Sunday, February 26, 2017

Culture Impacts Everything, Even High School Art Competitions

I just finished helping put on a regional competition at my school. Nowhere else do you see what is going on in our society so clearly as at a show where kids are getting prizes. This was a regional juried art show that leads to a state competition. I wish it was as prestigious as it sounds.

First, for some reason visual arts is the only group that exists in our state that has a state level competition outside of University Interscholastic League-which means to most administrators we are virtually invisible. In order to counter that, some teachers in Houston organized a regional competition under the umbrella of Texas Art Education Association. It started out as a simple, good idea. It was an outlet for students at the high school level to show off their artwork and perhaps experience some interesting workshops.

But, as with all good things, it has outgrown it's original purpose. Just like our Federal government, many of the same officials who began the organization are still in charge. They have moved up the food chain to become Art Coordinators and are thus far removed from what is expected in the average classroom today. And just like any other administrator, they pile on more expectations without considering the endgame.

Secondly, there's the website to consider. This website was drawn up and created about eight years ago. In internet terms, it's a dinosaur. There are countless links, drop down boxes, and mazes of vaguely labeled pages. This is the first clue that things are not as simple as they seem. Just finding the correct page to print a list of names requires the investigative skills of Sherlock Holmes. Trying to use them, since they were all composed with what appears to be a Windows 95 mindset, requires the patience of Job.

In a world where we are urged to move to paperless solutions, we, the hosts of the competition, went through no fewer than 20 reams of different colored paper to print labels, forms, judging forms, teacher forms, disqualification forms and more. The website, which I already mentioned was outdated, glitched and printed three of every single form. Three. So we had to spend about three hours Friday night removing and discarding duplicate forms, then filing them alphabetically. Needless to say this was time consuming at a time when we had many other things to do.

Did I mention in my district we're virtually invisible no matter how well we do? Only two out of 70 art teachers from our district and five out of 200 teachers in our school signed up for paid positions to help us. We asked, we cajoled, we begged, we gave them free lunch...not even our district art coordinator-who's paid far more than I am-could bother to show up to say hi at a regional event that included every single high school she allegedly coordinates. It's like we're the Wallendas and there's no net.

Worse still is that students must have forms on the back and their teachers were clearly informed of this fact months ago. Yet, probably 20 percent of the teachers came wandering in to ask about printing entry forms and even reference resource photos on site. Isn't it bad enough that our current students don't read directions--do we really need instructors modeling that type of behavior? But I digress

Third, is the behavior of the teachers was overall okay. But as with anything ten percent of the people cause ninety percent of the problems. I've already mentioned the problem with forms. Forms have been on the website since November. There's no excuse for people to show up for a regional, 2000 student plus event sans the required documentation. Yet, there it was. I was running the control room from the library and I had no less than ten requests to print multiple forms, images and such. What is more, on work that should have come from photos taken by the student, teachers were actively changing the images! But, because they whined and because the state president was there, it was insisted we print everything. No personal responsibility there.

Fourth, at Qualifications, where the size, media, artist name and forms are verified a girl's drawing, which was good, was disqualified because she told the worker she got the image from a Google image in direct opposition to the rules stating "all photo sources must be original to the student or directed by the student." Even old family photos are no longer acceptable. (I know-draconian measures but we've had SO MANY PEOPLE plagiarize copyrighted works that there was no other option.) The girl ran off with her form to her teacher who then pulled off the photo, said it was his mistake it was on there and that it was an image "from her mind." Jeez. Students were supposed to go to Forms first-to check their forms and then Qualifications to check their image. This was outlined to teachers via emails,  maps and signs. Many students simply skipped Qualification because they and their teachers KNEW their documentation would be DQ'd. This meant that at the input level, we underpaid wage slaves in the control room had to chase down images to get them requalified.

All these things take time. Did I mention the website was outdated and glitchy? After getting the scoring forms, the scores had to be in put into the official website. The website would be fine for a few minutes then go down for no reason. Since I was in control room I was filling in wherever logjams cropped up. Input was slow but steady. As we finished that job, the score papers were separated into stacks by teacher. Also artwork that was not going on to Area competition, which was the afternoon segment, was being returned to designated areas for teacher to retrieve later at a specific time. This was stated to the teachers, who were supposed to sign up for Remind-a texting messaging program. So why were teachers showing up, taking papers,  before the time? What happened then was we found that some of the runner had not turned over scoring papers to the input people. So we needed to go back through the stacks and find them so we could balance the number of works scored with the total number by adding in the DNA's. We had a list of forty artworks where no papers were found. I suspected one teacher, a particularly unpleasant sort who complained about one of the nicest judges and who had a parent try to file a lawsuit last year, of taking papers from her stack and showing them to the students before authorized. Four of her pieces were on the list of missing scores. This will be important later.

We finally made it to Area judging. I never got to see a single piece. While this judging is going on teachers are picking up other works and their papers and I'm organizing for them to pick up medals. The database prints a medal count supposedly in real time. It's getting later and later-I've been at the school since 5:30 AM. The administrator in charge is antsy to go and starts locking doors, shutting down restrooms and hallways. She insists we move my entire medals set up to the cafeteria. I need a printer to get the latest print out of receipts with medals. She finds one and I'm told that Area judging is nearly done. Because we have three buses of kids still hanging out, I opt to print and get as many medals as possible and send the rest to them this week. Most teachers understand. But the teacher mentioned before gets all huffy to the point that she has our principal copy the eight sheets showing her kids got a certain score which is not reflected in the receipt I have because not all the data has gone through. THOSE PAGES WERE THE ONES WE WERE MISSING BECAUSE SHE TOOK THEM WHICH IS WHY THE NUMBERS ARE SCREWED UP! I have never before been so tempted to punch a woman in the face.

We bag medals with help of a few kind souls who see there's no way one person can do this. All the other paid staff bailed at 6:00PM and it's now 8:00. If we don't want to be there until midnight the numbers have to be taken NOW. So I tell people, give me your contact information on the receipt and I'll contact you and get you the medals. The same people who brought every single one of their students (more than half the total at the event) are the ones who bitched the most. They are also the ones who repeatedly produced the most problematic and questionable works. They go out the door and we four teachers spend the next two hours taking down signs, picking up trash, moving the art that is advancing to a safe space.

At the end I am so tired I can't feel my feet. What should be a fun, exciting experience for students and teachers was neither. I not only don't want to put on this event again, I don't even want to urge students to participate. I don't want to go to the state event in San Antonio and I certainly do not ever ever ever want to see the self-serving teachers who made this such a miserable event . We worked so hard. We got food trucks, on site macarons and ice cream, snow cones and more. We did it without our administration doing much and in fact coaches and directors actively tried to stop us. What should be an honor for our school is tarnished because nobody, NOBODY in this district or this organization give art teachers the same kind of support they give every other subject. I was so tired I was too tired to eat or sleep. All I could do is sit while my legs ache and my heart is so heavy because it is evident that no matter how hard we try or I try, we are taken for granted.

When I retire, which is coming probably next year, I will run off this and send this to every single member of TAEA because until someone tells them what a huge mess they have created, nothing will change. Until then, I'll keep this handy. I want to remember why our schools are the way they are and why our culture is at risk. And a culture where people can simply ignore rules, or worse, set up rules for some that others don't have to obey, is a culture where elitism will always occur. We see that with our government, with power trips around the world. That this organization would allow some teachers to bully others who are simply trying to put on a damned high school art competition demonstrates how low people can go. There's really nothing left anymore but for everyone to be selfish and contentious over everything. I give up. Oh and by the way, if you are a state level official showing up to oversee a regional show, sitting around schmoozing with your besties in the breakroom is not the way to help. Get up, stop making exceptions and HELP.

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