For my faculty spotlight, I interviewed Beth Drake, a teacher in the Art Education program at Columbia College Chicago. She works specifically with second year students in the Classroom Management course. Take a few minutes to get to know a valuable member of the MAT Art Ed staff!
Can you tell us a little bit about your art education background?
I had a really great Graphic Design professor, Albert Grivetti, as an undergrad. He was the individual who, somewhat indirectly, inspired me to pursue teaching. I found him to be tremendously inspirational, positive, fair, grounded, and creative. I wanted to be this type of inspiration for others. I graduated in 1995 and have been in various art classrooms ever since. I spent a year after graduation as an art sub before moving into my first position at Maria High School (MHS) in Marquette Park. After MHS, I spent one year teaching K-5 “Art on a Cart” at Orrington Elementary School in Evanston when a secondary position in the suburbs fell through unexpectedly. I’ve been teaching full-time at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago for the past 13 years. In addition to teaching full-time at LPHS I have been the Visual Art Department Chair for the last eight years. I have a BA in Art, options in K-12 Art Certification and Graphic Design; an MA in Interdisciplinary Art, options in Book & Paper, from Columbia College Chicago; an MA in Educational Leadership with a Type 75 Administrative Certificate, and I am a National Board Certified Master Teacher in Early Adolescent and Young Adulthood Art (EAYA Art).
Why do you enjoy teaching at the high school level?
I have always gravitated to and felt more “at home” with creative subjects, even in areas where I suffer some deficiencies. I see the interconnectedness of the arts and related disciplines, and I enjoy the opportunity to present this through my curriculum. I relate to teenagers much better than younger students. Who knows? It may just be my personality. It is tremendously rewarding when a student that has been struggling eventually “gets it.” They are receptive to new ideas and concepts no matter how resistant they may be at first, and the studio setting provides me with the opportunity to really get to know all of my students. I’ve spent most of my career with high school artists. It is particularly rewarding to maintain relationships with so many former students who are now working in the visual arts field. One of my current senior artists takes art classes at a private studio taught by one of my former art students. I’m also looking forward to having a former art student as a Columbia Art Ed graduate student next fall! It is a very small world.
Who is your favorite artist to share with your students?
The students are always blown away when I tell them that Audrey Niffenegger was one of my instructors as well as my MA Thesis Advisor at Columbia. The teenagers know her first and foremost as a novelist, so I love showing my advanced students her artwork: prints, books and narrative works. I also love to share Henry Darger. The students find it really interesting that he lived a few blocks away from the high school. Darger’s works are mind-boggling when you consider the size and scope of his epics, thousands of pages of writing and illustrations, created over a 60-year period. It takes them a little time to digest some of the difficulties and challenges surrounding Darger’s life and experiences, but once I put this into context for them they have a completely different understanding and appreciation for Darger, and Outsider Artists in general. Lee Godie is also another really fascinating Outsider Artist from Chicago that I like to share with the students. One of my colleagues at LPHS collects Outsider Art, and I like to send my students to him to inquire about his “Lee Godie.”
What is your position at Columbia College Chicago?
I have been working with Anne Becker and the K-12 Art Ed MAT grad students at Columbia for the past six years. I had such a great experience as a graduate student at Columbia that it is a total thrill to be back at the school in a teaching capacity. It is even more fabulous to be working with the next wave of art educators going into local schools. I really appreciate hearing my colleagues in other CPS schools praise the student teacher candidates from the Columbia K-12 Art ED MAT program. The students are definitely prepared when they move into art classrooms, and I get to say that she or he was a student of mine at Columbia! It is tremendously rewarding to have worked with so many excellent pre-service art educators over the years through the Secondary Art Methods course or the Student Teaching Internship-Learning Environments course.
What is your favorite class to teach at Lincoln Park High School?
I can’t really narrow it down to one course. I’ve taught a variety of courses at LPHS over the years. Digital Art & Design courses did not exist at LPHS 12 years ago. I loved the challenge of bringing these courses into our curriculum and seeing the excitement that students’ experience when given the opportunity to use technology as another tool for making art. It is amazing what the students already know, and how much I learned from them having taught Graphic Design and Digital Photography for most of my teaching career (I brought the Digital Art program to Maria High School prior to LPHS) I still get a kick out of telling the students that Photoshop had not even been invented when I was in college. I learned Adobe Illustrator 88 on a Mac SE. Am I showing my age? In recent years I have had to make some changes in the curriculum that I teach to accommodate advanced studio courses. I no longer teach the digital art courses in our program, but my passion for good design and the challenge that comes with solving visual problems never quite disappears. I have been teaching the IB Art & Design course at LPHS for 13 years. It is a very rigorous course and very rewarding. It is definitely an amazing transformation to watch senior art students take on a challenge that is very similar to a graduate thesis process! I guess I really don’t have a “favorite” because each classroom of students whether beginner, intermediate or advanced has their own personality and dynamic; pros and cons; the good, the bad and the ugly.That’s part of the fun!