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Finding an Inner Artist

Title – Finding an Inner Artist

By – Cilla Spence

    This spring I completed my student teaching in one of our local high schools. I taught art to students from 9th grade to 12th grade and of all different levels. Now, I happen to love art, I am very excited when I teach and I always hope to instill that excitement in my students (impossible at times, I know!)

    I was teaching Photography, Art I, Art II, and at the end of the day, a ceramics class. As with every other subject in school, I had students of differing abilities and interest levels. What I discovered during this class was a student who had a terrific hidden talent!

    This student, “Sammy,” was a very big kid. He was about 6’3″ and admitted to weighing about 250 lbs. I saw him as a great big teddy bear! He was always laughing and joking with his fellow classmates and I noticed that he had a hard time completing his projects without a lot of prompting. When I started teaching the class, he would just look at me and grunt. I went to my supervising teacher and asked her about him. I discovered that he had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism. I had prior experience with students of differing abilities and was surprised to discover this about Sammy.

    Now, I am a very friendly person and I speak to everyone I run into. Even while walking in the halls of the school, I would make it a point to speak to my students. It was no different with Sammy. The only thing was, he would grunt at me and drop his head as I walked by. When he would come into the classroom, it was the same thing — a grunt and a dropped head.

    As I began to teach my lesson, I gathered the students around to watch a demonstration of the coiling process of making bowls. Sammy hung back and did not engage in the discussion. I made sure to ask questions of the students and to try to get Sammy to open up all to no avail.

    The assignment was to create a coil vessel of their choice and to show me how creative they could be with a simple process as a basis. After I assigned the project, I traveled around the room to check on progress and answer questions. Most of the students began with no problems and had few questions. “Sammy” began his coil vessel and ran into a few problems. He finally asked me for help and I assisted him with the base of his piece. Over the next few days, he was able to complete a simple straight-sided vessel. I encouraged him to continue with the piece and to show me how creative he could be.

    The next day, “Sammy” added a hook nose to the front of his vessel. As I was traveling the room, I noticed what he was doing and encouraged him to continue. I was so excited! It was very hard for me to contain my excitement and not to scare him! The nose got bigger and he added a wart to the side of one of the nostrils. the next day, he added eyes to his vessel, crooked teeth, and more warts! By the end of the project, he had added huge ears and some hair to his vessel. He called his piece a “funny face.” I really praised him for his efforts and I could almost see him “puff up” his chest from pride! He was no longer grunting at me, but made eye contact and spoke to me in the halls and in class. He began to open up and ask questions and to ask for help when he needed it.

    When we moved on to the next project, he was very excited. I presented the class with a service project for our local area food bank. The ceramics department at the university I was attending participated in “Empty Bowls,” an international fundraiser for food banks. I assigned the empty bowls project and the students were to complete five bowls using different hand-building techniques we had covered in class. The bowls were very interesting, but none as involved as “Sammy’s.” He created 5 different “Funny faces” for his bowls, each one more involved than the previous one! He even made one with a lid that had the eyes and nose of the face that he would raise up to make it “talk!”

    The changes I saw in this student over the course of the eight weeks I was there were incredible! By the end of my time at that school, he would give me a hug and tell me how great I was as a teacher! I will never forget my “Sammy” and the changes I witnessed in him over that time. He found an incredible outlet for his ideas in that class and I will always cherish the time I had with him!

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Cilla Spence

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