Professional Practice

Bringing Things Full Circle (Ep. 111)

What did you learn from your student teaching? Which of those lessons are still with you? In today’s episode, Nic talks about the lessons she learned about both art teaching and life. Listen as she discusses her best memories from student teaching, how those ideas stick with her, and how everything comes full circle in the end. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: I recently received a message from my cooperating teacher. Her name’s Kim Roberts and she works in Menomonie, Wisconsin. She writes, “Listened to your podcast this morning. My daughter was telling me about this really relatable person who she listens to on Everyday Art Room podcast. She listens on her drive to work. She said your name, and I got a huge smile on my face. I told her that you were my student teacher at Oak Lawn and Downsville. That blew her mind. Then I told her, “Your shoe art is hanging in my bedroom.” She was so excited, so I just wanted to say thank you for all that you do. It has been a pleasure and a joy watching my daughter become an art teacher, and a real honor having such a great student teacher. Have a wonderful school year.” Kim’s words definitely touched me in ways that I could have never imagined. I’m going to go into why Kim’s message meant so much to me, and why this message can mean a lot to you as well. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

I had two student teaching experiences. They were both extremely valuable. I went to a school in Menomonie, Wisconsin. It’s called Stout, the University of Wisconsin-Stout. About 20 minutes away is Chippewa Falls, and I did my first student teaching experience in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin at their high school. I worked under a man named Dan McCurry and he was, I don’t know, probably at the time, he was about three, four years away from retiring. But he had lots of patients for a student teacher, and he had had many student teachers from Stout specifically before. Now, my time with Dan was valuable. In fact, it’s a time in life that I will never, ever forget because in his classroom, I actually witnessed the Twin Towers falling. I was there at 9/11. I dealt with high schoolers as we watched on TV two beautiful towers fall into the ground.

I learned through him how to be patient, how to deal with crisis, how to treat students with respect. I learned how to do craft. He was very big into craft at the time. He did macrame and he did a lot of fibers arts in his class. Basically, at the time that was old. It was very old. It wasn’t as cool as I knew I was going to make art to be. Unfortunately, I was a little … Let’s just say I had a chip on my shoulder, and I didn’t really take the full experience of what he had to offer to heart. I wish that I could go back. I wish that I could watch and learn a little bit closer, but overall, he did give me some great messages in life. I just wish I would have been able to hear all of them at the time. I was young. Not an excuse, but it’s the reality.

So my takeaway, really, was that whole 9/11 experience with him, and if I were to be in his classroom now, what’s old is new, and macrame is very hot right now. He was either way behind times or way ahead. Then I went to a second placement. This was with Kim Roberts. Kim Roberts was a young mother of two. She was working at three schools at the time, and I was able to squeeze into her schedule. Now, this woman has told me that she has had 28, I believe, student teachers in her experience. Maybe 27. Anyways, many, many students, student teachers, and I think I was the third for her in this one single year. That’s a lot to take on. She was, I think, hesitant to do so and I don’t blame her. When you take on a student teacher, you’re taking on someone who you don’t know. You don’t know the work ethics. You don’t know the quality. You know that you’re going to get someone who needs some training, needs some experience.

You know that they’re going to make mistakes and you know that you have to give up your classroom. It’s hard to do that three times in a year, but Kim was gracious enough to allow me to come into her classroom, and I cannot thank her enough. Kim is hard working, extremely hardworking. I learned how to have a classroom and manage a classroom. It was actually a really beautiful classroom. Then I learned how to hop into a car one day, go to a tiny rural school and teach in the hallways of every single … Bring every single class out into the hallways to teach them. Sometimes, we would go into the classroom as well. This school was so small that it only had one class per grade, and it was kindergarten through fifth grade.

We were doing similar experiences that we did in the other classroom. However, we had to adapt it to a space that was different than what we were used to. No art room at all, no sinks in many of the rooms. So, we would load up all of our materials. We’d use BoxTops on a regular basis, prep all of our materials, bring them into the school so that they had a wonderful experience. Kim was absolutely amazing at organization. It was definitely … It definitely came with practice. It definitely came with years of being a traveling teacher, and a love and passion for art education.

We would also actually spend one day at another school within Menomonie, so her schedule was absolutely packed. In the second … Or the third school, let’s go with, I think we were only there part of the day and we only had a couple of sections, and we didn’t have an art room, but we did have a space for the time that we were there. So, three different situations with this one woman. Now, Kim taught me about art education in a way that I never could have asked for in my undergrad.

I have gone to four years of education and then to have Kim teach me everything I needed to be prepared for my first, second, third, and fourth job. Kim taught me how to travel, as I mentioned, but she also taught me how to present to the school board. At the time she was actually developing digital portfolios for her students. You guys, I am 40 years old, so this was almost 20 years ago that this woman was doing digital portfolios with her class. Just let that sink in. You guys, there wasn’t even internet. There was no Seesaw. There was no Google anything. This was old school camera and floppy disks, and Kim was making it happen.

Not only was she making it happen, but she was presenting to the school board to make sure that we allowed for all students to have such an amazing experience. Kim was prolific at creating amazing lesson plans, and then having them available for all to look at. A parent, a student teacher, another teacher within the school; she had these huge binders and each of them were labeled with a grade level, and in them were the lessons that she did for every single grade. Many, many resources, she allowed us to go ahead and copy all of those lessons if we wanted to, and then she demonstrated how to teach them in such an eloquent way that she taught one section, two sections, three sections, then four and five.

I was able to take over and replicate what she had just created with her first couple of classes. She let me do some displays, and I will say this is whereas my young … Very young self was frustrated because I spent a lot of time on a display, had it all up, and then she came out and she looked at it and she goes, “It’s crooked.” At the time I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding. I have to go back and redo this whole thing,” and to this day, you better believe every single one of my displays is perfectly aligned. I make sure of it. And it was because of the mistake that I made and the teaching of an excellent teacher. I know how to make a just stunning display. I know how to create beautiful digital portfolios.

I know how to teach amazing lessons, and this is because of the woman that taught me. Kim Roberts. Not only did she teach me how to be a good teacher, but she taught me how to be a good mom. At the time, her children … Well, Ryan was in kindergarten, her little boy, and Alex was in second grade. Ryan was energetic. He was inquisitive, he was talkative, he was used to his mom having a young girl or boy hanging out with her all the time. He was used to talking with them and telling them about their day. So I learned a lot about Ryan. He was very outgoing, and Alex was her artist. Alex would always come after school and start working on some art. I remember we made this really, really special project for her grade, her class, because that’s is the advantage of having your kid at your school.

You can make it so that your child has an experience like no other. You get to choose projects that you want to just try because you think it would be cool. You think your daughter or son would be able to handle it, and if they can handle it, then the rest of the grade can too. So we made these three-dimensional paper pots out of tissue paper and on balloons, and I believe Kim said at the end of that lesson that she was never going to do it again. We learned something. It was great. Alex was wonderful. Ryan was wonderful. The whole family was just beautiful.

I left and went on with my life. I got a job at a rural school to begin with, and I taught there in the high school for a year, in Kiel, Wisconsin. Then we moved to Minnesota, and I taught in an urban school in Minneapolis, and it was right down on Hennepin and 10th. It was very urban, and a really wonderful experience. Then I ended up landing a job in the community I was living in, which is Elk River, Minnesota. I worked in Rogers mostly. I’ve worked at several schools and every single year, I do something that reminds me of my student teaching. I do a lesson that is reminiscent of one that I did with Kim.

I might add onto my portfolio, my digital portfolio skills and that was all put into my head 20 years ago by a woman who was so ahead of her times. I often will bring things to our school board, because she told me that that’s the way to make sure that people see you and hear you. She taught me that you stand up and you tell someone about what your program looks like because nobody else is going to do it. Think big and make sure people know it. She taught me that.

Alex has grown as well, and her choice and profession is, by no surprise, art education. With a mom like that, seeing art teachers come in and out of her mom’s door; being a creative type and a person who loves art, Alex is now teaching in Minnesota. She has reached out to me and we have had conversations and text messages, or Facebook messages back and forth kind of talking about the woes and the excitement and the thrills of being an art teacher. Guys, just take a minute to think about that. Because of the gifts that Kim gave to me, I am the teacher I am today. She taught me to think big, to tell others, to share my message of art education and so I did. Now her daughter, who is an art teacher, is listening to this podcast right now; learning from my experiences and presenting that information to her classes.

This is an amazing full circle. This is what we do every day. We plant seeds, we create things that will go beyond us in ways that we can never imagine now. The way you’re treating your students in your classroom, the way you interact with your student teachers, the way you interact with the people in your life, as far as the parents and your coworkers and your administration and your school board. These are the seeds that are sown, and will continue to grow. All of a sudden, someday, one little burst of flower is going to pop up in your life and you’ll understand what impact you are making on the world.

This very public and verbal love letter is dedicated to Kim. Thank you so much for being the teacher you were to me. As I mentioned earlier in this podcast, Kim had mentioned something about a shoe print. For my senior show, I did shoes; screen printing. That was my concentration my senior year, and I did one special print that I only gave to people who helped me out in my senior year or through my education. It was called, “The Thank You Shoe”, and Kim is a proud owner of one. What makes me just thrilled is that she has it hanging up in her house.

Alex has let me know that she too is interested in acquiring that shoe someday, and she has often admired it. What an honor. Think about this people. Alex is teaching hundreds and thousands of students. She’s a young art teacher, bringing energy and education to so many kids. This energy and education is being influenced by this podcast, by other professional development outlets, by her mother. This is a full circle story and love letter that I just had to share with us today. Go ahead, think about the people in your life who have influenced you, who have brought you joy.

Write them a message today. Write them to tell them what they have done to inspire you. It meant the world to me, and you know it will mean the world to them. Hey, have a good day. We’ll chat with you soon.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.