Stephanie Bevins, Elementary School Art Teacher
Teacher at Westmoreland Central School, Westmoreland, NY
Graduated: Class of 2009
Major: Art Education
Home Town: Clayville, NY
Stephanie, you've been teaching pre-K up to 4th grade Art, is this the age group you originally wanted to teach?
I had always known I wanted to teach in an elementary setting. I love the age group and I had great experiences in my middle school and high school placements. When I applied for jobs I applied for any and all levels, but the elementary age was always my favored age group.
Was the first day in the classroom a shock or did you feel that you were prepared for it?
The first day in the classroom was great. I felt completely prepared and really wasn't too nervous. I had been working in my room for about a week and a half before school began and set everything up and so starting the year felt very natural.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I love the discoveries and commentary the students make. Hearing them talk about mixing a new color or learning that red and yellow can make a variety of different oranges for example is thrilling. They are so excited and truly amazed at the simple things that many of us take for granted. I get a glimpse into their minds which are free of doubt like "I can't draw" or "I can't make art" and they see something as simple as a square of tissue paper as a super hero as they glue it down to the paper. Their imaginations are inspiring to me and the openness of their thinking makes each day so much fun.
Tell us about your student teaching experiences.
I had three great field work placements where I observed and learned so much about classroom management. I had observations in upstate (Clinton Elementary and High School) and in Brooklyn. My student teaching was at P.S. 154 with Kelly Normand. It was such a wonderful experience. I learned a great deal about blending literacy and art and using literature as a way to excite the students about a project or introduce the content of a lesson. I start many lessons with stories or books as well as have students write a poem to go along with their work or do short written critiques. I have incorporated a little bit from each placement into my teaching now.
What's your favorite success story?
I introduced my third graders to paper mache last year. Most of the students had never heard of it and it was totally thrilling for some to touch it, while others were grossed-out. It was funny to hear them "eww" and "ugh" while they worked but you could tell they were having fun. I had one student in particular that was having a meltdown and thought he couldn't do the project (which was making a Russian stacking doll). He was almost in tears and was very frustrated. I worked with him for a minute and as he laid his first strip of newspaper on his doll form I said, "There, you did it, you're a natural!" The student couldn't believe that it was that simple and I saw it register that he really could do it, he said, "really? that's it?"
Any horror stories?
I had forgotten to clean out those same paper mache buckets and left them over the weekend. When I came back on Monday and went to wash them out, I opened them up and they reeked! The paper mache had gone bad and it smelled horrible. The smell not only made my room stink, but the entire school stank too. The teachers and students were plugging their noses and it was just awful! The smell cleared out of the halls by the end of the day but it took a good three or four days for my room to get back to normal.
Do you feel that you got a wider range of experience going through Pratt as compared to, say getting your degree at a state school or community college?
I feel that I received maybe not a wider range of experiences, but a higher quality of those experiences by going to Pratt. I feel the teachers at Pratt have credentials that many state schools or community colleges wouldn't have. Many of the teachers still work in the field they teach, especially those in fine arts and have worked on and continue to work on projects in the mainstream art world. I also feel the fact that the art education department stands to make us "artist teachers" instead of just "teachers of art" made me a much better teacher.
The focus on contemporary art was a benefit I don't think all colleges have either. Pratt really focuses on bringing contemporary working artists into the lives of the students. It's one thing to learn about Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but bringing artists whose work reflects the world our students live in now makes art much more tangible and real to them. Using the museums was a great tool as well and having the ability to get in for free to all the museums in the city was great. I have no doubts, and tell others, that Pratt made me a better teacher than any other school could have.
So what do you do with your summers off?
I'm a figure skating coach for the Skating Club of New Hartford and coach all year round. During the summer I am usually at the rink about 3 days a week. Besides that, I try to travel a bit, even if it is only back to New York City for a week or weekend. This summer I also taught a Foundations class in PrattMWP's Pre-College summer program for High School students.
How do you feel that PrattMWP prepared you for all of this?
I think they made it easy for me to begin in an art field of any kind. The small classes and knowledgeable teachers really allowed my skills to grow immensely. I had a pretty shaky art experience in high school as I was preparing for college so I was nervous and my skills weren't the best, but I feel the scheduling and professors and staff made it an easy adjustment into the demanding nature of my degree. The art education classes also made me realize I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.