“Mrs. Dixon, I so had much fun today and I really get decimals now!” This is a comment from a student who the day before had slammed her chair and stomped from my classroom mad at DECIMALS and me. What was the difference from yesterday to today? I let myself make art.
You see, this year is different. I am part of a brand new fifth grade team. Each teacher on the team has extensive experience, but we are “new” as a collaborative unit. In some ways it feels like being a freshman in college… Dorm-mates, excited about the future great things we will accomplish, excited to get to know each other and how we fit as a group. For me, this is the hardest part of being new because it takes me time to feel comfortable enough to be myself.
I am sure most people feel at least a bit like I do… Testing the water before diving in and sharing personal information that leaves you vulnerable. One of my new team members and I have had deeper conversations about our strengths and weaknesses and how these traits affect our teaching. One of her strengths is “focus” and after school one day, we began talking about the process of making art. She was surprised when I told her how I make art…. A sporadic, chaotic dance of stopping and starting, thinking, restarting, thinking, playing and then finally, walking away… An outsider would find this process unbelievable unless witnessed first hand. Her comment, “Hmm… I would have thought the process of making art would involve extreme focus, hours and hours of focus.”
My kind of art making is messy (understatement!). I have learned to use drop cloths and prep beforehand to allow myself to partake in the messy, unpredictable journey making art takes me on. Maybe you are thinking, “how does this relate to teaching?” I think my process of teaching is messy and I am my best version of “teacher” when I allow myself (and my students) to start, stop, think, play, and get messy. You see, today, I stopped because I couldn’t let today be like yesterday. I let myself think, and spur of the moment, make a game out of today’s lesson… A game that every student could win. Everyone had fun, including me, and everyone showed a deeper understanding of DECIMALS. At that moment I realized what had been missing in my classroom this year. My best teaching comes when I relax and let me be me. My best teaching comes when I let the process of “making art” take hold and I get messy.