By Kaitlyn E. Hay
Visual Arts Teacher
Beauvoir, the National Cathedral Elementary School

I have the greatest job. In fact, the word “job” seems to misrepresent how truly great it is. For me, teaching visual art at Beauvoir, the National Cathedral Elementary School, is much more than just a source of income and employment. Teaching at Beauvoir is about building teacher-student relationships in which those labels are fluid. My third grade artists are often opening my eyes to new ways of interpreting a prompt in their art, and my first grader’s wide-eyed wonder at a new material or technique renews my love of the medium. Beyond our exploration of art, we are also learning and teaching one another about what it is to be kind, generous individuals, who respect one another’s identity and creative expression.
Teaching visual art allows for many opportunities to explore identity, emotions, spirituality, and topics beyond the physical here and now. Whether our context for a project be a particular artist or theme such as virtues, I try to give students the think-time and space to ask questions and make connections to what they are seeing and hearing in my introductory presentations. While learning to use new art materials responsibly and following directions is critical to each student’s success in the art room, I aspire to make space in each session for discussion and reflection. Young children are curious observers and insightful thinkers that thirst for explanation and information. The early years are the prime time to explore with children and have them begin to develop an open-minded appreciation for the variety, mystery and beauty in our world.
This year, first graders did a portraiture project using oil pastels. We explored what colors can be used together to build contrast and how different textures can be achieved by blending and smudging the pastel. The second session of this project began with a discussion of various virtues, some were familiar words to us and some we had to unpack. What is humility? What is gratitude? What is diligence? What is gentleness? Our discussion of these words and how they can be shown in our actions brought about earnest and engaged conversation from these young learners. In the third session, students were asked to select two virtues to incorporate into the background of their pastel picture-- a virtue that the student felt they embody currently and one that they are working on. We concluded this project with a critique in which we talk about the part of our work we are most proud of, and students can make a respectful observation about someone else’s finished piece. Critiques provide a structured format for which to share our work and be known to our peers, build pride in our growing skills as artists, receive and give respectful feedback, and allows students (myself included) to build appreciation for each creative mind in our community.
Teaching art at an Episcopal school allows for the opportunity to use student art in the service of our spiritual work, namely by providing illustrations for Chapel programs and decorations for the altar. Reverend Claudia Tielking and I have collaborated on several projects based on the message of each Chapel service over the course of the year. I see this as a way for students to build confidence in themselves as artists. When they see their work published or displayed in a place of honor, their skill and creative power is affirmed and appreciated. It is also a chance for students to see how their skill can be used to benefit others, to teach others, to make others see the beauty in our world, and to heal. I constantly encourage students to continue making art outside of their art time-- to draw, to tinker, to build, to sew, to craft. A possible extension of these creative practices may be to give that art to someone in need, to make a get well card or a thank you card. To make a vibrant welcome sign or draw a funny cartoon for someone who is feeling sad and just needs a laugh. Art and creativity are powerful tools to make our world better and brighter. They go hand in hand with our capacity for empathy, generosity, and love. My hope for my students when they move on from Beauvoir is that they always think of themselves as artists with creative powers, that they respect the creative identities of others, and they channel their creativity in ways that strengthens and serves their community.