I throw my hands in the air, and do a short, ridiculous dance. “It’s Friday!” I exclaim, and I walk out of the office and into my sanctuary. I leave the lights off and sit at my desk, black coffee steaming in front of me.
Something about this month is off —not only for me, but for my kids as well. My moods fluctuate. Some days I’m all in; some days it feels impossible to not yell at the very top of my lungs. I blame it on the full moon, the time change, the rain, Mercury in retrograde, my kids benchmarking.
Anything other than myself. Shame on me.
We needed to switch things up. We needed a new perspective. I needed it. It’s Friday the 13th. Perfect.
First period strolls in. I read out my visual journal prompts. The first prompt someone has deemed The Rebel’s Manifesto. It’s a bit risky, I know, encouraging kids to think for themselves, but we have become like gears in a machine. Only grinding forward. I don’t want to be well-oiled; sometimes you just need to toss a wrench and see where it lands.
It started with one senior. She was the only one in first period who took it to heart. “I want to steal two visual journal pages, but I feel like I can’t do that.” I hand her mine. She shakes her head no. “No way, Ms. Mockett. I can’t just rip pages out of your book.”
“Yes, you can. Go for it.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
I shove the book at her, a mischievous smile on my face. “Do it, or I’ll give you a zero.” I would never in a million years, of course. But it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to see where she went with it.
“Okay. Okay, fine.”
She spends over half the period debating which pages to steal. Ayanna looks up at me, her eyes wide. “Okay… so I just rip them out?”
“Yes.” I’m grinning like an idiot.
“Mocketttttttt,” she whines.
“Just rip it! Just do it!”
She gently pulls at the page and tugs it away from the spine. It’s a tough book. I’ve had it seven years. It’s been through hell and back.
“Little meaner than that, Ayanna.”
She pauses, takes a deep breath. “Okay. I’m ripping it. I’m doing it.” And she does. She walks away with two pages, one from my senior year of high school, the other from my third month teaching. I am beaming. She has appropriated my work, my thoughts, and is now rebirthing them and giving them a new life in an artwork of her own. It’s pure magic.
Second period comes in. I read the manifesto. Huge, devious grins take their mouths. By the end of class I have three new mini murals on my wall; my desk is rearranged; we sign a ceiling tile, and a petition for LGBT couples to run for prom king and queen is being passed and signed. A huge surge of inspiration, caused by the thoughts and actions of others, is reverberating in my classroom. And we were the source of it.
It is hard work being the art teacher. We are often dismissed in meetings involving student performance; people are sometimes mistaken in thinking that art doesn’t count. Several of my students display a stronger understanding in art than they do in their core classes. It is frustrating to see their talent with ceramics or graphite ignored because “that doesn’t matter.” It is a balance; your child is required to take a fine arts elective for a reason, just as they have to take gym and a foreign language. And just like every other teacher that offers a course, art educators go through to same process to become certified and eligible to teach. We do count, and in a huge way. But we also get a magnificent gift other teachers may never have the time to experience: seeing your child in a relaxed and creative environment, capable of talking, listening to music, and working through a process at their own pace. We are the safe haven for your child; the outlet in which students can channel frustration and stress; a place they are accepted, fought for, and protected; a human being, known by name and never seen as a number; a room in which they have a voice but never are forced to use it.
They are given new materials in which they can explore a million ways to document their experiences as a person. They are artists, critical thinkers, explorers, and wanderers. They are welcomed and they are mine.
If that is the result of rebellion, perhaps there should be a little more rebel in us all.
Kaitlynn Mockett is a first-year art instructor at Alcovy High School. She graduated from UGA in 2014. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org