By Alicia Garges
As she enters her ninth year of teaching art education at Millersville University, Dr. Leslie Gates says she’s proud of the work her students have completed.
A majority of the students she has taught over the years have gone on to teach K-12 students in local public schools. “A rewarding thing [about teaching] is how downright exceptional my students are at teaching art. It’s rewarding to think about the impact they have on K-12 students, and how their time in our program supports their work in schools,” she said.
Gates is a professor and coordinates the undergraduate and graduate art education programs at MU. Before joining Millersville in 2012, she taught visual art in public schools, and taught both high school and elementary levels. She left K-12 teaching to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland.
Each year, Gates looks forward to teaching ART 221, Introduction to Art Education. The course focuses on questions regarding the importance of art education and its role in public education.
“While students can quickly describe how they have benefitted from taking art classes, they often do not have the answers beyond their own experience to address these larger questions,” said Gates. “Students leave the course with a deeper understanding about the value of art education for all.”
Gates says she’s enjoyed watching the connections her students make within the classroom. “Sometimes class is officially over, but students don’t leave. Other times, they show up way before class begins to talk to each other,” she said. “Their interest in the topics and the sense of community in the class keep them engaged beyond the times they are mandated to be there.”
This year has presented new challenges for students and professors alike with the sudden move to remote learning halfway through the semester. However, the art department has persisted in its mission to educate its students. “My colleagues have supported one another during this time, but there is also a communal sense of loss among our faculty and students,” said Gates. “The good news is that artists excel at creative problem solving.”
Like all of MU’s departments, the faculty of the art department provided students with alternative assignments to transition their courses in the online environment. One major issue Gates had to overcome was a loss of in-person field experience for her students. However, she and her colleagues in the College of Education and Human Services worked to find creative alternative assignments for students whose field experiences were cut short.
Typically, the student teachers are assessed on their competency in four areas: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professionalism. This semester, one way students demonstrated the required competencies for instruction was by creating recorded videos and demonstrations that could be used for online classes.
While the semester has ended, Gates does have some tips for recent graduates. “Take a few minutes to think about the folks who supported you during your time at MU,” she says. “Perhaps you had a boss who was flexible with your scheduling, family members who financially contributed to your education, professors who challenged your thinking or lent a listening ear, or a friend who put down everything they were doing to run an errand or offer you a ride on repeat. Reach out to thank those people. Gratitude will help you find closure.”