Teaching color theory? You may want to borrow Cassie Stephens’s handcrafted crayon skirt and sweater. Mondrian? Her homemade “windows” coat would fit the bill. Fashion is just one way for Stephens to get her students’ attention in lessons that range from weaving (math connections) to ceiling art (history). Her favorite technique is to introduce art vocabulary via call-and-response: “It’s my number-one teaching tool. My ESL students love it!”

The Basics

School: K–4 art teacher, Johnson Elementary School, Franklin, Tennessee

Career Path: “I studied painting at Indiana University, but my parents insisted I also get an art education degree. It wasn’t until I got my first teaching gig that I knew I was in the right place. The children’s enthusiasm for creating and love for all things silly gives me so much joy. Using my love of theatrics, fashion, and creating enhances my lessons and makes me excited to come to my art room every day.”

Teaching Philosophy: “My ultimate goal is for my students to know that I love them, I love their creativity, and I believe in them.”

Quote: “Our art can change the lives of others…it’s a powerful message for kids to learn.”

Cool Project

Chalked ceiling tile legacy project: “When bad weather brought my street painting lesson inside, I developed a lesson on making chalk art for the ceiling tiles in our school. To begin, I talk about the history of madonnari, or Italian street painters. Then, I play a video demonstrating the steps. We do a lot of talking about what a legacy is, and how it’s our way of leaving something beautiful behind. Our first year, we drew butterflies, which students were studying in science. This year, our cafeteria manager requested healthy foods for her ceiling, so we drew fruit. The tiles really brighten our school!”

3 Artsy Resources

Bingo Daubers: “These are a mess-free tool for kiddos to create beautiful line drawings. I purchase mine empty and fill them with India ink.”

Air-Dry Clay: “Bring clay into your classroom without the hassle of a kiln. Air-dry clay is low mess but looks and feels like the real thing. (I like Crayola’s, but you can use other brands.)”

Clay Lab for Kids: “I’m biased, but I’d be sad if I didn’t recommend my book! My students love flipping through the pages and using extra clay to explore the projects I created for it.”

What’s your secret to a great rapport with students?

“Be silly and don’t take yourself too seriously. Also, love, care, and share.”


Photo: Stella Blue Photography

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