I have had the pleasure of serving as the art teacher at Southern Boone County Primary School since last December, when my good friend Bree Lindsey began her maternity leave. Without reservation, I can honestly say that it has been the single most rewarding (and exhausting) professional experience of my entire life. However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. I am sad to say that Friday will be my last day in the art room.

Travis Naughton

In the six years that I have been substitute teaching, I have subbed in art several times, but on those occasions, I taught only simple, one-day lessons meant to keep the kids busy until their real art teacher returned. This long-term assignment has been much, much different. For the last three-plus months, I have been working right off of Mrs. Lindsey’s regular lesson plan, and for all intents and purposes, I have been the kids’ real art teacher. And I have been having the time of my life.

The students and I have been learning together about famous artists and their styles and techniques. We’ve learned about Dale Chihuly’s glass-blowing, Claude Monet’s watercolors, Henri Matisse’s fauvism, and Pablo Picasso’s cubism.

We’ve created a Chihuly-inspired sculpture, painted Monet’s water lilies, re-created Matisse’s goldfish, and emulated Picasso’s guitars. We’ve made three-dimensional pattern-pillows by weaving and gluing strips of paper. We’ve painted goldfish that “magically” transform into piranhas. We’ve made portraits of “cool cats” and “hot dogs” using cool and warm colors. We’ve created ice cream cone snowmen while using oil pastels and tempera paints. We’ve even made wearable African tribal masks and bendable 3-D lizards, too.

A typical day in the life of an art teacher begins with putting away any projects left out to dry the previous day. Then, all the supplies needed for whatever project the second graders are working on must be made ready. After teaching two sections of second grade, then those supplies have to be put away, the room tidied, and materials readied for two classes of first graders. Later, after supervising lunch recess, materials must be prepared for the kindergarteners’ projects. At the end of a long and fast-paced day of teaching 100 kids three completely different projects utilizing a variety of materials, all the supplies have to be put away and the room put back in order. After a quick glance at the lesson plan to get prepared for the next day, it’s time for bus-loop duty and then a final chance to scrub paint off of tables and pick up all the markers, pencils, brushes, and scraps of paper that have fallen on the floor. Then do it all over again tomorrow.

That’s what a substitute art teacher does each day. The regular art teacher does all of that AND has to research and write a daily lesson plan including step-by-step instructions on how to complete each project. She has to procure all the materials that will be needed throughout the school year. She has to evaluate and grade all 420 of her students each trimester. She attends meetings and conferences and takes continuing education courses. She coordinates art shows and lends the music teacher a hand at concert time. She collaborates with her peers and meets with struggling students. And when she prepares to go on maternity leave, she has to make sure her sub has everything he will need for the next three or so months.

Bree Lindsey is anything but a “regular” art teacher. She is an amazing educator, friend, and human being. (Thank you, Bree, for giving me this rare and wonderful opportunity.)

Being the art teacher is exhausting, but it is so much fun. I laugh every single day at school. Before taking this assignment, I never would have envisioned having to give the “Why We Don’t Lick the Art Room Floor” speech. And where else can you spend ten minutes explaining in exact detail what the plan is for the day’s lesson only to be asked immediately afterward, “Mr. Naughton, what are we going to do today?”

The best part of the job is being able to help a student feel good about herself and her art. One day I told a quiet and reserved student that hers was possibly the best guitar I had seen a kindergartener draw. Her eyes grew wide and she asked, “Do you really mean that?” I told her that I did and that I thought she was a great artist. And then I spied a happy, little twinkle in those shy eyes. A week later, her mother introduced herself to me at a restaurant in town and said that her daughter couldn’t stop talking about how much Mr. Naughton liked her guitar—and how much she likes art.

I like art, too, my young friend, and I have absolutely loved being your art teacher. I will miss it more than you could ever imagine.