Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Metamorphosis of an Educator

I am a butterfly emerging from her cocoon.  My life has been preparation for this point in my life.  Anyone who has spent time with me knows that God has blessed me with a creative spirit.  Since my youth I have been deeply mesmerized by the visual arts.  I would make collages out of beans for Christmas gifts.  Paper and old magazines were intricately cut to make elaborate wall art which I also gave away.  But Mama's sewing machine was most intriguing.  She taught me to use it.  I tried making clothes, but there were too many rules.  One day I saw a Kokopelli wall hanging in a craft magazine.  I followed the pattern and fell in love with art quilts.  I began sewing decorations for my dorm room and college apartment.  I gave mini-art quilts as gifts to friends. 

Ayo & Adisa, Ramona Dallum Lindsey, 1995
Then I discovered fabric sculpture.   While working as an assistant retail bank manager for PNC Bank, one of my favorite customers was a doll collector who owned a retail doll business.  One day she saw a picture of one of my fabric sculptures.   As fate would have it, she sold two of my art pieces.  This was the beginning and end of my career as a fabric artist.

A corporate career left me feeling empty, so I started a more soul-fulfilling career as a public school teacher.  My artistic endeavors were pushed to the end of my priority list.  However, I continuously infused my lessons with art.  These were the lessons that brought me my greatest joy.   They were also the lessons I found my students eagerly awaiting.   One of the least fulfilling years of my 12 year career was teaching sixth grade math, because  I couldn't consistently weave art into math. My creativity was stifled.

For many reasons, my first year teaching in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was undoubtedly the most challenging year of my educational career.  However, it became most challenging during the final months of school when rumors began circulating that 1,200 teachers would be laid-off.   I came to education from the corporate sector.  I knew well the old adage, "Last one in, first one fired."  I have an undergraduate degree in business administration.  I understand the strategy of cost-cutting to impact the bottom line, but I had never been considered the expendable one. 

ISAT testing had ended and it seemed to me that we were all barely holding it together waiting for the end of the year. My way of coping was to resort to my passion - fabric art. Nightly, I heard news reports of Chicago's youngest citizens being gunned down in the city's streets.  If the reports troubled me, I knew they were definitely on the minds of my students.   I gave my students the opportunity to write about their pain through poetry and taught them to illustrate their words using art quilts.  Two amazing quilts resulted from this effort.  They are the impetus for a movement  using quilting to raise awareness of the impact of violence and create a dialogue pushing for peace in our city.

In late August, CPS sent my pink slip.  I am a budget cutting causality.   I don't know if I will ever return to the classroom as a full-time, jack-of-all-things elementary teacher.  But I do know that my art will no longer take last place.  Today, I am a self-proclaimed artist educator.  I have metamorphosed into my true self.  My newly formed wings are taking shape to lift me to unimaginable heights.

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