I want to tell you about the background art on my blog. It’s one of my favorite things–if I were Oprah, you’d all be going home with a copy. This is the full image…
This beautiful piece happened in June 2011. My art teacher friend and I had been talking all year (at least) about how much fun it would be to create some “wheelchair art.” We must have been inspired by some muddy tire tracks or something. Finally, we decided to make it happen on the last day of classes, with my Beginning ELD (English Language Development) class.
You guys, Beginning ELD classes are like nothing else. There’s magic. You get these kids together from all over the world, and they couldn’t be more different. But they’re all figuring out this new language and culture together, and also sharing their home languages and cultures with each other. They spend equal amounts of time bickering, and helping each other, until before we know it, we’ve become a crazy, quirky little family. My favorite days are the ones when my lesson plans get shoved aside because the kids have more interesting stories to share. I don’t even feel guilty about it–they’re telling stories in English, and isn’t that the goal?
So by the end of that 2010/11 school year, like always, the beginners had transformed from quiet, scared individuals, to a chatty, expressive team that shared inside jokes and memories that still make us smile when we see each other in 2016. What better way to celebrate our community than by creating some art together?
Art Teacher Friend had a canvas tucked away that we decided would be perfect for the project. She came with materials, and we pushed the furniture to the back of the room. I’d told the kids there was going to be a surprise on the last day of classes, but they had no idea why they were putting on aprons and filling dishes with paint… When we put sponge brushes in their hands, and told them to start painting my wheelchair tires, the looks on their faces were priceless! They all hesitated for a bit, clearly wondering if they’d understood the directions. But soon enough, they each had chosen a color and claimed their space on a tire.
Once the four wheels were sufficiently rainbowed, I rolled across the canvass until we needed to repaint. We repeated the process a few times, with the kids suggesting which parts needed more color, and which direction I should drive in.
It looked…. ok, until one kid suggested, “Ms. Napper, you should do a… a… um… how you say… like Homer Simpson eat?”
“A doughnut!” Excellent idea. We refilled the paint once more, and I spun in a circle this time. He was so right. That’s exactly what it needed.
At some point, we noticed a wheelchair-using student passing by in the hall, so we invited him in to see what we were doing. His jaw dropped. “My mom would KILL me!!”
I assured him that, “So would mine… don’t tell her!”
Before we were finished, the kids all painted the bottom of their shoes, and paraded around the canvass. It’s hard to see in the photo, but you can see in real life that their footprints are intermixed with the tire tracks.
(The shoes were easy to clean afterward… The tires were a beast. There were traces of paint left for months, but I kind of loved it.)
The finished product makes me all kinds of happy! I’m usually one of those people who don’t “get” abstract art. But somewhere in those colors and patterns, I see a ridiculously accurate depiction of my classroom. That’s exactly what my kids and I look like, and what a day in my job feels like. When I look at it, I remember the specific kids who helped in its creation, but it reflects all my other classes too.
Some less socially skilled individuals have asked, and others have wondered silently, “Can you really be a teacher with a wheelchair? Do the kids actually respect you?”
Short answer: Um, yes…
Longer answer: I could talk all day about the ways Lucy (my chair) makes me a better teacher than I’d be without her. Let’s list a few…
- There’s nothing like living with disability to make you a creative problem-solver. This point really deserves its own blog post, but for now I’ll just say that I love helping students discover creative ways to use their strengths (which they’re usually not too aware of) to get past their weaknesses (which they’re usually very aware of).
- My students learn to get outside of their own heads and offer help so naturally, that it’s almost eery. I’ve had classes where all I have to do is think, “I wish somebody would…” and before I can finish the thought, somebody is already doing it. They learn to think about and help the people around them, and that there’s no shame in asking for help when they need it.
- It’s ELD–pretty much all of my kids have experienced feeling marginalized, put down by society. I can relate. I may be part of the racial and linguistic majority, but I can absolutely relate. The kids and I can talk about the tough stuff on a level that really matters.
It’s a crazy dance of rainbows being splattered in every direction…. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!