Diane Heath of Rochester Hills, Michigan, has had a great year. Diane works at Stoney Creek High School where she’s an art teacher. This year her students include Portfolio Gold and Gold Medal winners, and her own children are Scholastic Award winners as well!
In the following interview by Alliance Staffer Lisa Feder-Feitel, Diane shares her experience and advice.
What subject do you teach? How many years have you been teaching?
I teach advanced placement studio art, advanced drawing and painting, advanced photography, photography, draw/paint, and 2D exploration. I have been teaching for 27 years so far.
How do you use the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program in your classroom?
I encourage all of my students to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. My seniors focus on developing a body of work in the first semester for the portfolio submission. We discuss personal voice and originality for these portfolios. We have four art teachers here and they all participate. We had 158 pieces in this year’s regional show, and 31 Gold Key awards and 10 Gold Key portfolios on the national level. The exhibit is held at the College for Creative Studies where they hold an amazing awards ceremony. The students feel very special as the college really goes all out for them.
Can you describe the impact the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has had on some of your students, or yourself as an educator?
Recognition by the Awards at the regional and especially on the national level assures students that they are indeed artists. This validation by an outside expert is extremely valuable. One student took the time to write me a note following the regional Scholastic Awards exhibit in Detroit. She said, “ If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have entered the Awards and found out other people appreciate my work, which was such an amazing feeling.” To have a professional judge and acknowledge their work is priceless. This affirmation has, on many occasions, given a student the extra push necessary to believe they can be successful in an arts career.
This year you and your students had amazing success: you taught Amanda Hess, a Portfolio Gold Award winner, Audrey Benjaminson, a Silver Portfolio Award winner, and Sara Harbin, a National Gold medalist! What made these students’ works distinctive, do you think?
I also had another national Silver Portfolio winner, Katie Doyle. This has been our most
successful year and I am very proud of these students. These students embraced the concept of developing a body of work. We treat the Awards as a client and discuss how the work needs to be original, cohesive and extremely well crafted. They spend the entire first semester, approximately 20 weeks, developing their portfolios. Katie was also a regional portfolio winner for her photography portfolio and her national award is in fine art portfolio. When I first looked at Amanda’s portfolio, I got chills. Her work was so honest and powerful, I knew it would be a success.
My daughter Rebecca is also a national winner this year. She is in 7th grade and her national silver award for photography is the very first national award in her school’s history. When her older brother Austin was in 8th grade, he won a national gold medal for photography and she was in 3rd grade at the time. I will never forget her telling me she was also going to be a national winner and wanting to know when she would be old enough to enter the competition!
Have your students changed over the course of your teaching, and if so, how?
My students have changed significantly over the past 20 plus years of teaching. I have encouraged the students to further their studies outside of the classroom and, in fact, I teach college courses for Kendall College of Art and Design. I have also co-developed a summer art program at Oakland University called the Oakland University Summer Art Intensive where students spend two weeks on anatomy for the artist, life drawing and either painting or computer art in the afternoons. These programs have moved my students from good to great, and you can see it in the sophistication of their portfolios.
What do you find to be the most challenging/most rewarding thing about teaching?
The most challenging aspect of teaching the advanced art student is to establish what media, what theme and what direction that student wants to go in. That means if I have 28 students in my advanced placement classroom we have 28 different sets of goals and objectives. Absolutely one of the most rewarding experiences in my teaching career has been to go to Carnegie Hall and watch my students and my two children walk across the stage and have their artistic achievements acknowledged and celebrated.
Do you create your own work outside of the classroom, and if so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
I do not have much time for my own art, but each summer I find a program at an art college where I can create art and learn about that school. For the past two years I have attended the Ringling College of Arts Teacher’s Institute with a focus on technology. I worked on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and also created my first video, along with some excellent prints. I really enjoyed the computer art process.
I have also attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s TICA (teacher’s institute of contemporary art) program where I spent a week creating oil paintings. I feel it is important to learn new mediums and new techniques to bring to the classroom. I also spent two summers at the College for Creative Studies teacher program, Art at the Center, where I worked in glass, on the computer and life drawing. It is so important for educators to embrace learning and stretch their skills.
What’s the secret to your success?
An incredibly supportive administration, staff and counseling department is absolutely priceless for any teacher. The art students at Stoney Creek High School are appreciated and celebrated. This builds an extremely creative environment. Also, I feel my passion for learning and a willingness to bring in artists and college representatives has really worked to my advantage. We have a lot of creative people here in Detroit and they are very generous with their time and talenWhat advice would you offer a new teacher?
Never assume you know everything and always reach out to those around you. I have learned so much from my colleagues, instructors at our local colleges, College for Creative Studies, Kendall College of Art and Design and Oakland University. Remember that your job does not end at the end of the school day. Work hard and love those kids!