By Abi Paytoe Gbayee
As art teachers, we many times find ourselves as the only art educator in our building or even in our district.. When you add being a TAB teacher on top of that, it can be really lonely. I taught for 12 years in a district with 20 other art educators, and as the only TAB teacher in the district, I felt out of place at inservices or professional developments. It is not to say that my district didn’t have amazing art educators, but some of our fundamental beliefs about why and how we teach art didn’t align. Even as I moved into a new district, and now have an art teacher partner in the building, he and I have come to realize and accept that our teaching beliefs and goals are very different. Recognizing these core differences has helped me realize that if I wanted to have a network of support, especially around TAB, I was going to have to find it myself.
In my search to connect with other art educators, I attended other state’s art education association conferences, as well as the TAB Colorado conferences. I am grateful to have connected with Bean Cummings, whom I met going to conferences together. We eventually became conference roommates and ultimately great friends. Bean and I realized that we both felt alone in our districts; moreover we realized we shared a core belief that the students are the artists, and our classrooms should be their studios. Over the past few years we started meeting towards the end of summer in person for a full day, and laying out a general plan for our year. We were not teaching the same thing, but we were in a common space with the common goal of helping students see themselves as the artists. We bounced ideas off of each other, which significantly improved my confidence in my teaching and what was occurring in my classroom. Talking with Bean helped to alleviate the feeling that I was messing things up or doing TAB “wrong”. As we were planning to meet this summer, Bean let me know that she had invited another TAB teacher, Elizabeth Castor, to plan with us, and we became a small group.
Elizabeth, Bean, and I now meet twice a month, set intentions for ourselves, and make the time meaningful for each of us. For example, I set an intention to use my planning periods effectively, and not blow it by extending my lunch period. To the casual observer, it might sometimes seem like we are just visiting or hanging out virtually – which we are – but we are also pushing ourselves to improve our practices. We ask each other clarifying questions, give each other advice, and work to provide solutions for all sorts of problems which arise in each of our contexts. I am a better teacher, and I am specifically a better TAB teacher because I have found a community of like-minded TAB teachers with whom I can engage in reflective practices. My students receive better support and guidance from me when I know I also have support and guidance from my colleagues.
I know teaching art can be lonely, I know teaching TAB can be lonely. I would encourage any TAB educator to reach out to other TAB folks. Be brave, put yourself out there.
- Check out your state art education association, many conferences are offering more TAB and Choice workshops,
- Look for TAB workshops and conferences
- Join the Mighty Networks TAB group via the TAB website
- Look for people who are wanting to have deeper conversations about their practice
- Message or email other TAB teachers — we are a pretty friendly group and love to connect
Most importantly, make time in your schedule to be intentional about connecting with other art educators. Intentions without actions don’t get very far, so be intentional about growing your TAB community, make a plan, and go for it. For me, my little TAB community makes all the difference between feeling like I am an island or silo, and feeling connected to and a part of a bigger movement.