Q+A with Shaun Lane, selected as TAEA Leadership Scholar and awarded NAEA New Professional Art Education Award

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Shaun Lane, 2014 Student of the Year. Art Education. Photo by Lawrence Peart.Shaun Lane (B.F.A. in Visual Art Studies, 2014) was selected as a 2016 Leadership Scholar by the Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) and has been awarded the New Professional Art Education award from the National Art Education Association (NAEA). Thao Votang, Public Affairs Coordinator for the Department of Art and Art History recently interviewed him about his award and career.

What do these awards mean for you as you complete your second year of teaching?

While I was an undergraduate at UT Austin, I was very fortunate to receive the TAEA Outstanding Art Educator Student of Art Education Division of the year award. I don’t know if it was the timing (as it came relatively close to graduation) or the recognition, but I felt as if all of my choices concerning my professional education had been validated. Very similar to my time as an undergraduate, I continued to seek opportunities for advancement in both my classroom management and curriculum implementation techniques during my first year as a teacher. I internalized the advice of mentors and actively engaged in profession development seminars. I strove for developing relationships with my students, as well as my colleagues. Having been named the NAEA New Art Educational Professional of the Year and a TAEA 2016 Leadership Scholar once again validates my choices and my journey, motivating me to continue seeking opportunities to refine my craft.

How has your methodology shifted or changed as you have been able to manage your own classroom?

Undoubtedly, there are significant differences between the safety of discussing theoretical scenarios in a college classroom, student teaching with a cooperating teacher monitoring your progress, and taking the controls to fly solo in your own classroom—just you and the students. However, under the guidance of my professors at UT Austin, we discussed and considered a plethora of potential situations I might encounter as a teacher. Also, during my student teaching, my cooperating teacher (Mandy Gregory, Cedar Park High School) was an amazing mentor, allowing me the liberty to find my own teaching style and giving me the effective feedback to improve it. When I graduated, I wasn’t in the least bit nervous.

I was very fortunate to find a position in the Georgetown Independent School District at East View High School, where the administrative staff not only truly empowers the teacher to help students learn, but also gives the support and training necessary for their educators to be successful. The summer before my first year teaching, they sent me to an influential seminar (Capturing Kid’s Hearts) that helped me develop rapport with my students as well as develop a family unit in the classroom at an accelerated rate.

Probably the most significant change in how I manage my classroom is the intentional focus on building such relationships. This has worked wonders in my classroom management, allowing me to foster strong connections and deliver substantial content to my students.

You’ve been teaching for two years, which is still a short time. Do you still feel like you’re finding your feet, or do you feel pretty prepared?

While I did feel pretty prepared, every day is a new experience. Each individual student brings unique dynamics into the classroom every day, and each day I have to use a variety of techniques to settle them into the structure and security of our classroom environment. This makes each day a learning opportunity, and sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. I have celebrated personal victories as I found a way to motivate that one student that ‘doesn’t seem to care’, but I have also had to earnestly apologize to another student when I made an incorrect assumption or was insensitive to their situation. I do think that being a flexible and growing professional has served as a strong model for my students, allowing me to teach them in ways outside of the realm of art.

I simultaneously look forward to, and dread, the day that I feel as if I’ve ‘made it’, because I know that will be the day that I have to find a new challenge, which will probably take me out of the classroom. I teach art because I believe in its power and its ability to change lives for the better. I aspire to one day influence the positive growth of students through art on both a local and national level, but that time is many years down the road.

For now, I am absolutely happy with making a difference in my student’s lives in my art classroom and growing as an educator/mentor every day.

What advice would you give to new educators entering the field?

My advice would be to “Don’t worry, be crappy.” This is borrowed from Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley Marketing Executive. If you truly believe that your ideas are useful and will bring about significant, positive change, implement them. Even when they aren’t perfect and refined, get something out there. Always be open to feedback, which will help you grow. Don’t plan yourself into doing nothing. If you wait for the perfect conditions or the right time to try out something, that time may never come. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your own ideals and beliefs. A lot of campus programs are looking for those new and innovative methods, but some are settled into a rhythm of ‘what works.‘ Listen to the veterans and consider their insights, but don’t let ‘how things have always been done’ deter you from realizing your vision of enlightening young minds.

Lastly, stay hungry. The time commitments of teaching are significantly demanding already, and it will be a sacrifice to involve yourself in every opportunity to learn and grow, but I assure you that it will be well worth it. Your students and colleagues will appreciate your drive and quite possibly be inspired by it.

Photo of Shaun Lane by Lawrence Peart. This story originally appeared on the Department of Art and Art History's website.

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