as an educator, my answer is quite simple.  The arts provide an insightful learning education that attracts students to explore the world, their humanity, their emotions, their fantasies, and their realities. “On teachers…rests all that we want education to be, and the arts feed the inner lives of teachers”( Powell, 1997, p. 453).  It has definitely begun to fill my inner life as well as my students.  I am very pleased and excited with the decision that I’ve made to go back to school and learn more about what I love most…teaching students relevant and memorable

experiences through the wonderful power of the arts. 

 

Bibliography

Eisner, E. (1987). Why the Arts are Basic.  Instructor 3Rs, 34-35.

           

Fowler, C. (1996). Strong Arts, Strong Schools.  Strong Arts, Strong Schools.      

           (pp. 46-56). Oxford University Press.

 

Powell, M. (February 1997).  The Arts and the Inner Lives of Teachers. Phi

            Delta Kappan.  (pp. 459-453).  Phi Delta Kappa.