Megan Stytz is an art teacher in two of Channahon District 17’s schools, Pioneer Path and N.B. Galloway. She recently received National Board Certification as an art educator, the first in the district and was recognized in public by her school board.
Minooka-Channahon Life explores Stytz’s professional goals, her personal history as an art teacher and why she believes art is so important in our schools.
Q: Where did you grow up, Megan?
A: I grew up in Joliet, attending Joliet Public Schools. I recently returned to the area after living in Chicago for many years. I received my undergraduate degree in advertising from the University of Illinois and graduate degree in art education from Northern Illinois University.
Q: When do you remember your interest in art kicking in as a kid, and what kinds of art did you like making back then?
A: I remember always liking to create something, whether it was sewing, making jewelry, writing stories, drawing pictures, keeping sketchbooks/journals. ... I even went through a phase of carving sculptures out of soap.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue art teaching as a career?
A: To be honest, I never thought in a million years that I would become an art educator. I began college as biology major, but my schedule soon consisted of more art history classes and studio than science. The real turning point came while I was studying art in Paris. I simply fell in love. It is so important to me to share this passion with kids, to show them how to communicate visually and how to see and make sense of the art we encounter everyday. More so, I thrive in my role as an educator and agent of change. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Q: Where did you teach before Channahon?
A: I taught at a private high school in Chicago for about a year, and I was with Chicago Public Schools for seven years at Yates Elementary (pre K-8) in Humboldt Park.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue National Board Certification, and what does this mean to you and your students?
A: I decided to pursue National Board Certification because it seemed like a challenge, as well as something that would potentially improve and enhance my teaching. I also liked the idea of my teaching methods being measured against national visual art standards. I feel that the process has made me be a stronger art educator and better able to serve my students, school and community. I have proven my ability to positively impact student achievement both in and outside of my art room.
Q: How do you teach art to your young students?
A: I try to choose projects that pique their interest and give them the opportunity to develop skills and techniques and, most importantly, produce artwork that is meaningful.
Q: Give us a couple of examples of what your students do in your classes.
A: We try to cover drawing, painting, textiles, sculpture, printmaking and assorted mixed media projects. My favorite creations this year have been fourth-grade abstract Dura-Lar mobiles and kindergarten mixed-media weavings. I would love to incorporate photography into my elementary curriculum in Channahon.
Q: How has art teaching changed in the schools over the years?
A: In the more recent past, art teachers typically followed Discipline Based Art Education. There has been paradigm shift in the field to something called Visual Culture, which draws on popular culture we encounter daily, such as advertisements, in order to make the art classroom experience and learning more relevant to students.
Q: How do you assign grades to a student’s art assignments?
A: Students are assessed on their ability to meet set objectives for a given project, as well as their ability to discuss their processes and results.
Q: Megan, tell us why you believe art is so important in our schools. It’s usually the first to go when there are budget cuts. What does art give our students?
A: Art is an essential component of all education, of life. We are constantly bombarded with visual imagery, and even communicate visually without realizing it. We need to develop the means to decode and interpret these images and their implications. I feel art also gives students a different set of experiences than a general classroom typically offers. Students who do not necessarily represent themselves best verbally or with the written word often thrive in the opportunity to express themselves through color, shape, design, etc. One of my most rewarding experiences as an art educator was when I was able to communicate with and build a relationship with a student who was selectively mute through a photo journal.
Q: Many adults keep art in their lives beyond school. Do you make art yourself after school hours?
A: I do, mainly over summer break. I enjoy creating fiber arts, painting and the random garden sculpture.