Teaching art is surely fulfilling and crazy enough in the first few years of teaching. But there comes a point when you ask yourself, why DID I become an art teacher anyways?
About nine years ago, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to be. Well, I actually knew exactly what I wanted to be, but couldn't figure out how to do it. I wanted to make films about strange people, quirky people, people who weren't necessarily conforming to society around them. I think I secretly envied them, unafraid, determined, sometimes obsessed things that even I couldn't understand. So I started out filming a man obsessed with decorating his house for Christmas. Everybody knew him but outside the holiday what did this man do? Why was he obsessed with Christmas. The more I pursued the story, the creepier it became. He lived with his mom, the whole house was filled year long with lights, nutcrackers, dolls, train tracks, all meticulously catalogued in a computer system. He was obsessed with topping the other man in the neighborhood who decorated his house for Christmas. Come to find out that man had cancer. Anyways, the more I learned, the less I liked. So I dropped the film like a bad habit and followed my now husband to a job.
We moved close to New York and through a connection I had while teaching art part time, I started interning at a documentary film studio and also waitressing. Although commuting everyday for an hour to pour coffee, empty trash, plan parties and sort media for a grumpy editor, was completely glamorous, I realized that there weren't any opening any time soon for another grumpy editor so I best be moving on.
Everyone who knew me kept telling me that I'd be a natural teacher. The hours are great, the pay is good, insurance is better, so I kicked and screamed inside but sat quietly in the back of an accelerated teacher prep class. Turns out that I got my first job in a few months of graduation in my dream school, an urban middle school. I decided if I was going to teach, I was going to teach urban, Dangerous Minds style. LOL.
We all know how that ends up. My plan to stay three years turned into eight, a kid, a house near where I work, and a job I thought I wasn't for me turned out to be a calling. I fell in love with teaching. Teaching in an inner city school might be a dysfunctional relationship at times, taking way more then it's giving most days, but then I get a note or a kid who says "art is the only thing I like about school" and it's all good.
Most of you who read the blogs are starting out teachers looking for quick projects, something fun, a way to get through tomorrow, your professional life is overflowing with new ideas to try, problems to solve, systems to manage, I know because I was you! But after the newness wears off I bet you too will find something missing in your professional life. YOUR ART.
So here it is. The first thing I made in a long time. This story is not about someone who is quirky obsessed, or a fashionable, Edith Beale type character. It's a story about an amazing woman named Kathy Wyatt. I met Kathy at an Alternatives to Violence Workshop at grad school. When I heard her speak, I immediately wanted to know more. The documentary started with following bread crumbs of her story that I connected with. and together we worked to create this portrait, part her and part me. After spending time in prison for killing a man while high (vehicular homicide) Kathy (the main character) takes up writing (in a Wally Lamb prison workshop) and other artistic practices as part of her healing. In the process she uncovers the real reason she was masking her feelings with drugs and obsessive partying. Come to find out her pain was the same as mine, we all just deal with things in different ways. This is my first attempt at cutting together anything in a long time so please be kind:).
It's been a four months now since I've seen Kathy and I am started to miss her, just like I miss all the kids that leave my class (and there are lots.) People come and go out of our lives, but one thing is true, they all teach us something. This is what Kathy taught me.
Making Honey: the art of healing from Erica Beth Fedorovich Stinziani on Vimeo.