Lesson #1: How to Collaborate | WYPR

Lesson #1: How to Collaborate

Sep 5, 2017

Kids might be headed back to school, but their teachers have been hustling to put together lesson plans and to get their classrooms in order for weeks. And teachers are resourceful, of course, so they've been swapping everything - from supplies to ideas. 

The loading dock at the Teacher Supply Swap at a warehouse in southwest Baltimore was seeing a lot of action. Teachers were dropping off old supplies and picking up new ones.

Cecilia Wright, who teaches at St. Casimir’s in East Baltimore, was making the first of several runs.

"I have to go back to school and get more," she said. "It won’t all fit in my little car." 

She grabbed science kits, wall displays and boxes of art supplies that other teachers had piled into her small hatchback and handed them to the swaps co-founder Kathleen Williams, who was crouched on the loading dock with open arms.

"Cecilia is a favorite," Williams said.

The teacher swap is open year round, two days a week and operates on the "give what you can, take what you need" motto. And that works well for Kelly Hope, a biology teacher at Patterson Park High School.

"I probably spend close to $1,000 a year," she said, "$200 is just on science fair stuff."

This will be Hope’s sixteenth year teaching in the city. On this stop she was grabbing the basics, like paper, scissors, and colored pencils.  

Nearby one first year teacher talked about doing his own fundraiser to get the money he needed for supplies and field trips.

Across town at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore city art teachers gathered to talk shop with one of the museum’s docents. They toured the museum as if they were students to get ideas for future field trips.

Jess Chambers, an art teacher for more than 15 years, says she’s a lucky one. Baltimore city principals have control over their school's budget. Chambers's says her principal at Benjamin Franklin High School in Curtis Bay supports her and makes sure their visual arts department has funding. 

But “if [the principal] gives me a great budget, there's still so many needs," Chambers says.  She wants to challenge her students and herself by trying out new materials, new lessons. "You want to add to that [funding]," to bring the most to your students, she says. So Chambers goes to the neighborhood’s community groups to let them know who she is, what she’s trying to do, and how they can help. “I share with them my vision. They're like my PTO."

Another teacher, who was listening attentively, said she gets no funding from her principal and called herself a scavenger when it comes to gathering supplies for her students.

They are two of approximately 180 art teachers for the city’s 82,000 students.

Baltimore County has 360 art teachers for 112,000 students. While city teachers were touring the Walters, the county art teachers were talking shop at a professional development day that kicked off with its own free buffet of art supplies and short, audio-visual presentations called "curriculum slams." Those presentations broke down a teacher's tried methods - and how they rebounded when philosophy or tactic didn't work in practice.   

Paper mache, glass cutting utensils, and even looms were all up for grabs at the Baltimore County Schools free art buffet.
Credit Mary Rose Madden

Teachers made art journals for their students. They swapped ideas about new ways to teach and new ways to handle difficult behaviors from their students and they went to art class as students. Teachers said they noticed themselves feeling intimated by others' artwork or that they found new language to use when describing an assignment.

Luke Jones, who teaches at Dumbarton Middle School lead a class on still life painting.

"We're trying to get teachers to do exactly what the students do," he explained. "There's no doubt there's been a big push in education to collaborate. But I think this is something that has been at the heart of the art classroom for some time." 

Baltimore County art teachers worked on their paintings and talked about everything from their favorite supplies to creating methods for their students to find inspiration.
Credit Mary Rose Madden / national public radio in Baltimore

The teachers, who were finishing up their still life paintings – and their conversations—said teaching can be very isolating; you’re out there by yourself trying to come up with new techniques. 

Grant funding to support education reporting on WYPR is provided by the Sylvan Laureate.