Clearly I remember the assignment from the first art exploratory class at McGrath Middle School in September of the 6th grade.  Over the summer, a family friend’s daughter had taught an Art Class as part of the Flint Community Schools Summer Activity Program offered at Freeman Elementary School off of Atherton Road.  Eileen was an Art student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  She taught the class as a summer job.  We painted clay we drew, we used different art mediums like pastels, charcoals and watercolors.  That summer experience had me looking forward to my exploratory art class when school started, my first experience at the middle school. Our first assignment in art class was to find a frontal facial portrait. We were to cut the face down the middle, glue the half portrait on a piece of manila paper and we were to draw with pencil the other half of the face and shoulders.  I had chosen a picture of Valerie Harper, who was one of my favorite actresses.  She was on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and played Mary’s best friend, Rhoda Morganstern. In the portrait, from one of my Mom’s Good Housekeeping Magazines, Valerie had on a beautiful brimmed straw hat with a light orange print scarf around the brim. The assignment was to take about 2 or three days. I took it home along with the dittoed directions so that I did everything I was supposed to do. When we turned in the assignment, I was proud of my work and was sure, especially with my summer art experience that I would earn a good grade..

    When the art teacher handed back our projects as we were sitting at our tables of 4 on grey metal stools, where I sat with my friends, I was shocked to see that I had been given a C on my project.  ‘Really?”  I thought it was good.  I tinkered with it at home the night before I turned it in, making sure I had done everything I was supposed to. I almost had tears in my eyes as my friends asked me what I got and they had As.  What did I do wrong?  Did I miss something?  After class, I was the last one to leave when the bell rang.  I asked the teacher, a probably 30-40 something year old woman who was expecting baby, she had told us the first day and was wearing maternity clothes-I still remember that and the shag brunette hair style.  

“Can you please tell me why I got a C?”  I thought I followed the directions.”  Her response, “the shading could have been better.”  That was enough to scare me out of the room before I really started to cry.  So the ‘shading could have better?  It was a ‘C’s worth of lack of quality shading?  It’s sixth grade art class. I was eleven years old.   I went straight to the bathroom to cry in a stall.  I thought to myself, “Really, Come On It’s Art” and anyway I thought it was good and I had that art class this summer and Miss Eileen told me I had a good eye for color and she made it fun and I thought I could succeed here at this.  Probably I should have told my Mom, but I didn’t want to be a baby about this, after all, THIS WAS MIDDLE SCHOOL.  Surly I didn’t want my Mom to fight my battles.  It really bothered me. I remember taping it to the back of my bedroom door because I thought it was good.  It bothered me so much, that when it was time to sign up for our exploratory block for 7th grade, I signed up for Mr. Kopec’s  Industrial Arts class.  No way was I ever going to take another art class and put myself out there for failure again.  I would much rather make cutting boards and leather change purses and do those cool framed copper enameling projects than go through that humiliation again. And you know what?  That WAS the last art class I took again, until last week.  

Great book to teach children how to draw 🍎

     However, when I taught school and when I had my own kids, I made teaching art a priority.  In the classroom, little bits of time to fill gaps here and there and then when I had my own kids we always had a cabinet of art supplies very easily accessible in the kitchen so they could get them out when they wanted to and sit at the kitchen table or kitchen counter.  When they started school, I went in to the Cook School classrooms and taught kids HOW to draw using Mona Brooks’ techniques to give children confidence to draw.  Her philosophy is that if someone can draw a dot, circle, straight line, curved line or angle, they can draw anything as every object is based on those five elements.  I took in drawing paper, starting with pencils and then moving on to colored pencils. I saw kids gain the confidence that the 6th grade art teacher took aways from little Mary Yana Todorovsky.  These elementary school aged children were proud of their work and they saw that by breaking images down into those elements, dot, circle, straight line, curved line and angle they really COULD draw anything.  We look at different images I brought in on poster board and we identified these elements in mountains, sea scapes, portraits and animals-kids usually like drawing animals, especially if they have a dog or cat themselves. 

Mrs. Bomeli, the ultimate in music teachers. She made going to middle school fun 🍎

     Fortunately for me, there were other middle school activities and teachers  where I had opportunities to succeed.  Early in the sixth grade school year, I tried out for the McGrath Middle School Singers Choir.  Mrs. Bomeli directed the choir and the entire vocal music program at McGrath and she always had fun activities for the choir kids.  She entered the vocal group into a national contest and we were invited to sing at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in Washington DC.  That trip included a tour of DC and we even had an opportunity to sing in Atlantic City and in Philadelphia.  We flew there and got to stay in a hotel.  For some of the kids, it was their first opportunity to fly.  There were parent chaperones and Mrs. Bomeli coached us on travel etiquette.  Excellent behavior was expected and I don’t recall anyone getting out of line.  To fundraiser for the event, to keep the cost down for parents, she enlisted local DJ, Jeff Lamb, to host a sock hop in the middle school gym, complete with with a BARBARA ANN contest where groups of quartets sang the popular Beach Boys song.  Everyone dressed up in fifties attire, including the parent chaperones.  It was so fun.  The whole school was excited, even the kids who weren’t in choir, or the McGrath Singers were invited to attend the Sock Hop.  

Here’s Jeff Lamb today. What a creative young man he was. He had some of the best ideas as a DJ and Purveyor of Fun as a young man. If you were a teenager in Grand Blanc during the mid-seventies-mid-eighties, you know what I am talking about. Wow!

     Kids are going to have set backs and teachers they don’t ‘gel’ with.  The art experience was a good lesson in that there will be disappointment and situations you are unable to control, however, they don’t define you.  For a child to have a teacher who is not a “Mrs. Bomeli caliber” is not the end of the world and you can’t fine tune every year of your child’s school year and every schedule they are handed.  Unless your child is learning nothing or they are ways below or way above where they should be, sometimes, it’s good to learn how to get used to realizing that they are not going to have a personal connection to or get along with everyone they have to work with or live next door to.  That is part of life.  Every season they may not have a perfect coach who lets them play every quarter.

       As parents have a pulse on what is going on  your kids lives. The little hiccups in their lives may just be little hiccups if there are other opportunities in their lives to allow them to feel success, like Mrs. Bomeli’s McGrath Singers.  I must have been well distracted if I didn’t feel that the art class drawing project was something bad enough to tell my parents, and maybe it was a sign of growing maturity if I didn’t want my Mom fighting my battles. Middle School is a time of so much change for kids.  Their bodies are changing their emotions can be up and down and they are learning how to manage social situations.  Like with everything else in life, to be forewarned or well prepared may help kids manage their difficult situations.  Maybe a good discussion at the dinner table is how to respectfully talk to a teacher when they don’t get the grade they had anticipated.  Sometimes a student doesn’t follow the rubric or what was expected to receive the A. Many teachers list the expectations on big projects so that students know what they need to do to get the A,B or C.  In classes where grading is more subjective like an art or music class, teach students to clearly understand expectations. Also discuss that sometimes it isn’t there fault.  Teachers like everyone else can have a bad day a disagreement with their spouse before they leave for school or a child at home who kept them up all night. Most teachers are very professional and are able to leave their personal lives outside of the classroom, but they are human.  Explain to your kids that you will go to bat for them if needed but try to have them fight their own battles so they learn how to stand up for themself.  You are teaching them how to deal with conflict little by little so that eventually they will become good at it and won’t feel uncomfortable when the situation presents itself.  Handling conflict here and there and getting good at it, gives kids the confidence to stand up for themselves when needed, leading to many…Great Days 🍎 

Mrs. Burau, author and teacher 🍎