Art teacher's diligence pays off

Portfolio: Edith Smith of Aberdeen Middle receives national certification after missing it on her first try.

February 08, 2004|By Sarah Merkey | Sarah Merkey,SUN STAFF

National board certification is yet another bright color on the canvas that is Aberdeen Middle School art teacher Edith Smith's life.

Smith recently found out that after three years of hard work, she had met the criteria required to be certified through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She has been teaching art for 27 years, 26 at Aberdeen.

"I know every stone in this place," Smith said, laughing.

For pupils to be successful in her art class, "they just have to be willing to put the time in," Smith said. And she has followed her own advice.

When she first submitted her portfolio of materials to the national board, Smith didn't earn the required score of 2.75 out of 4. Rather than give up, she decided to redo two of the six sections of her portfolio, a commitment that took many hours.

There are six required parts of the portfolio: learning to make art; assessing pupils' work; learning to study, interpret and evaluate art; a portrait of teaching over time; collaboration in the professional community; and outreach to families and the community.

Smith's highest score was on a portrait of teaching over time, a section that evaluates pupils' skill development while they are in the class. In Smith's case, it is a nine-week period.

The other component of national board certification is an extensive test on the topic.

"I'm proudest of the fact that I stuck to it," Smith said.

Smith estimates that she spent 12 hours each week working on her portfolio, which in addition to a self-evaluation of her professional merits, required two video segments documenting her teaching methods.

"I am under the understanding that it takes about 400 hours of extra work," said Donald R. Morrison, spokesman for Harford County public schools.

"The redo itself took a huge amount of time," Smith said. "I don't think I could even guess how many hours."

She first submitted her portfolio in June 2001, receiving her results the following November. She decided to resubmit "Learning to Make Art," a section focusing on teaching methods dealing with art creation, in April 2002. Last April she resubmitted "Assessing Student Work," a section that focused on her grading methods. She was notified in November that she had received certification.

Smith attributes much of her success to her colleagues.

"I couldn't have done it without the staff's support," Smith said. "I got help with editing and writing," she said, "and the administration were my best cheerleaders. Everyone was very encouraging."

Part of Smith's motivation to earn certification stemmed from her feelings that the arts are not always given the same weight in education as other academic subjects.

"I really wanted to validate our art program. I think the arts have taken a back seat," Smith said, "I really wanted to bring art to the floor." Smith says art is an intergral part of a balanced education.

"If you didn't have art, it would be like having an exercise program with only half of your body," Smith said. "I think art is an integral part of the learning day." Smith felt that she could help validate art by showing that there are accomplished art teachers.

She wanted to show that "there's an art teacher who demonstrates excellence," she said.

Smith's pupils were supportive of her endeavor.

"They wanted to direct" the video, Smith said. "They were very helpful, very into it."

Few teachers pursue national board certification.

Five other teachers in the Harford school system are board certified: Kim Adkins, Jann Barber, Joel Leff, Jennifer Palmer and Francine Plotycia.

Smith is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, with a bachelor's degree in studio art and psychology. She also holds a master's degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University.

"When I was in high school, there were only four things girls could do: become a homemaker, a secretary, a nurse or a teacher," Smith said.

Smith's teaching aspirations were waylaid during her college years.

"I got bullied into being a `real artist,' " Smith said. After her time at College Park, Smith decided that there were more job opportunities in education. The next year, Smith enrolled at Salisbury University to get her teaching certificate. After a year of teaching on the Eastern Shore, Smith transferred to Aberdeen.

"I expected, when I started here, to move on to high school," Smith said. Now, she is thrilled with the experience of teaching pupils at the middle school level.

"I love the enthusiasm of middle-schoolers; it can be a real battle to get high school students to try new things," Smith said. "In middle school, you can still open their eyes a little more easily."

Two classes in digital imaging have helped Smith bring more to her pupils, keeping them up-to-date with technology.

"They have given me a lot of tools to demonstrate visual elements to kids," Smith said. "The computer makes it seem so easy, but you still have to know art basics."

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