I am an art teacher by nature. Some people get into art education because they are artists who want a regular job related to their field. Others teach art because they have a measure of talent in the field, but they are more educator than artist. I am one of those fortunate enough to be both educator and artist.
I love being an artist, and I love art. I have so many crazy and wonderful art history sagas memorized that make for great story telling — I am surrounded by art in my home and enjoy creating pieces with my wife regularly, as well as with our five children.
My wife stays home with our 1-year-old and works on her “Gypsy Bottles” on the side. We are an art family. By the same token, I am most assuredly an educator. I had the pleasure of being named Teacher of the Year at my previous school in Macon, Ga., and then going on to being in the top five of all of Bibb County. I have also had the pleasure of working with the State Department of Education as one of the writers of the new Georgia Performance Standards for the Fine Arts, Visual Art.
But more than this … teaching art, for me, is pure joy. On the average day I don’t even feel as if I have worked, as it is more like a dance when teaching is at its best. Students and I are in constant dialogue as we work, share, inspire and create together. I have had one simple rule and philosophy all of these years … to build relationships first! I treat EVERY student as a part of the human family and make sure that they understand the mutual respect that my classroom is about before we even get into content. This has resulted in zero behavior problems in 16 years of teaching. Whether it was in the inner city public school in Macon, the Montessori schools I have taught at or at Rome Middle School where I have been the most happy and content — I have found this philosophy to be spot on.
Something else I have included in that very simple philosophy and rule of practice is that when I make a mistake, I apologize for it as soon as possible. I can count on one hand how many times I have had to do this in teaching … but I have had to. I recall one young lady that I carelessly used sarcasm with one day and who put her head down and cried in my class. I vowed at that moment to always watch my words and to immediately make reparation for such. She easily forgave me, as most young people do, and told me later that I was her favorite teacher.
But now, I have made a mistake that’s magnitude is beyond a simple ask of pardon. Because of choosing to drink and drive, I have lost the opportunity to be a light in students’ lives, to learn and grow with them and to exemplify humanity to them by never judging them for any reason. I feel such remorse and deep sadness for this that words do not contain it … yet I have this one hope, that maybe there is one last lesson here for my students at Rome Middle School. I did not have the pleasure to tell them this in person, as I was asked to resign immediately, so here it is:
Teaching art is my passion. It is as natural to me as walking. This is the thing that I am supposed to do, my true will, my purpose — and I gambled it by my stupid mistake. I have always taught my students to find their purpose and do that to their best ability… now I add this; never do anything that would put your passion at risk and NEVER, EVER take other lives for granted and choose to drink and drive!
To all of my previous students and parents, I am so incredibly sorry for being such a poor role model in this way. Please forgive me and remember the good! I have loved having the privilege and honor of being able to teach middle schoolers these past six years at RMS. I truly feel like I understand their precarious and curious age. I wish I could take this back and have my hands stained with charcoal and pastels and my soul content that I was doing some good in this world. I am sorry.