The Art Teacher’s Siren

For more months than I care to admit, I have been steering my ship in rocky waters, and despite the pleasantness of the siren song that calls me, I am beginning to hope for the rocks. Make it stop!

I’m talking bout the Sirens of Greek mythology here – the creatures that lure sailors with their beautiful songs until they crash upon the rocky shores. So what is the art teacher’s Siren? What song entices us to our own destruction?

Heart to Heart by Masooma Hussain, art teacher
Heart to Heart by Masooma Hussain, art teacher

I expect most art teachers to nod in agreement when they continue reading, but this is not my target audience today.

I want to talk to the other (non-art) teachers out there, and the principals, and the PTAs. You need to know this…

The siren song of which I speak is the request to give of artistic talents… Could you help with an artistic project? paint a mural? build a stage set?  hang art in my office? These requests are alluring to art teachers (artists) because they appeal to a desire to have our talents recognized. (All humans want this, don’t they?) But it can be destructive because art teachers have a job to do, a curriculum to teach, meetings to attend, planning, and prepping, and grading (oh, my!) and these requests can take an inordinate amount of time – time that takes away from the work of being a teacher.

I was captured by the siren’s song last summer (one of oh-so-many times) when I was asked to help with the artistic design for a competitive winter guard performance. For those who aren’t familiar with winter guard (aka indoor guard), here are the bare essentials: a team performs a short, highly-physical, artistic routine with music, a set, costumes, props, the works. It’s quite a production! The performances are scored in competition against other teams.

The “set” (as I called it above) is what I was asked to help with, and in this case is basically a 50 foot by 70 foot painting. I designed it with input from the coaches, and coordinated the actual painting. (Thank you so much to those who helped me!) Honestly, I was thrilled to be able to do it. And the siren song was true to form. The compliments and gratitude were plentiful – as they still are. This is what I mean when I say these requests are alluring.

So what about the rock bashing part?

After hours of planning and well over 20 hours of painting, even with a crew of helpers, I was pretty happy it was over. But that’s kind of thing. It’s never over. There is either more to this request, or another request right around the corner.

I was asked if I could make a prop for the show. Sure. Happy to help! I came up with a design and a plan, put my skills to work and made it happen. And the sirens keep singing with praise and gratitude. And then it was one other thing that needed painting… and, oh (this weekend’s request), could you make one more prop?  …and I’m ready for the rocks.

Let me be clear, in case I’m coming across wrong. Recent interest in a rock to the head aside, I was not coerced into doing any of this against my will. I wanted to do it. I volunteered my time. I enjoy having creative projects to work on. I enjoy having my work appreciated. I mean, it’s really hard to hear, “you’re so talented,” too many times!

I am willing to bet the art teachers you work with know exactly what I’m talking about, but that doesn’t mean we are all the same. Apparently I can still be called to the rocky shores, but I know some art teachers who have crashed against those rocks so many times that they won’t even listen to the siren’s song any more. They say, “no.” Others are still willing to help for the reasons I shared above, and in some cases, because they feel like doing these extra projects is the only way they will be valued in their school or by their principal.

Don’t take advantage of your art teachers! Remember, they have a curriculum to teach and an art studio (classroom) to manage at the same time. The art teachers you work with may enjoy contributing their talents to the success of the school. Most do, but make sure that you are not asking too much.

And when they do help, make sure to say, “Thank you!”

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2 thoughts on “The Art Teacher’s Siren”

  1. As one of the art teachers who’s also been side-tracked by the “siren songs” (mural, puppet shows, stage set, play backdrops, etc.), I admit that I have experience the “hardship” but also have been taken for granted. After a while, I distant myself and avoided these “extra work.” But the truth is, for me, is that I really enjoy it — I love getting involved with these sort of projects, especially when the kids were involved. I think when use of time and helpers (teachers, parents and kids) are managed appropriately, It’s not so much just hard work and since the helpers are doing most of the labor, they develop appreciation for the project.

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