It’s been an extraordinary fall, and on a mid-October trip to the island of Vinalhaven, the color was truly intense. What came as a surprise was its reflection in the local school’s art room.
Children from kindergarten through twelfth grade attend Vinalhaven School, and they informed me that, “Everybody knows everybody here.” That’s what art instructor, Heather White, told me too, describing her first year in a new position. Heather, was a seasoned classroom teacher who spent most of her career educating third graders. At the end of six years and then three years later, there was a position in the school’s art department that had become available. “But I didn’t reach for the ring,” she told me. Fearful the first time around, when the job came up again, she went straight to the principal with her request.
Six years later, Heather described her first encounter with high school kids as daunting. With no preparation in art, she reached back to the relationships she’d built with her former third graders. That got her through her first year. The principal had trusted her. The superintendent had trusted her. Now she simply had to believe in and fortify herself.
Heather is a natural, and it’s unlikely that it was the four years of additional coursework required for art certification that made her a brilliant teacher. She got her real training “on the job,” juggling every subject with elementary school kids. I couldn’t miss her buoyancy, coupled with an her intuitive ability to notice and value the essence of every child. She quoted a fourth grader, unable to read, whom she’d had in class earlier that morning. “Look – it’s a leaf floating in the water!” Pointing out a veined golden specimen in a field of blue, Heather was ecstatic. She recognized her student’s unabashed courage.
After an hour’s exchange with her, as it neared 5 PM, it was clear what these two had in common. Passion. She energized the student and the student energized her.
I’m returning next spring for an extended visit/observation. Something remarkable is happening here, and I want to know more about it.
Nancy Harris Frohlich