Life, Art and Inequities

I’m an art teacher. I teach art to over 600 students — from grades K to 5 — in one week’s time.  Two schools.  It’s not a job for the weak of heart, nor the slacker, nor the person who detests change.

Change. There, I’ve said it. I’ve always embraced the opportunity for new horizons.  Being the quintessential optimist, I always expect the best wherever change is concerned.  Except when it is not.

I’m talking about a change in scenery.  I teach in two elementary schools — for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them School A and School B — with my awesome team-mates: Mr. Music and Mr. P.E.  We are a unit and have been for the past 6 years. I love them like family. Just this summer, we learned via standard email that our team would be moving from to School A to begin teaching our subject areas at NewSchool X . I’ll explain why it’s not a positive change–at least from my vantage point at this moment in time.

Gather ’round children, for a true story about life, inequity, and the inanity of decisions made by officials whose job it is to protect and nurture…

At School A, Mr. Music worked like a true professional, creating a student chorus, staging events that, with admission charged, allowed him to purchase thousands of dollars of music equipment for students at School A.

Same with Mr. P.E. He faithfully sought his money-raising challenges in a worthy cause:  Jump Rope for Heart.  A cool event with lots of jumping stations for energetic kids.  He, too, earned a good deal of money to purchase goodies for his little athletes.

Now Mrs. Arty, the art teacher (who doesn’t love most school-type fundraisers) saw her money-raising challenge in a contest.  A national contest.  It involved the layout and design of a t-shirt for a national retailer, and it was open to students 1st grade through 5th grade. Mrs. Arty (If you haven’t figured out yet, that would be me) relished this chance to earn money for her little artists.  And, with her background firmly planted in graphic art and design… she saw this as a no-brainer.  And a no-miss opportunity.  Besides, the payoff would be significant!  There would be only one Grand Prize winner from each grade level.  The winner would be awarded a $500.00 gift card, and the winner’s school would win $5,000.00! Other perks would be a special presentation with Aeropostale bigwigs, a t-shirt for all of the classmates of the winner, then 50 more t-shirts with the student’s winning design for friends and family.

Mrs. Arty spent several weeks coaxing the nearly-600 students toward excellence. She taught design in the stages of concept, thumbnail sketches, rough design, then finished product.  She made sure all the parental forms were signed and dated, and took the necessary steps to organize and send 489 entries from both School A and School B to Aeropostale, Inc. Mrs. Arty and her students waited; held their collective breath until the day the winners were announced. It was mid-February.

Mrs. Arty was called to the office one fateful day to speak to Aeropostale corporate. She did not wonder if there were a winner, she only wondered who that winner would be! She listened to a congratulatory hello, and was told that out of only 100 entries nationwide — that School B had 9 finalists! School A had a total of 12 finalists, and……. THE WINNER.

The winning t-shirt design by a first grade art student of mine.
The winning t-shirt design by a first grade art student of mine.

A sweet, dimple-faced little first grader nailed the top prize in her grade level! She got her gift card, a huge school-wide celebration with balloons, Aeropostale officials and local media buzzing about… And School A was given a check for $5,000. Hurray for ART!  What a wonderful day!


Mrs. Arty found out soon after that “since the check was written out to School A”, that the money should be dispersed amidst all the classroom teachers, meaning that Art would maybe get a little of that money too. (Yes, you read that correctly). Mrs. Arty asked if she could attend School A’s School Improvement Team (S.I.T.) to address the matter. The S.I.T. voted to put their decision on hold, but first requested that Mrs. Arty work up a formal document stating exactly how she would spend all that money for art.  She was told that each grade level’s “state standard” had to be noted, with explicit lesson plans to describe the activity, then all this should be linked to a spreadsheet/supplies list noting supplies, quantities, costs, vendors… It was a 17-page document, complete with detailed lesson plans, colorful examples and a “to the penny” roundup of monies for those 5 grade levels.

The Verdict was finally reached: it was a unanimous decision that the money be used solely for the Art program.  Justice at last you say?


That money–which was to be spent for the 2015-2016 school year–will be available to School A’s  new art teacher, because (as it should be) that money was earned by a School A first-grader. Mrs. Arty fully understands that the $5,000.00 belongs to that school, and bears no ill will at all toward the new art teacher.  It’s the system that gives her cause for consternation.

As the current art teacher for NewSchool X, Mrs. Arty has surveyed the so-called art supplies at that school ruefully, and declares most of those supplies used, old, and basically embarrassing. How many toilet paper rolls does an art program need anyway? Small consolation that the school system allows $500.00 dollars to spend on 300 students for the entire year. Mr. P.E. and Mr. Music face the same dilemma.  So much heart put into an effort… so much left behind.

A couple of favorite T-shirt designs:

A favorite contest entry, 2nd gradeA favorite contest entry, 3rd grade

“I’m sorry, children, that there is not a more positive end to this tale.  I guess the best I can say about it all is that “Life happens”, “Life isn’t always fair”, and “You don’t always get what you earn.”

Today was a normal back-to-school Monday kind of day.  Although I’m looking forward to meeting both students and staff at New SchoolX, I’m going to miss those School A kids. I’ve formed some pretty tight bonds with them, not to mention several teacher friends I’ve grown very close to. Leaving a school is like leaving an entire family… as gut-wrenching as a divorce. I’m trying to deal with the change as best as possible. I find that in my 19-mile journey to my 2 schools, there is a daily piece of roadside beauty that gives me solace. Even in the midst of winter or in gray, rainy weather, this spot represents hope and brighter horizons. Even on a day full of trepidation, doubt and reflection… I’m not giving up.

Roadside solace.
Roadside solace.

4 thoughts on “Life, Art and Inequities

  1. Oh Dottie, How my heart hurts for you!!! And the other two teachers (PE & Music) ! Sometimes life is so unfair!!!! I’m just really sorry that YOU had to be the recipient of such injustice. Similiar things happened to me when I was working! It wasn’t the proverbial “pat on the back” I wanted. However, I did want to see the fruit of my harvest. You are such a wonderful person. God Bless!!! Susan

    1. Susan, you’ve nailed it. An occasional pat on that back is what employees need to excel. A little encouragement goes a long way! Constant non-recognition promotes lethargy…. Thanks for the commiseration and the backup! It means the world to me!

  2. Sorry this happened. You deserve better. So do your students. But knowing you as well as I do you will find a way to provide for your new family. I know your will power. you amaze me MRS ARTY!! Aka.. Awesome lady

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s