A Week in the Life: Elementary Visual Art Teacher

30 classes a week, 40 minutes each, reaching 472 children in grades K-5 between 2 schools, all in a 4 day rotation – that is the challenging week in the life of visual art teacher Sarah Locke-Mountin. New York State mandates that visual art be taught once a week in elementary school. In order to meet the challenge of this schedule, the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) visual arts teachers master planning and materials preparation so that students can be empowered with the skills and knowledge of the visual world. The visual arts classroom is a place of project-based learning, where students can use all parts of their brain to first understand visual concepts, develop the confidence to try them out and then synthesize the knowledge to create their individual work. Sarah Locke-Mountin states, “There is nothing more that excites me than hearing students speak art language.”

One Cayuga Heights Elementary (CHES) Grade 4 etching project first dealt with concepts of composition, foreground, background, value, shape, form, and shading, then moved into manipulation of tools to learn hatching, cross-hatching and stipling. Finally, students synthesized these skills to create an individual winter world in the shape of a snow globe. Sarah noted that grappling with content first then materials makes each student’s work stronger and their “seeing” richer. Student comments like, “that was hard, but I did it”, demonstrates that students are fueled and furthered by knowledge and application of those skills.

Each art unit goes from one big idea to the next, and often intersects with big ideas tackled in the general classroom, for example, the exploration of community, rural and urban, in grades 2 and 3. This year Sarah Locke-Mountin’s CHES fourth graders extended their science study of trout, a Floating Classroom collaboration, and made trout prints. This work lead to further study of local geography and the creation of a 14 foot waterfall mural, guided by artist Mary Beth Ihnken. A plain white-walled stairwell in the school became the spot for a permanent teaching tool of “Ithaca is Gorges”, all made possible by an Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) Red and Gold Grant. Sarah is grateful for this opportunity to connect the learning in other classrooms and display it through art. Sarah, and all her visual arts teacher colleagues, see every child in their buildings and build relationships with children over their elementary school years.

Ithaca City School District’s philosophy of visual arts education helps students discover visual knowing.

“Art education is essential to the education of each individual as a complex and unique human being and as a singular but connected part of a larger whole.

Through the arts, students will experience, practice and recognize the visual process as a way of knowing the world and understanding their own individual learning process. Art offers students the opportunity for self-expression, to communicate in a visual, universal language and to make connections across cultures, across time and across disciplines. Art encourages the principle of life-long learning by developing creative pathways and attitudes of experimentation. It allows for ongoing personal reflection and assessment through the act of discovery within the creative process.

Art education provides experiences in problem solving, decision-making, risk-taking, critical, intuitive and divergent thinking. The process of creating art encourages and demands diverse outcomes and provides the world with creative, innovative thinking in all fields of study. We value uniqueness of the individual and believe that students should develop their own vision while learning about and accepting individual differences and the way that people perceive, respond and comprehend their own world.”

The Fine Arts Booster Group thanks all of our visual arts teachers!