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Illuminate! Ignite! Excite!

The life of an art teacher can be a lonely one. Often, you are the only one in your subject at your school. Your rainbow-colored classroom (or cart) singles you out as the weird one, the lone unicorn, in a sea of colleagues who don’t really understand what it is that you do. You often feel isolated, finding comradery only on Instagram or through Pinterest boards—all the time desperately wishing that you could exchange ideas in person with someone who understands you and the challenges (and triumphs) of our particular field.

If you are an art teacher in Alabama, might I suggest you investigate the Alabama Art Education Association? It is an incredible organization made of and for art teachers from across the state. I just returned from their 2021 conference, and I can’t truly articulate how revived and renewed I feel after the two short but magical days. From their website, “the Alabama Art Education Association (AAEA) is a professional organization of art educators dedicated to advocating art education by following national standards, providing membership services, professional growth and leadership opportunities.” When you become a member, you are also made a member of the national group, the National Art Education Association (NAEA). Both host yearly conferences that are sure to give you incredible ideas to take back into your classroom.

This year’s AAEA conference was held in beautiful Mobile, Alabama. The theme was “Illuminate! Ignite! Excite!” and let me tell you, it did just that and more. The conference boasted 42 engaging sessions and workshops over two days and with so many incredible options it was difficult to choose which ones to attend. There were over 200 in attendance and it was energizing to be surrounded by all that creative and supportive energy.

Our Keynote Speaker was none other than the queen of “art teacherin’” Cassie Stephens. Her speech was funny and emotional and just what we all needed to hear. She spoke of the importance of ensuring that your creative pursuits and your classroom room practice run in parallel paths. She also emphasized how crucial it is to explore your creative pursuits, even if they have changed from when you were in art school. In addition she hosted weaving and needle felting workshops over the course of the two-day conference, so that everyone who wanted to take one of her classes would have the opportunity to do so. I had the opportunity to take her needle felting workshop and I think I may have found a new passion!

A woman sits at a round table speaking to a class.

I was also honored to present at this year’s conference. My session, entitled “Creating art is LIT! Igniting LITeracy skills through talking about and making art,” focused on strategies for building reading comprehension and observational skills through the arts. One of our school tours this year at WMA is actually focused on these strategies. I had a wonderful group of educators in my session-the discussion was lively and the art making was fun! This is my second time attending and presenting at the AAEA conference and if they’ll have me back, I’d be delighted to present again.

A woman in glasses stands at the head of a classroom in front of a projector screen.

If you are an art teacher looking for your people, I promise you will find them through the AAEA. Maybe I’ll see you at next year’s conference! I hope I do!