We were driving along that pastoral stretch of land by Harvey’s house on Friday evening, when we came upon a car parked on the side of the road. We slowed and watched as the driver took pictures of something in the field beside the car. And then I saw it!
“Stop! Pull over! There’s a kangaroo in the field!” I shouted. My husband quickly pulled over. I leapt out of the car to get a closer look, cell phone in hand to take a photo. In that short time, it was gone.
I cautiously walked up to the parked car, peering through the windshield to ascertain whether or not it would be safe to approach. The woman smiled and opened her passenger window.
“There’s a kangaroo in the field!” I exclaimed, instantly feeling bonded with this woman over this bizarre sighting.
She hesitated and then raised her eyebrows and said, “Ahhh. Umm, that was no kangaroo. It was a deer.”
“You sure?” I asked, as if we were in the Outback, where kangaroo sightings are a normal event.
“Yeah, I’m sure, I took a bunch of photos.” Her words were clipped and she was shaking her head slightly at this point. And then I laughed.
Back at our car I said to my husband, “It was just a deer”.
“Yeah, I thought so,” he said, not looking at me and trying very hard not to laugh. My husband is a teaser and I knew right away that I would never hear the end of this story. I decided right then to post it on my blog.
Am I glad we pulled over to take another look? Yes. Do I wish it had been a kangaroo? No. What I saw was the back of the deer jumping away. I saw its full height, stretched out in a vertical column of light brown. Did it look like a kangaroo just then? Yes. But I’m glad it wasn’t, because I would have been concerned about tracking it down and rescuing it, which would have consumed the entire evening. I would have had to stop everything else in my life and devote a lot of attention to the situation. It was easier that it was “just a deer” and I could get on with my life.
Believe it or not, this story reminds me of the middle school artroom. We see hundreds of kids each week, sometimes hundreds in a day. Each day we focus on doing our job while creating lessons that engage while meeting curriculum requirements. We prepare materials, distribute supplies, clean them, and put them away. We are the custodians of our students’ work while it is in progress, and we take care in displaying the work once it is finished. Our days are so full and busy that it is difficult to stop, and take another look.
The present economy has created budget cuts in many school districts. Districts are challenged to maintain programming on a lean budget. Large class sizes are often the result. In my district, we have worked hard to maintain an excellent Visual Arts program with fewer teachers. We are doing our best.
We are challenged to fulfill one of the most important roles (in my opinion) of the Visual Arts program within the school setting, which is to provide a safe haven for students who struggle with academics due to emotional issues or learning disabilities. The artroom is a place where all students can shine given the proper structure and support. For students who struggle, artmaking can become a vehicle for self-expression and an outlet for emotions. Students who have a difficult time with academics may find that they do quite well in art, and absolutely thrive in the artroom. With large classes, it is easy to miss these students, to hum along through our busy day, prepping, provisioning, teaching, and cleaning up.
As art teachers, if we make the time, we can help a student find her/his artistic voice. Through meaningful lessons we can draw out knowledge from our students that may otherwise never be recognized. Through dialog with students about their art, we can get to know them and their unique understanding of the world around them. In working side-by-side with our students on collaborative projects, we can establish a place of acceptance and create community within the class. Showcasing student work in displays and exhibits builds self-esteem and affords an opportunity for students to feel pride in their accomplishment.
We all know this, but most of us will admit to being so caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running an artroom that we forget to take the time and invest ourselves in the attainment of these higher ideals. As I look back on my teaching over the past few years of budget cuts and large class sizes, I recognize the missed opportunities. As I look ahead to the next school year and whatever challenges it may present, I am setting a goal to “Stop! And take another look” at some point during every class. I know this won’t be easy, but I am committed to being mindful of the higher ideals and to reflect on whether or not they are included in my day-to-day activities.
Oh, and about the kangaroo. Sure enough, when I was gardening with my husband on Sunday, I noticed all the petals were gone from my zinnias.
“I think a rabbit is eating the flowers.” I mused aloud.
“Could be,” he said, “Or it may be a kangaroo.”