BY TIFFANY MacCALLUM, TEACHER, JAMESTOWN
Several Christmases ago, sitting at my parent’s kitchen table in Montana, in the midst of an “argument” between my artist sister, artist brother-in-law and my lawyer husband, I found myself in the middle of a debate regarding what it means to ‘be an artist’. Artists on one side, lawyer on the other…sweet, innocent teacher in the middle! You have to know that my husband has a bit of a reputation for playing the devil’s advocate, that he takes particular enjoyment out of provoking my younger sister and also that before he ever was a lawyer, he was a piano performance minor in college. Everyone is an artist or only a few really are artists?
Years later comments still fly and of course, no one has yet deferred to the other side…the debate still continues. However, as a teacher I made up my mind years ago where I truly stand, I really do believe that ‘everyone is an artist’. (Sorry honey!)
Regardless of your opinion, I want to share with you one of my favorite author/artists that has enhanced my teaching perspective and broadened my view of the creativity of children immensely over the years.
Peter H. Reynolds was one of those lucky students who had a great teacher, an insightful 7th grade teacher to be exact. He had a teacher who decided to challenge him with a project, rather than reprimand him for his constant drawing during class. Several months later a comic book turned into an animated film and he was set on his life’s journey.
Today he is worldwide published children’s book author, illustrator, bookshop owner and founder of FableVision, a media company. He would call himself “an advocate for creativity and children of all ages”.
I bet you can’t guess who introduced me to this author? My beautiful, artist sister, of course! The very first book she told me to buy was The Dot.
The Dot finds a student, Vashti, in the midst of frustration over her inability to draw. The words, “I can’t!” suddenly are shouted. However, Vashti is fortunate to be blessed with another of those stellar teachers who tells her to, “Just make a mark, see where it takes you.” Many beautiful pieces of artwork later, all signed by the talented Vashti, all perfectly simple dots, she has discovered that maybe she can draw after all. With students of all ages there is admiration of this little girl’s tenacity and a quick connection with their own insecurities or struggles. I have yet to meet a student who doesn’t want to be able to draw or paint something unique and beautiful. Many adamantly proclaim, “I can’t!” but almost all still wish they could. So here’s to those teachers, parents and friends who use their creative side of the brain to help us figure out how to move from “I can’t!” to “I’ll try my best.”
Ish is the sequel to The Dot and continues the creative, artist within each of us theme. Reynolds would say that this book is a “a tribute to an approach to thinking – and relaxing — about your art, your writing, your craft. Your life.” Ish features Ramon, a child who loves to draw, "Anytime. Anything. Anywhere." However, his older brother takes it upon himself to comment on the fact that Ramon’s vase looks absolutely nothing like a vase. Ramon is dejected, defeated and angry. Crumpled papers fly and drawing suddenly holds little joy for this young artist. Sister to the rescue! She has painstakingly saved these crumpled masterpieces and displayed them vividly around her bedroom and now to Ramon declares her love for works of art that are ‘vase-ISH’, tree-ISH, and silly-ISH. Thankfully Ramon rediscovers his love of creating and learns that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. This is another ode to the teacher, parent, and friend who acknowledges our contribution to the world as unique, creative and valuable.
Please check out Reynolds’ website for a whole picture of his contribution to the continuation of art and creativity in education. He is actively attempting to ensure that education is not only using one side of the brain. You can also see what he is presently working on, his artwork, his other books, his mission statement and news about his many awards and appearances. Be sure to venture over to the FableVision website as well where Peter’s twin brother Paul guides this media company along. It offers a well-designed tool for teaching children the basics of animation from start to finish. The website also has games, radio and stories that children (maybe even some adults!) will enjoy.
If you happen to be a Facebook or Twitter fan, you can also find Peter H. Reynolds keeping you up to date on his new works or offering insight into something you are stuck on. He is known to personally chat with any creative mind out there, be it in full bloom or slightly wilted from lack of care.
If I could go back to school tomorrow I am quite sure I would still be a teacher, I just like being the boss and having all the markers lined up nice and neat a little too much! But had I found my inner artist before college, I just might have decided to be an art teacher. If you get a chance to pop into my classroom at C.V. Bush this year, I hope you will see a group of 4th graders engaged in the art of learning, with creativity leading the way and a Reynolds’ book or two on display.
Tiffany MacCallum has been an elementary teacher at C.V. Bush in Jamestown since 1999. She has taught both 3rd and 4th grade. She is presently home on maternity leave and working on her last few credits for her reading certification. She has 3 children, ages 6, 4 and 7 months.