Anna Nichols



Anna Nichols

April’s educator profile is the 2013 Alabama Middle School Art Educator of the Year, Mrs. Anna Nichols.

Anna Nichols began an ambitious project this year to compile and understand a list of Alabama art teachers and where they teach.

She is also responsible for creating Managing The Art Classroom, a pioneering collection of conversations and advice by Alabama elementary, middle and high school art teachers. This is an excellent  website with mentoring, and general art classroom management forums specifically designed for Alabama art teachers of all levels.

I am a very “academic” teacher. I try to teach excellence in all things and I demand that my students work hard and really think. My students plan art pieces, brainstorming ideas. They also write about their artwork and learn actual skill sets when creating paintings, drawings, and sculptures. It is rare that I allow them to “just make something.” For many years I questioned my approach, asking myself if my students really needed someone who is so demanding and strict. Wouldn’t they be better off with a teacher who let them play with clay and paint, giving them a “break” from all the work in their core academic classes? Shouldn’t they be allowed to talk and socialize the entire class period and never be really required to take art seriously? After all, how many of them will actually become artists? One day I realized, regardless of any other teaching style/art teacher available, who they have is me. God put me there in that middle school, so the kids must actually need what I have to offer. They’ve got me, so they must need me! I teach 7 middle school classes daily , seeing more than 175 students come through my classroom, and I have 5 ‘preps.’ However, I love what I do because for 8 hours a day I am immersed in this magical world of the art classroom, too busy to think about myself. I scarf down my lunch in 10 minutes so I can rush to get ready for 6th grade, I even forget to pee sometimes because there is so much to do! Also, there is nothing in the world that can equal the times when otherwise academically mediocre students experience success with an art project. A 7th grade boy recently completed a painting worthy of the front office display case. He surprised me because all of his previous drawings and other paintings had been an incomprehensible mess, literally! During the Impressionist Landscape painting project, however, he carefully followed the instructions to neutralize colors, matched natural water and sky colors, and paid close attention to me as I taught him how to correct the shapes in his whale fluke. He actually listened, and that teacher-student partnership paid off! Voila, a painting that Monet would have been proud of! The ‘Artist of the Week’ easel, set up by the main office has been one of the smartest things I have done to motivate my kids. I read this idea in Marlene Johnt’s book, A Retired Art Teacher Tells All, and when I set it up last October, I noticed an immediate improvement in the quality of my students’ work – they all really want to be the artist of the week! Also, one of my 8th grade students, Juan, received this honor and he had never even taken an art class before. It gave him the confidence and courage to apply to the Jefferson County School of Visual Art. Thank you Marlene! I believe the ideal school environment would be where all teachers, regardless of subject area, are respected as experts and where classroom time is set aside as sacred learning time as it is in other countries like Japan. There, it is unheard of for loudspeakers to interrupt a class for any kind of announcement. Also, I would like to have longer classes so there is more time for students to work. Right now I have 3 thirty minute classes and 4 fifty minute classes per day. I would like to try block scheduling and gender specific classes. Kids who get in trouble are mostly boys, and boys fall behind even in art – every year most of my applicants to the art academy are girls. Another idea I read about recently struck me as very sensible – having students stay with the same teacher for all 3 years of middle school. I am the only art teacher at my school so I already do this, but how wonderful it would be to have that kind of family environment in the core academic classes! Teachers would really get to know their students over the course of 3 years, and fewer kids would slip through the “cracks” of the system, unnoticed and without the support they really need to succeed.

The Monthly Member Spotlight on our website is a great way to share stories of all the awesome work going on in art classrooms across the state of Alabama and to advocate the importance of visual arts education.   If you would like to participate, please email high quality photos of yourself, your classroom, and student work samples as well as the name and location of your school and a short biography.  Please include descriptions for the photos and a 1-2 paragraph summary of some of your recent accomplishments in your classroom and within the larger art education community. Please address content to: Lindsay Mouyal,