Ceri Nichols '15, Emily Rupe '17
I have a moment of happiness, whether it’s a student finally getting what value is, or seeing their reactions to new materials during a demonstration, that’s when I’m surprised— it’s an amazing feeling and a constant reminder that I made the right choice in becoming a teacher.
As the Master of Arts in Teaching program enters its sixth year, recent graduates have begun their careers working side by side with seasoned alumni. Fern Tavalin, Department Chair, posed several questions to Ceri Nichols ’15 and Emily Rupe ’17 to find out what it has been like for them. Their written responses tell a compelling story.
1. Tell me a little bit about your teaching job.
We teach at Greely High School, which is located in Cumberland, Maine and serves both Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents. The school has about 675 students, and the two of us make up the art faculty for the high school. Ceri is full time and teaches Foundations of Art, Painting, IB Visual Art 1 & 2, AP Studio Art and Art II. Emily is part time and teaches Foundations of Art, Art II, and Digital Art and Photography. We both have advisories that all meet together on a daily basis, and Emily is the advisor of Art Club and Photography Club. Our department is a unique one that consists of Visual art, Music, Theatre, Health, PE and Special Ed. We meet on a bi-weekly basis to discuss school wide information as well as our discipline-specific issues. Our rooms are rarely empty, even when we have prep time.
We have a block schedule that consists of four 84 minute classes. Most classes consist of some sort of demonstration or introduction, often connecting to art history or contemporary art, studio time, and sometimes critique. We both teach Foundations of Art and Art II, and have worked to create a shared curriculum that ties directly to the Maine Learning Results. Something that we both enjoy, in addition to structured objectives, is the ability to make the curriculum our own. Most of the projects that our students complete in those classes result in a very similar product, but the process of implementing these lessons is where we are able to be creative and flexible. In these classes, we teach through the Elements of Art and Principles of Design and a variety of media including drawing, painting, printmaking, clay, and mixed media.
2. To what degree was being an MAT from MECA considered in your hiring?
Ceri: The art teacher on the hiring team was in close connection with Kelly McConnell, who played a big part in the recommendation process. MECA has a great reputation when it comes to preparing their teacher candidates for jumping into a teaching job. One of the things I was told really helped my application and interview was the visual aid I created and brought for the team which highlighted work I had done throughout the 10 month MAT program and included my teaching philosophy.
Emily: Ceri was on the hiring committee in search of a new art teacher last year. Kelly McConnell offered recommendations for MECA alums which made a big difference, especially when it came down to finding a teacher that shared the same educational philosophy and background. Knowing that we had the same background felt great, because it gave us something to connect with but also because in such a small department, making decisions together is inevitable and having similar experiences gives us an automatic team mentality.
Ceri: I was also just really excited by how organized Emily is, I knew we would get along!
3. What are some things from your experience at MECA that you found helpful as a beginning teacher?
Concrete observation was something we learned how to do in the Summer Institute with Fern and it has come in handy when reporting on students’ progress and accommodation success for their IEP or 504 meetings. Our prior knowledge and comfort regarding concrete observations is something that will also be beneficial when Greely begins the peer mini-observation process this spring, where teachers will be observing their colleagues and offering feedback that is tied directly to the Danielson Framework.
Ceri : When writing a standards based curriculum from scratch, having the experience in planning units and scope and sequence development has been great. It’s given me the confidence to think big picture, and make decisions, and I’ve really grown to enjoy it. In addition to that, creating standards based rubrics is coming quite naturally to me now that I’ve had years of experience doing it, starting with MECA.
Mentorship during student teaching has been a great resource as a new teacher. We both have used our mentors to help us through the beginning stages of starting our careers. They’ve been so helpful with problem solving and advice. We still think of them often.
Ceri: Photo Documentation is a wonderful habit to have in the classroom. It helps with reflection, and is really great with jogging my memory when I’ve gotten lost in the whirlwind of the school year. It also helps to have photos when yearbook asks you for them, and when we have our Tribute to the Arts day and show a slideshow of our students and their work.
4. What is it like for you to mentor/be mentored by a fellow MECA alum? Are there some aspects of your training that make it easier to talk to each other?
Ceri: It’s great to know the same local resources and share some of the same experiences from the program. Working with someone who has the training in standards based learning is great because it is such a significant part of what we’re doing right now at our school. I also think that learning to look at teaching as an ever-changing process that only gets better with reflection is really great. It makes the environment feel easy and challenging all at the same time. Like we’re both ok with adjusting and reflecting and growing. It makes it fun.
Emily: The MAT program really stressed the importance of collaboration and maintaining a team-work mentality, and the fact that both of us have that skillset and interest is something that has made working together really enjoyable. I think that our communication surrounding both summative and formative assessment that is directly tied to standards is very clear, and Ceri has been really helpful in mentoring me as I entered the dual grading system that Greely uses. This is a huge transition in terms of assessment for the HS this year, but I feel confident in my grading because of my education and Ceri’s shared knowledge.
5. Describe any surprises about teaching that you may have. (Your chance to brag about you and your students regardless of MECA education)
Ceri: For me, when I’m in the middle of my day, surrounded by students, supplies, emails, and to-do lists and I have a moment of happiness, whether it’s a student finally getting what value is, or seeing their reactions to new materials during a demonstration, that’s when I’m surprised- like “this is my job?” or “am I really getting paid to do this?” It’s an amazing feeling and a constant reminder that I made the right choice in becoming a teacher. One of my fears was losing the time to make my own art, and yes at times (like any time in May) it’s impossible to fit it in, but even just making example pieces can feel really good. And the students’ work is inspiring! I get a lot of ideas from them. Plus, teenagers are just great, most of the time.
Emily: Everyday I’m surprised by how much my students are teaching me, things like a new perspective to offer when demonstrating materials or content, or the best way to facilitate them towards achieving success within the classroom. Some of my students are so passionate about art or eager to incorporate their own interests into their artmaking. They’re introducing me to tools and techniques to plan and make art with that I would not have automatically included in my classes – like programs to create digital illustrations with, or ways to merge civil engineering computer programs with ceramics and watercolors. I’ve just embraced this role of being a co-learner, and it’s definitely helping to improve my connections with students in the now, and will absolutely be guiding my planning and instruction in the future.
Masthead image: Ceri Nichols ’15, left and Emily Rupe ’17, right.