Derek T. Elwell Mt Juliet High School Visual Art
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Derek T. Elwell Mt Juliet High School Visual Art I. Background Information My career has had many interesting turns. I’ve been trained as a chef and cooked my way through college at The University of Tennessee where I earned a BFA degree. I’ve worked in almost every aspect of the graphic arts industry, from customer service, sales, running presses, to owning a small letterpress company. I was an enumerator for the 2000 census. In 2002 I was trained to drive a school bus and drove for Wilson County for nearly 3 years. During that time I began working on my Masters degree in Education. In 2004 I was hired as an elementary art teacher at H.B. Williams Elementary in Sumner County where I taught Art to Pre-K3 through 5th grade students. In 2006 I began teaching Visual Art at Mt. Juliet High School. The following year I earned my Masters in Education from Tennessee State University. I continue to teach all grade levels at Mt. Juliet High and coach both Varsity Tennis and Volleyball. My wife and I currently live in Mt. Juliet where we own a small Decorative Arts manufacturing company. My wife and I have two awesome boys; Henry (7) and Charlie (5), both attend Lakeview Elementary School. II. Professional Biography and Philosophy I tell my students that, “time is the commodity of life”. What you do with your time and what I do with mine defines who we are. I have chosen to spend my time teaching. I think back to a quote I heard from a retired veteran teacher. When asked what she taught, she replied, “Well, children, of course.” I may teach Art, but my real love is the students. I have had many jobs, but this is what I have been called to do. I entered the teaching profession because I love seeing children learn and knowing that I had some part in inspiring them to acquire knowledge. I spend time with my students. I know my students and building rapport reinforces the trust I have in them and the trust they have in me. Since beginning my teaching career I discovered that the teachers I admired most were consummate professionals. They were constantly developing their skills as educators and took an active role in their professional environment. I have been fortunate enough to have several mentors and each has given me a part of them that will always stay with me. In trying to repay this gratitude I have assumed several leadership roles in both my school and my district. I am currently the representative for related- arts in Wilson County for professional development and serve as a faculty representative for our Faculty and Administration Committee. I currently coach Varsity Tennis and Volleyball for my school and chair the communication arm of a group that intends to build more tennis courts in Wilson County. Giving back also involves mentoring a fellow art teacher who felt she had lost her way. She and I have worked to improve her curriculum and instruction, but most importantly her confidence and will to teach. This process is ongoing and is beginning to bear fruit. As I reflect, the one aspect of teaching that brings me the most joy is seeing students, specifically those that fall outside of the norm, achieve success. I can think of two students in particular who illustrate this point. The first of these students is William Griffith. William is an excellent and gifted student to be sure but was without guidance when we first met. In my art class we not only used art to examine our world but also to examine ourselves. William showed interest in a particular style of art we were studying: DADA. This particularly cerebral school of art suited him perfectly and coincidentally we were able to visit the Frist Center for an exhibit of DADA art and a lecture. From that evening on, his passion was ignited. He has since been accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. On the opposite end of the cognitive spectrum I am teaching another student. This student is autistic, and verbally limited, but we have discovered that he loves to draw and paint. He works tirelessly in my class. I have had this student for two semesters and through art we have been able to broaden his abilities and the results are amazing. His verbal skills have increased and his interpersonal skills are improving. Special needs students provide me with a joy that so many educators share. The possibility and evidence of growth among these students is what I like to call, “a tax free bonus”. These students challenge me to be creative and innovative new approaches to instruction. It is true that you must always strive to grow as a teacher and this challenge is one I gladly accept. Positive results in teaching can be achieved through a variety of techniques, but I have found that several key concepts have proved, for me, more reliable than others. By providing students with a positive learning environment and high expectations, they will thrive. By getting to know students you can build on their individual learning styles and cater instruction accordingly. To stretch their abilities you must allow them to operate in their zone of proximal development, showing them progress and providing encouragement. If a student believes they can succeed, eventually they will. Finally, you must have a sense of empathy and love what you do. Students notice if a teacher is not in it “for the long haul”. This is a lifelong endeavor, and I am so fortunate to be making my contribution. My teaching philosophy is eclectic. I believe students construct their understanding of the world based on the experiences they have. A teacher’s job is to arrange experiences and scaffold them for the greatest effectiveness. Authentic tasks are far more effective than contrived ones and a teacher should strive to make learning authentic for students. I believe learning starts with questions and what follows is a discovery process. I am a “guide by the side” as opposed to a “sage on the stage” teacher. Finally, empathy and love are emotions that must be present in all teachers. I agree with Mortimer Adler when he stated that learners are like vessels of different sizes and shapes, and all deserve to be filled to the top with the same pure substance. III. Professional Accomplishments I believe my greatest contribution and accomplishment in education is evident in the accomplishments of my students. I am speaking not only of average students but those whose abilities lie outside the norm. These students represent my desire to reach and teach every student that enters my class. As an art teacher I am afforded the opportunity to begin working in the affective domain and progress to helping students grow cognitively. I am able to help special needs students, with results that extend beyond the classroom. Concurrently, my gifted students go on to college with a set of thinking skills that we’ve worked to develop together. Having students tell me that I’m the best teacher they’ve ever had is what makes this the best job in the world. IV. Beyond the Classroom I am currently a member of the Tennessee Art Education Association (TAEA), Wilson County, Tennessee and National Education Associations (WCEA, TEA, and NEA). I currently represent Related- Arts educators on the Wilson County Professional Development Committee and facilitate as needed. I am one of 5 teachers at Mt. Juliet High School who were selected to present concerns from the faculty to the school administration (FAC). I have had two student teachers in the past three years and I am currently a peer mentor for a fellow art teacher. I am the current Communications Chair for a group of parents and other coaches determined to build more tennis courts in Wilson County. I currently coach Varsity Tennis and Volleyball at Mt. Juliet High School. Along with two, fellow art teachers, Mt. Juliet High School has over 60 works of art on display around the county. We have had student worked displayed at both Cumberland University and The Frist Center for Visual Arts. V. Recognitions, Awards, Other Highlights of My Teaching Career In 2004, I was one of only two graduate students selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society at Tennessee State University. In 2005 I was awarded the “Golden Apple Award” while teaching at H.B. Williams Elementary. This award is for going above and beyond as an educator and team player. In 2006, I was awarded a grant for technology in the classroom through Best Buy and Mt. Juliet High School. Most recently, I worked closely with one of my advanced art students to prepare her portfolio and interview for Tennessee’s Governor’s School. She and I were absolutely thrilled to hear of her acceptance to attend the 2009 program.