Tap into your artistic side on the first Friday of every month. We showcase Arizona art educators committed to making a difference.
When students at Colonel Smith Middle School in Fort Huachuca, Arizona make their way to art class, they’re not forced to swing open a heavy, closed door. Instead, the Art Integration Specialist, Kristine Blocker, welcomes the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders with a warm, genuine smile.
While the gesture may seem small, the Ohio-born teacher says there’s no better way to start the hour.
“I greet my students at the door with a smile to make sure they’re going to get off to a great start. They typically have a bell work assignment that gets them thinking about art immediately, but I think it makes a huge difference if you start your class by welcoming them. This way, they’re self-directed from the minute they walk in the door,” Blocker says.
Although she’s been living in Southern Arizona for more than a decade, the Miami University alumna has moved around the country. As an army wife, Blocker admits she’s grateful to have remained a middle school art educator throughout her career in the field.
“I knew since seventh grade that I wanted to be an art teacher,” she admits. “I had such a tough time in middle school, as do many students, because it’s such a time of transition.”
Despite her challenges, Blocker attributes her career choice to the wonderful teachers she had growing up. She works to inspire her students, providing them with new outlets of self-expression to combat the teenage woes. To do so, she incorporates more writing into what students are learning because, “when they can write about what they’re drawing, you can learn so much more about them.”
Before coming to Colonel Smith Middle School, the National Board candidate worked in Sierra Vista for nine years. During that time, Blocker says she watched education change before her own eyes.
“They started taking away the arts and even recess. This removed opportunities for students to work together on the playground. It was unbelievably discouraging, but it seems to be coming back,” she says. “We appear to go through cycles in the United States and people realize these things, like art, are important. Fortunately, there are tons of ways art can transfer into the core classroom.”
For schools where formal art is no longer an option, Blocker reminds teachers that art integration can be simple. In fact, she believes most educators are already doing it. Better yet, she stresses that when teachers work together, they can do amazing things, even without an art specialist in the school.
But when times get tough and circumstances get overwhelming, Blocker says it’s important to cling to the small victories and meaningful moments.
“When I was teaching in Sierra Vista, I had a kindergartner walk up and say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be an art teacher and a music teacher.’ I thought it was so precious. There are so many things that happen with the kids that make me feel proud of what I do.”
She acknowledges that this time of year, when burnout hits, many educators are left doubting themselves. Again, she urges colleagues to focus on the students for inspiration.
“Recently, one of my eighth-graders left a sticky note with a piece of chocolate on my desk that said, ‘You’re my favorite teacher.’ It’s the little things that make your practice worthwhile,” she says.
It looks like Blocker’s determination to help students find self-expression is working after all.
Looking for a professional learning opportunity that will tap into your artistic side of the brain? Register now for the Art of Making: CREATE, Play, and Engineer in the World of STEAM on July 10-13 in Phoenix.