Editor’s Note: We spoke with Christine Broyles, an art and science teacher at L.A. Ainger Middle School to learn about her experience teaching art. Christine has been teaching more than 37 years and she graduated from USF with a double major in Fine Arts and Arts Education with a minor in Science. She was honored as Teacher of the Year in 1999 for Charlotte County Public Schools. The piece of art associated with this interview was created by one of Christine’s students Alan Schleden.
Why are the visual arts important to middle school students and how can art expression and appreciation enhance their life experiences? The Arts incorporate every subject taught in school as well as life skills like patience, responsibility, empathy, quality workmanship and completing tasks. Students learn to express themselves in art class. Expression is important as it helps them understand their lives and the world around them. Each child can vent and tactfully give their point of view and every answer has value. Art class makes students work together and appreciate each other’s ideas. Sharing responsibilities, supporting each other, clean up, and cooperation all come into play in the art room and in life.
What do you enjoy and love about teaching art?
Art is a kaleidoscope of colors, tools, techniques and serendipitous actions that are ever-changing. My students are unique. They are a testament of life with their fresh ideas and a willingness to think outside the box as they surprise me with their insights and creative expressions.
Is artistic talent innate or can it be developed?
A lot of art can be developed. We learn what works or doesn’t work through experimentation. The experience of doing is related to art; coloring, building, taking things apart and putting them together, and exploring what tools and different media can do improves art skills. Art also helps us see things differently.
Is the talent obvious or do you occasionally get surprised by a student’s development?
Some children have good basic skills, ideas and techniques that they’ve developed early. Other students have little exposure to art so everything they are learning is a new experience. My opportunity as a teacher is to help them to see differently and break objects down into simple shapes. This helps them open their mind which leads to improvement and personal fulfillment.
What’s your basic approach to art education?
Art education is based on the discipline of art including history and the elements and principles of art and design. I expose students to artistic styles, various media and techniques, and use a variety of tools that provide creative freedom with minimal requirements. I teach students to look at the details and imagine the ideas visually in their mind. I teach them to define the positive and negative space, search for patterns, and simplify shapes, forms, and textures that are the building blocks of creative design.
Is the curriculum focused on different forms of art?
I focus on teaching students to see differently. I help them understand how to use different media to achieve the full scope of their ideas. I also help them express what they are trying to depict or explain in their artwork. We work on observation skills, color theory, creating a sense of space, techniques and styles of art.
What are some of the issues involved in teaching art to middle school students?
Students want instant gratification today. Keeping children interested in a project that takes more than a class period can be tough. Teaching student’s patience is a top priority because it takes time to produce quality projects and they need to see that their investment is worth the effort.
Is it difficult to pay for art materials?
For the past ten years, I have used Artsonia.com for funding my program. This webpage allows students to upload their artwork for purchase and a percentage of that purchase goes back to the classroom. Donations from the local community and local artists like Carroll Swayze have helped with costs. The State of Florida gives teachers LEAD monies to help defray expenses that teachers put out. I buy supplies too. Thanks to a referendum in Charlotte County this past year that provided some funding for the arts, I have a budget for art supplies for the first time in my career! All teachers appreciate the vital support we receive from local parents.
How do you respond to students that are ambivalent about art?
My goal is to help them become interested in trying techniques that can lead to a sense of progress and success. Helping a student create something new builds trust. This can lead to a student taking more risks to try new things. Each child has ideas based on their life experiences. Being thoughtful about their point of view fosters trust, and that can transform an ambivalent student into an art student.
How are you associated with the Englewood Art Center?
I took art classes with Helen Bell in the early 1970’s at EAC through their youth program and I loved the experience. Now, for the past couple of years, I’ve been teaching art to middle and high school students every other Saturday during the school year and Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer. It’s been a pleasure working for the EAC. The staff is helpful and that includes ordering materials quickly that support the youth program. I also appreciate my independence to plan out the various classes.