By Beth Ivens
Occasionally I am asked, “What made you decide to go into education?” A second question follows: “Why ART education?” It wasn’t because of June, July, and August as some might joke. So I’ve been thinking about why and remembering a conversation my husband, Larry, and I had with an old friend early in our teaching careers.
“Joe” was well on his way to working up the corporate ladder when our conversation centered on a newly assigned duty Larry and I were given at school that year. Even though it meant new responsibilities and extra hours, I was excited because it was a new challenge, and we would even receive a stipend of $200 each! Our well-meaning, curious friend asked, “Is that stipend added to every paycheck?” His expression reflected disbelief as we explained that our tiny sum would be spread over the entire year. We looked at each other and smiled as we realized that “Joe’s” world and ours were on totally different planes.
So, if not for the money, and not for summer breaks, why did I decide to teach art? To put it simply, I was inspired. I was inspired by people who probably never knew the impact they had on my life. I remember being in awe of Grandma Cole when I was eight because she was learning how to oil paint from local artist, Jeanie Cornetet, who I think it would be fair to say was like the “Bob Ross” of Mountain Home at the time. Grandpa would sketch grandma’s compositions on her canvas for her, and she would fill them with, in my opinion, pure beauty. I knew then that I wanted to paint just like her. Years later, Mrs. Cornetet judged an art exhibit I entered as a teenager. She took me aside for one of those teachable moments, and to this day I still echo in my own classroom her words about light and shadow.
There were times when my siblings brought home artwork from classes taught by Elizabeth Borne and Jack Arnold at Mountain Home High School in the 70’s. I was inspired! If they could do that, then surely I could too! When I entered eighth grade, it was finally my turn. Glynda McNair was my art teacher, and I proudly showed her an oil painting I had copied from a generic greeting card: a wheel barrel centered on a glowing, and I mean glowing, green background with daisies scattered throughout. She graciously smiled and told me what a good job I had done, and that was it. By the time I entered high school, I knew without a doubt I would be an art teacher.
I have such fond memories from my childhood, hours spent stretched out on the floor with a shoebox full of broken and peeled crayons next to piles of coloring books, and broken pieces of drywall used for chalk drawn on garage walls that served as my chalkboard. My parents patiently encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and now, after 26 years in the classroom, my family and my students continue to be the reason I keep doing what I do.
Every May, with mixed feelings, I say goodbye to another group of young adults with whom I have shared challenges and artistic discovery, but then, every August, I have the privilege of returning to start all over again. Each year is fresh, a “do over,” a blank artist’s canvas. How many professions offer that? So to my friend who is successful in the corporate world, I say congratulations and, yes, I am an art teacher. I look forward to fall every year. Summer’s professional development hours will have been logged, the boxes in my classroom unpacked, and the next creative genius, dressed in jeans and tennis shoes, will enter my doorway. I am an artist and a teacher. So, I challenge the creative child in you to grab a box of crayons, open the lid, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
M! August/September 2013