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What Does it Look like Returning to School after a Closure? An Interview with Miss Lee

Art Education and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

There are empty art rooms all over the world right now. These rooms are waiting patiently for us until it is safe to return with our artists and dive back into the world of creating together in the same room. These rooms are waiting for us to unload full drying racks of art, refill glue bottles, and wash brushes. These rooms are still waiting to be filled with energy, positivity, and creativity.

As many of us continue to navigate the world of teaching art online, you may find yourself wondering, what will this all look like when I finally can return to my classroom? How will I manage this transition back to in-person teaching after shifting to temporary online art education? How can I provide my students with the support they need?

Teacher on Instagram

Miss Stephanie Lee, a talented art educator, creates content-rich, vibrant, and relevant masterpieces with her young artists, and has also asked herself many similar questions. Miss Lee teaches K-5 Art at the Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan. She has taught Art for nine years in Taiwan and one year in Singapore. Miss Lee is an incredible influence on Instagram, where she posts colorful and creative student projects, her life in Taiwan, and her wonderful talent as an art educator. You’ll definitely want to give her a follow, especially if you love bright colors, pure happiness, and amazing ideas!

Art teacher on Instagram

Let’s hear about Miss Lee’s journey with online art education—what it was like to see her students again, and what is different for her now.

How long did you do eLearning before returning to school?

My school was closed twice, and in total, we did four weeks of e-learning. We had three weeks after the Chinese New year holiday in February and then another week after spring break.

How did you talk to your students upon return? Did you debrief them in any way?

I did my welcome back speech, then spent the first class refreshing their memory about what we had been learning before the break. My kids were super awesome and eager to jump right in. And surprisingly, for the first couple of classes after both school closings they were really quiet and focused on their work! Normally some of my kids can be quite chatty, I think they were just glad to be back in art.

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Student wearing a mask

What were your concerns and anxieties about returning? What has been the hardest part of coming back?

I wasn’t anxious when we returned to school after the first time being closed. Our school had given us an extra day on Monday to prep lessons and clean up our classrooms before students came back on Tuesday. And we had to be closed right after Chinese New year holiday, so it felt more like a long vacation where I already had my teaching plans set for after the holidays.

But, it was more stressful the second time. We were closed suddenly and my classroom had been left in a mess. The hardest part was catching up with everything that needed to be finished, I still had a bunch of clay projects waiting to be fired and glazed from our first closing. There were also some students that I had to plan extra time on the side to help them catch up from missing classes. I felt disappointed that I had to scrap more than half of the projects I had planned for this school year since we wouldn’t have time for them anymore.

Art Teacher on Instagram

How do things look different at school and in your city?

At school, everyone, including teachers, staff, and students, need to be wearing masks at all times as an extra safety precaution. The parents are not allowed to be on campus, so the hallways and school lobby, which are normally packed with them after school, seem a lot quieter and emptier. Our city looks normal, the only difference is you’ll see a lot of people with masks.

What art projects are you starting with? Or did you pick up where you left off?

I’m trying to finish projects, I’ve had to re-plan my curriculum for the second time and gave up trying to fit new projects in with what little time we have left before summer vacation. My fourth grade originally had weaving and two more projects on their schedule before summer, but since it takes a while for them to finish weaving, I scraped the other two. I’m still hoping they will finish early enough so I can squeeze in one short activity at the end.

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What has been most rewarding about returning to school?

Hearing my students tell me how much they missed being in art and bringing art made from home to share with me.

For so many of us, the art room is a safe place to create, experiment, and connect with young artists. It is a place for us to be our most true expression of ourselves. Miss Lee has provided that safe space for her students, despite the time they were apart in what felt like a very unsafe world. Miss Lee’s story provides a hopeful reminder that “this too shall pass.”

Mural

Painted Mural by @raymawst  and @bkpickandroll in Madison, WI

What are your concerns about returning to your classroom after teaching online art?

What do you think is the most important thing to talk to your students about upon return?

What will be the first project you want to do with your students?

Sarah Krajewski is an elementary art educator in Wisconsin. Her teaching philosophy is mirrored in her classroom mantra: "I am positive. I am creative. I am mindful. I am amazing. I am an artist.”

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