Jennifer Lundgren, an art teacher at Montlake Elementary School.
Years ago, I served as a volunteer art teacher in one of Dallas’ rougher areas, at a community center near a middle school. The center’s staff saw my spraypaint art at a charity auction, and approached me to teach their junior high clientele how to do it. A dozen or so students started showing up for the class after school.
These kids attended because their other options were often an empty home or the street. The street wasn't a good option, the center's staff said, but it was the option that often won out. I was expected to be a babysitter of sorts, in hopes my class would be more compelling than the other choices.
Teaching art, the easy path is to play this sort of pass-the-time role. “Here’s some materials,” you can say, before giving everyone a broad sort of assignment. "Have fun, don't be disruptive. I'll check in with you guys later.” But to go the extra mile, to invest in the kids who have that spark of interest and encourage them to develop, is a seriously worthwhile endeavor. Because being a good art teacher demands you do more than is necessary, the same as being a good teacher of anything. It takes patience, positivity, and a genuine interest in others.
Those who do it well can be the reason kids gain a greater sense of worth, find something that they love, and lead a fuller life.
Last month, two Seattle area teachers were honored by the Washington Art Education Association as the statewide Educators of the Year, on both the elementary and middle school level – Jennifer Lundgren and Jennifer Heller. They provide perfect examples for how visual arts can be taught in public schools, the WAEA said in a statement.
To further honor these teachers and their work for Seattle’s kids, we coordinated with Seattle Public Schools to share appraisals of their approach from colleagues, their students, and the teachers themselves.
Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.