Thursday, March 16, 2017

Interview with art teacher Kati Giese

Interview and Classroom Tour
Silver Creek High School Art Teacher
Longmont, CO

"I'm probably a little unconventional. I'm okay with that."

What did you want to be when you were a child?
When I was 4, I knew I wanted to be an artist. 
I knew that's where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. My parents always encouraged me, they never said you can't do it. In 6th grade I had some family troubles and I decided that I wasn't going to do art anymore. So I stopped and I didn't access that. I returned back to it in high school and remembered that I liked doing art. Even though I'm an artist and I'm extremely creative and I fall on that spectrum of the crazy art person, I also have a nice balance in that I have to have things planned out kind of ready to go at least in my head. 
Around that time I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career and I didn't want to be an artist anymore because I don't do well with people telling me what to do and I figured the only way I could make a living would be as a commercial artist. I do better telling other people what to do, so I realized being an art teacher would be awesome because then I could be the boss of everybody. In 10th or 11th grade I interned with one of the middle school art teachers. He let me come in to teach a lesson. I appreciated that he gave me his time, and that is what I wanted to...teach middle school art. So I went to school and that's exactly what I got my degree in. 

Where do you come up with art lessons for your students?
That's going to be a big question.
We, at Silver Creek, have moved away from art lessons. 
We don't teach art lessons, we teach kids how to think like artists.
Rather than saying 'this is how you do it' and everyone makes the same project, we say 'here are some skills, here is how you build upon an idea, and this is how you make your own art.'
We're only in our 3rd year of doing this, so we don't have it all figured out and we're still playing with it. But we're progressive in the state. We're not asking kids to follow and do what we say, we're asking them to take risks and make mistakes and figure out who they are artistically.
We might see a kid for only one semester throughout their high school career. But the thought is...
Can I get a kid to accept that failure is okay? That taking a risk is okay? That creativity doesn't have to look like somebody else's idea of creativity.

I was going to ask another question about how you teach creative courage to kids, but your method sounds like it could work really well to enable the courage already inside of them.
Traditional art classes, up until about this point, have been lesson oriented. You might have had a few rogue people, doing what we're doing, but most are traditional. With traditional classes, kids walk out and they're comparing themselves to everyone else because everyone else did the exact same thing. So you have kids that are not as skilled or artistic and they walk out thinking that they're a failure because they're not as good as the person next to them. 
We didn't want that anymore and decided to set up an environment where kids could try something and access their own ideas. By high school they don't know how to do that anymore. 
When you're about 5 or 6 you're about as creative as you're going to be, and then we teach kids not to be creative. We teach them to answer the test, follow these rules, here is how you do it. We don't allow kids the freedom to come up with their ideas. 
So I always tell the kids that this is teacher supported, so I'm here at the bottom and I'm holding you and whatever you need I'm going to be here. Rather than teacher directed, where the teacher is telling them 'you will do this.'
So we've tried to flip the model.
Everybody needs art, you may just not notice it.
Some kids want to increase the number of art classes that can take, but we're already at capacity. My classes have about 35-40 students in them. So we're jam packed and there is no money to hire extra teachers. So we can't increase credits and we can't increase access because there is no funding for it. 

One thing about teaching art the way we do here is that you are not getting art that is considered "beautiful." So you don't get a lot of realism or you don't get a lot of pieces that everyone would consider acceptable and want to hang. 
If you teach art in the traditional way, you'll get a lot of pieces that are aesthetically pleasing to most people and you get it framed. 
What I'm asking the kids to do is to take big risks. And it might not work out.

We try to put the emphasis on the process, rather than the final outcome. In my class we've done away with grading. I still have to put grades in, but I allow the kids to self-access. I say to them, "Why in the world would I give you a grade? It is your process, it is your progress. You tell me what you deserve on this." I have them go through a self-review on the process, so they need to talk about their invention and about their creativity and their technique. They have to write a small essay about their work, the essay accompanies the work, and then they have a look back about the things they've learned and processed. So, rather than assigning a grade that makes them feel as if someone is telling them if they've done okay or not in their own art, we're allowing them to sort it out for themselves and be responsible for themselves. 

When you said that you don't give grades, I had a little relief. As if I could just come in and be myself and it'll be okay. 
Exactly. I'm not going to tell you what grade you get. If you want an A, have an A, I really don't care. What is important to me is your process and your learning and what you grew through and what struggles you had.
Releasing the pressure of striving for a grade, it frees them up to take risks and make mistakes. 

I tell them often...What if life was about learning from mistakes, rather than suffering from mistakes?

This class doesn't have penalties for screwing up. This class actually rewards you for screwing up and trying something and then writing about it. I love it when something doesn't work out! Let's talk about it. Why didn't that work out? What did you learn? Hopefully they can carry that on into their life, that things don't have to be so right or wrong. There is always something to learn.

How has teaching art affected your own art?
I don't do art.
I think that happens to a lot of art teachers. You get a little lost because so much of your time and energy is spent helping others develop their ideas and their artistic style. When you get home that is the last thing you want to do. Also, I have a 4 year old and another one on the way. So when I come home it is time do do mom stuff.
The other day we were going to make Valentines (because I'm an artistic mom we are going to make them not buy them). They turned out lovely and it was fun, but I ended up teaching. Still teaching. 
So I think, "Why would I want to do my own thing?" I feel bad about that because I'm not modeling for my daughter. I'm not at home working on a project. Even if we're doing it together, the attention span of a 4 year old is not enough time to do my own thing. 
Part of my issue, the first time I was so set on getting out of college. I wanted to get my life started. I bullied my way through it and was taking 21 credit hours a semester and didn't pay much attention to creating my own artistic style. So when I graduated with my degree in teaching art, that's what I was going to do, but I never really developed it for myself. 
A couple of years ago (when my daughter was 2) I decided to go back to college and get my masters in art and design. It was an online program designed for teachers and in-person meetings during the summer. Instead of focusing on my classroom, I decided that I wanted to focus on my own art. So I took about 2 years to focus on my art and figure out who I was. 
That was my thesis...Who am I as an artist and why do I do this thing where I start something and don't finish?
I did a year study into my own artistic practice. What I determined that I do get bored easily. After I've looked at something and understood it, I don't want to revisit it. The word for it is autotelic. An autotelic personality is someone who needs a peak challenge at all times. They needs something to keep them at a high level. This made sense for me, because with art, if I'm not challenged I'm not enjoying it. I also discovered that my projects could not go on for more than a week or I'd loose interest. So I needed to set time limits for myself.
I'm interested in fiber arts. I invented a way of dying fabric and then layering it to create a diary. I have small pieces that I work on and add to every three or four days. I add something that happened to me or something I experienced. Then, at the end of the month, I have a fabric diary of my time. 
That way I don't get so bogged down with a big art piece that I'll loose interest in.
Now I have a method that I know works for me. I probably would not have figured this out if it hadn't been for my graduate program. And forcing myself to do it. I entered the student art show for my college and two of my pieces were chosen, so I must be on to something here.

Do you have a favorite quote or saying that inspires you to do what you love?
A quote for me:
"Leave everything in its utmost simplicity and clarity will arise itself. It is only by doing nothing that you will do everything that there is to be done." (Buddhist saying)

I feel that in our world we get so complicated by piling stuff on. Maybe, if you pulled it back and leave it in its utmost simplicity it will come to you, and it will be okay. It is okay not to move on it. Which I think is important for sanity. 
However, I don't think that helps me get anything done. 

A quote for the classroom:
One of the things someone sees if they walk into my classroom is that everyone is engaged and are doing something. Which is unlike when you walk into other classrooms and kids are disengaged or on their phones. 

In moments of self doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I don't really have a lot of self doubt. When I was trying to figure out who I was artistically, I didn't really worry about it. I assumed I would just make lots of mistakes and find out what is going on and not judge myself. 
The adversity or self doubt of not knowing who I was as an artist was more of a challenge rather than feeling I couldn't do it.

Set it up as a challenge and ask yourself a big question. That's what I tell the kids to do is ask a question. So, rather than stating, "I'm bad at this." or "This doesn't look right." or "I don't know who I am as an artist." 
Ask a question instead. If you ask a question, you have steps to get somewhere, rather than being bogged down with your statement.
For example:"Who am I as an artist?" is better than, "I don't know who I am as an artist."
Another example, if a kid is working on a project and the face doesn't look right I help them re-frame their remarks from "I'm terrible at drawing faces." to "Why does this face not meet my standards?"
When you have the question, you can take small steps to get to the answer.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to enter your field?
I probably average two kids every other year who want to become an art teacher. I can see the results of what I do here in the classroom. 

- Don't expect that everybody loves art. 
- Relationships are the most important part of being a teacher.
- You will spend a large amount of time talking to kids and counseling kids. 

PS: Kati has been participating in The Uniform Project this year! This black dress is the mainstay of her work wardrobe. She is demonstrating to her students that it doesn't matter what they wear to be loved and accepted. 
Be who you love, take chances, makes mistakes, and continuously reflect. 

Contact Sunshine Revival

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love your project, Nichole! I especially loved when Kati said, "With traditional classes, kids walk out and they're comparing themselves to everyone else because everyone else did the exact same thing." As a soon-to-be teacher, that really resonated with me. I love how you're highlighting various perspectives! About to check out some of your other posts. :)