The Artist Formerly Known as Mr. Argueta

This week, I will be starting my summer school stint with a group of rising 2nd grade students. My goal for this four week class is simple and not too different from my goals for the school year – I want students to feel valued and I want to provide a meaningful experience. How do we exactly get there? We get there with an approach of an artist. Let me explain:

    1. Art is an expression that validates a human’s experience. By being myself in the classroom, students get an authentic experience of an adult that is comfortable with being their true self. Modeling how to feel that comfort in one’s own skin is something that I think gets overlooked in our preparation to create lessons. Students all across the spectrum of K-12 are trying to create their identity, and teachers can play a critical role in helping them gain that confidence that some adults take for granted.

      In my classroom, you will hear “what’s good?” and “what’s happenin’?” as I greet students in the morning. At first, I get puzzled looks, but after explaining how these greetings are how I greet my close friends, they start to look at me as a human being. I know this sounds funny, but I honestly think that students (at least – elementary school students) see their teachers as aliens from other planets. Too many times, I have experienced and heard other teachers’ experiences about a time we were spotted by our students out shopping or strolling the community and have either been greeted with total silence or a look of bewilderment. I believe this is the case, because students are shocked to see their teachers doing normal human things. So I ask the question, what kind of picture are we painting of ourselves in the classroom?

    2. Art isn’t about perfection, and mistakes are welcomed in the journey of creation. This idea of mistakes in the classroom deserves its own deep dive, but I will attempt to make it pass the first set of waves in this section. What we should all want is this – a group of hungry learners that are engaged enough to respectfully question each other and the teacher. This is where teachers need to model this sort of expectation by using any opportunity where they make mistakes and point them out along with posing questions that lead students to think about the next steps to rectify the situation. Students will not get there alone, and they need the culture and modeling that will enable them to be brave and bold.

      What can we do to create this type of environment? It starts with the culture of the classroom. The first few weeks in a school year are imperative to this goal, as it is when we are setting the vibes for the school year. How much time are teachers investing in team building activities? What types of concepts are we introducing? I limit academics to basic routines for the first two weeks, and I allow myself to focus on creating a safe environment that is inclusive to people and ideas.

      There are a myriad of ways that you accomplish your goals, and it can feel overwhelming. Don’t fret – as artists, we know that we might make a mistake in our prioritizing, but the beauty is in the journey. We might err in our choices, at times, but we can always position ourselves to create something meaningful and empowering.

    3. Art can be expressed through an array of mediums. You are the artist, and with that, you get to choose the tools that are used in your classroom. I know, I know – there are curriculums, mandates, and the works that you HAVE to implement in your classrooms. If anything, those scripted curriculums are another tool in your belt. Personally, I don’t feel constrained by my curriculum, because I approach my teaching as an artist. With that simple shift in mindset, you can begin to unlock your inner-artist in the classroom. Where there are constraints, an artist sees potential.

      I believe we are all creative beings, as long as we are able to find our passions. An artist chooses their medium of expression by finding what resonates with them. In the classroom, you have to find your passions and express yourself in a way that feels natural for you. Students will be able to see your passion, and in turn, they will start to be more curious and engaged in their learning. We have to model that excitement, curiosity, and engagement for our students to feel invigorated about what they are learning.

    Some call me Kev, others Kevin. To my students, I am Mr. Argueta. I choose to be myself with my students, I choose to honor mistakes, and I make conscious choices about the path to implementation of learning goals in my classroom. As educators, we need to value the art of teaching, because it is an expression that can change our lives and our students’ lives. We need to validate ourselves as artists, because in doing so, we have completed a shift in mindset that can be transformational for the longevity of our careers and transformational for the experiences we curate in our classrooms.

  1. The classroom is your canvas.

    Go be Picasso, or Pollack – if you dare, go be yourself.