I was an art student today, but I have to admit it wasn’t entirely by choice.
Just like any teacher at this time of year, I’ve been feeling the pressure of work. Conferences have been well underway, I’m getting to know a new bunch of kiddos, and the general pressures of being on-demand all day are palpable. I leave daily feeling fulfilled, yet exhausted, meanwhile managing the number of projects we, as teachers, take on to better our students and our curriculum.
And today, when I was sitting in the room adjacent to my classroom, working on one of these projects while my students were with the art teacher, one of my students walked through the door telling me they needed a break. I spoke with him, diverting my attention from my work to speak with him. It became clear that the art teacher needed some extra support, so I decided to participate in the art class with the kids. They were working on mandalas, an artistic form praised by eastern cultures, filled with symbolism and beautiful designs. Fortunately for me, when I had entered the classroom with my student, the class was at the point where the creation was about to begin.
“You mind if I make one?” I asked the art teacher.
“Of course!” she replied.
I sat down next to my student, watching while the student’s white pencil began etching lines against the black paper. I noticed numerous sets of parallel lines that intersected with each other, creating a sort of cross-hatch design. I followed suit, skewing the lines in a different way, meanwhile beginning to create my own pattern. As I continued, I retrospectively invested meaning into my intersecting lines in the form of structure–something I value immensely and something that provides safety in my life. But then I began to think: What do I want my art to say about me?
Do I want it to only say that I am structured? Or is there more to me than that?
I began to draw hearts, because I wanted to communicate a message of love–its diversity, its freedom, its spontaneity, its openness. The student with whom I had entered the room–now sitting next to me–turned towards me.
“You should add some color,” the student said, pointing towards his mandala, showing me the blend of colors that had mixed to create a rather chaotic, but beautiful and unique picture.
“Good idea,” I replied.
Slowly, but surely, I began to add color, taking suggestions from the student, but meanwhile putting my own spin on my mandala.
The end product of this art piece didn’t actually come to fruition in the way I intended it. In fact, it was radically different. Instead, throughout the course of the process, my mind wandered, I searched around to other drawings, and I gathered more inspiration from the people and things that were important to me.
Slowly but surely, the experiences around me and the things that were important to me wound themselves into my artwork. This piece of artwork, however, would not have become what it did if not for the people around me that inspired it.
And those people were my students.
When I finished, I had created a mandala that represented my view of love–freeing, limitless, colorful, and conducive to growth, meanwhile lying on a foundation built by ourselves and the people in my life. Better yet, this product I had created wasn’t necessarily the result of planning or intention; instead, it was the result of inspiration, critical thought, and collaboration. I remembered for a moment that while planning and intention is critical to being a person and a teacher, taking time to allow yourself to be inspired is just as important.
It’s easy to get caught up in the work when you’re a teacher. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, not because the planning and structure is bad or unnecessary, but because we care so much. We want our kids to succeed, and we want to put every structure in place to make our kids successful.
But every so often, it’s important to take a step back, take a break, and let the children inspire you.