teach: to cause or help (someone) to learn about a subject by giving lessons. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary online
I decided to teach because I wanted to help struggling readers; I wanted a job to pay the bills; and I liked the idea of working with a highly creative population, aka, elementary students. I was a single woman who envisioned teaching in a variety of locations. Once established, I planned to study drawing and painting. I had been drawing and reading all my life. The dream seemed to fit.
In preparation, I studied literature; I learned about early childhood psychology; and I took classes in speech and language. While attending college in upstate New York, I also discovered field biology and environmental studies and met my future husband, a chemist who loved photography, hiking…and me. We married soon after I graduated and moved into our first apartment.
We camped, we hiked, and we traveled. I found a teaching job in a small town with dedicated teachers, but the principal showed limited understanding of early childhood education and little respect for teachers as he, armed with the scores from standardized tests, pitted teacher against teacher. I was ready to move on after year one. I completed graduate work and took a job teaching half-day kindergarten planning to take art classes in the afternoons and evenings. I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT HALF-DAY KINDERGARTEN! My free time was spent preparing for the next day. The students were fun, but the hours of preparation did not allow time for art classes. With the support of my husband, I left for a patchwork of jobs and the freedom to travel and study painting and drawing.
During the next five years, I studied at the Art Student’s League, The Woodstock School of Art, and with portrait painter, Cynthia Harris Pagano. I did commercial art, designed a logo for Hospice, wrote for Hallmark, and started a young Saturday’s art program. I traveled to Europe and camped up and down the east coast with camera and sketchpad. I also taught art two days a week at a private school. As the art teacher, I was invited to plan a four-week poetry/watercolor project with a talented classroom teacher who taught sixth grade. I discovered magical teaching.
At the same time, I was hired by another school district to work with a fifth grader, M., a few hours a day or as long as she could manage. She had a brain tumor and the prognosis was not good. When she died, her mom asked me to design a headstone with M’s beloved unicorn and a rainbow. I did.
I began to reimagine classroom teaching using my knowledge of field biology and the practical hiking and camping wisdom I learned from Dennis. I started keeping a journal of ideas about using observations, drawings, art, and poetry in early childhood math and language arts classes as well as science. Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille and the work of Rachel Carson influenced my thinking.
The goal of teaching and living a life filled with art, writing, music, and a reverence for nature took shape in my journals.
Because a talented classroom teacher invited me to co-teach a poetry/watercolor project, I learned to teach using the arts and all of the senses. Because my husband looked at the world around him through the lens of a camera and the understanding of a scientist, I learned to notice the world of nature. Because brave women wrote about their experiences alone in the environments they loved, I learned the power pen, paper, and solitude. And because, in the final year of her incredibly short life, a young girl taught me to find hope, joy, and promise in learning something new each day, I returned to teaching. It was the beginning of a meandering and magical journey I will write about here.
Keep a steady beat,