The art teacher education program within the Wonsook Kim School of Art focuses on realistic experiences in the field to help their teacher candidates grow as educators and to teach them the importance of giving back to the community.
For the past 30 years, students enrolled in ART 309: Professional Art Education Sequence have spent five Saturdays each semester hosting art classes for children in Bloomington-Normal. However, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this year was a little different. Instead of in-person classes, the lessons were taught online.
“It was a really cool experience seeing our teacher candidates as well as their students rising to the occasion and the challenge despite the changes and just running with it,” said ART 309 instructor Katie Barko, M.S. ’19.
Over 60 children registered for the five-week virtual program that ran from September 19 to October 17. The participants received a packet of art supplies prepared by ART 309 instructors and hopped on Zoom every Saturday morning for a new art project planned by student teacher candidates.
“Our teacher candidates create various lesson plans based on seeing artwork as a way to have a dialogue with the world, no matter how young. So there’s an art appreciation aspect, and it’s not just having the students ‘follow what the teacher does,’” said Professor of Art Education Dr. Judith Briggs.
Moving the courses online enabled the program to expand its reach. Before the pandemic, a vast majority of the participants were from Central Illinois. However, during this past session of virtual courses, children from Texas, Los Angeles, and as far away as Lagos, Nigeria, registered.
“The possibilities with online teaching are kind of endless,” said Barko. “Pushing our students to teach these online classes is really going to serve them because this year is an indicator of where we’re headed in the future with virtual classrooms and being flexible with teaching in-person and online, all while still engaging with the community.”
Twenty-nine seniors enrolled in ART 309 this semester. They were broken up among different age groups of three or four children each. Students in kindergarten through third grade attended 30-minute sessions, third through fifth grades had 45-minute sessions, and sixth through eighth grades sat for hourlong sessions. The teacher candidates then switched grade levels three weeks into the program so they would gain experience teaching each group of children.
Each class had an overarching theme—identity, memory, sustainability, diversity—and the lessons that were taught took an open-minded perspective rather than only teaching one side.
“We look at art with a global perspective and teach artists who are living and breathing, and who come from different backgrounds, countries, and communities,” said Barko.
Students in the program worked on a diverse set of art projects. They depicted local superheroes, used photography, and created posters for social change.
“Almost all of our classes were about social issues, and all of our teacher candidates included artists of color in their lessons,” said Briggs.
ART 309 is a consecutive two-semester course, with a focus on elementary and middle-grade art in the fall, and high school art in the spring. This is important because upon graduating from the University, students will be equipped with a K-12 teaching certification and must be prepared to teach any of those grades.
As a result, these Saturday elementary and middle school art classes are held only during the first semester of the school year. In the spring Briggs and Barko plan to host the Heart of Illinois Conference (HOIC), which will most likely follow a similar format to previous years but in an online modality.
“HOIC involves high schools in the area, and has students come to the University for a day where they take two different art classes and participate in workshops with our student teacher candidates,” said Barko. “They get to tour the school and view some presentations by faculty members, allowing those students to see if our program is something they’re interested in.”
Barko recognizes what she believes sets Illinois State University apart from other art teacher education programs and the reasons why she chose to attend Illinois State for her master’s degree in art education.
“ISU’s Art Education program is like a family. Our staff really cares about our students, and it’s not just about checking boxes or getting a grade,” said Barko. “Our program is unique because we put mental health at the forefront. We focus on the community, and we emphasize the practice of teaching and not just the theory of it. We really prepare our teacher candidates for the classroom by providing them with the experience and connections they need.”
Apply now for fall 2021.