Too Busy Saying Yes to Hear the No

My fish sculpture finally complete; approximately 14" long; wire and tissue
Connie over at Dirty Footprints Studio has been posting some wonderful stuff recently about teachers & teaching and it has triggered some thoughts of my own.  Here's my story:

It was late December 2000, I was newly diagnosed with bilateral Kienbock's disease, and I had just had the first two of four hand surgeries.  I was in college, aiming for a bachelor's in art education so I could teach art at the high school level.  My gem of an advisor had just retired and I was meeting with my new advisor who also happened to be the chair of the school's small art education department.  (I believe she still is.)

I was explaining my situation, how even though I was dealing with a fairly serious and possibly life path-altering disease, that I was charging ahead anyway because I wasn't going to let anything, especially some dead bones, get in the way of my dream.  I talked about how the previous advisor and I had been adjusting the degree requirements so I could avoid difficult and painful coursework like metalsmithing.  The advisor got very quiet.  Finally she said "I don't think you should pursue teaching because there's so much you won't be able to do.  You can't teach ceramics, or sculpture, and you won't be able to break up a fight in the classroom."  I remember her words so clearly because I was stunned.  It had never occurred to me that I might have a disability or that it was something I couldn't overcome.

Now, legally, the advisor could not make me drop from my degree program and in retrospect, I understand that.  I could've defied her, continued forward and eventually, she would've probably been supportive.  I don't know how far she would've taken her opposition.  But at the time, I was weary.  I had already faced so many obstacles.  I wasn't interested in wasting precious energy, butting heads with an unsupportive advisor.  I just wanted to get my degree.  So I switched my major to studio art and let go of the idea of ever teaching in public schools.

Years later, I found myself doing exactly that, teaching art to middle school and high school students at a local charter school.  I didn't need a credential for this particular assignment; what I needed was hands-on experience, enthusiasm, and an ease with kids.  By the time I found my way to Laurel Tree, I'd already been teaching art to adults for many years.  So every Friday (the school devotes an entire weekday to art education), I teach and I love it!

Every other year, I have a group of high school students who need a year-long course in art to satisify graduation requirements.  I have free reign in curriculum development (keeping in mind state standards) so as I began creating this year's class, my wheels began turning furiously.  The first semester would be devoted to learning and applying design elements and principles, two-dimensional work that would help build the students' confidence and vocabulary.  What if (I asked myself tentatively) the second semester was completely devoted to sculpture?  It felt like a natural progression.  Of course, the advisor's doubtful voice piped up in my head but I decided to plunge ahead.

No, the students are not forging bronze or chipping away at marble.  They are, instead, sculpting in wood, paper, wire, air-dry clay, and found objects.  They are creating some beautiful, crazy creative things and I am quietly thumbing my nose at the person who tried to tell me no.  I'm too busy saying "Yes!"


Connie said…
Oh wow!! What a very inspiring and beautiful story Michelle!! You are the kind of Art Teacher that is out there making a difference and changing the world!! Thank you so much for sharing your story--and for all that you do--what a pleasure to know such a kindred soul.

BIG Hugs!! BIG Hugs!!
indybev said…
A big standing ovation from me!
I hate to cook! said…
Love your story too...being sick myself, it is inspiring...:)
Melanie said…
Good for you! I work with people who have some type of daily challenge and grab the world by the horns and say that it is not going to get them down! Your work is amazing and I will definitely be keeping up with you!
Kirstin said…
Your fish is incredibly cool. I dropped in here via daisyyellow and I'm enjoying your art. Just popping in here to let you know.