Interview with Art-Ed Hero Ashley Lehenbauer


Where do you teach and what grades to you teach?


I teach grades 5 -8 at Apollo Middle School in Antioch. I have been teaching for 7 years now consecutively at Apollo.




What is your favorite time of the school day and why?


This year my favorite time of the school day is the morning because I have my upper grades including my advanced students before switching gears and teaching my younger kiddos in the afternoon.






Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feels similar?


I love getting to actually know my 6th graders. Most of my students don’t start yearlong art until 6th grade and each year my 6th graders come back after the summer nearly completely different from the year before. Watching them bloom into such awesome middle-schoolers really finding their own personalities and where they fit in is always so fun to be a part of.




What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach?


I emphasized in sculpture and ceramics in college with a lot of attention to mixed media so getting to explore these mediums while teaching is always a treat. A lot of our students are aware of traditional art materials but not necessarily mixed media or sculpture and tend to struggle a little more in these areas. I’ve found over the years these lessons stick with my students the most because of how much of a challenge they faced and after a time it just turns in to a really awesome story and fun memories.





What is saving your life in the classroom right now?


Being as organized as possible! We have such a large population of non-English speakers right now and transparency and organization are key to making sure all our students especially our EL learners are comfortable in the art room especially when considering a lot of these students have never had art in their schools previously. Also, my yearlong students who notice the little things that I don’t and take a lead on helping in the room as much as possible!




What is your favorite memory(or a memory you cherish) of seeing a student you taught whose older now and no longer in your school?


I just recently received a letter this past spring from a student about to graduate high school. I had this student for a brief time my second year of teaching so I didn’t have as long with him as some of his classmates but his letter truly made me feel as if I had taught him all four years of middle school. It was amazing to hear him recall his time in our class and the impact I made on his life even after all those years with other educators. He even mentioned in his letter previous projects we had worked on and his time on our Disney Trip that year. He will be attending a local University this fall before transferring to Columbia University in New York next spring.




Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about?


I love teaching Van Gogh to my younger students and my older students really enjoy Frida and Chuck Close.




What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom?


During the school year I’m usually entirely focused on school work and helping students enter their own artworks into shows or competitions and then at times even preparing their own work for show so my own studio time gets put on the back burner unless I’m working towards a specific showcase or deadline for a commission. Students ask me often throughout the year to see my own work and I like to be as transparent as possible with them so I don’t mind showing them current or past pieces and this helps students, especially my older students, understand the importance of narrative, theme, and message when creating their own artworks.




What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues?


“Borrowing” supplies or making things for their lessons or classroom. I’m pretty actively involved in school committees and I also tutor in the mornings and try to run an afterschool club so my days are always pretty full and spare time to make extra things is pretty limited also I always tell my students to be mindful of their own responsibilities as well when they are asked. Most of my colleagues respect our supplies and will either trade with me when they need an item or will actually donate supplies but it never fails each year I have at least 1 colleague that seems to think we’re their local Walmart.




Do you let people borrow your glue guns(or art supplies)?


For our non-consumable supplies I try and keep some older items on hand for lending out such as the hot glue gun, paintbrushes and containers otherwise the answer is a no unless they have items to trade or it’s a teacher who donates items often.




How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now?


We have an amazing librarian who is always excited to collaborate. In the past, we have done science tie-ins, social studies, ELA; really anything that requires my students to do some amount of research she’s my go-to lady! These lessons are also really important for our students because they don’t necessarily have time in their academic classes to build these research and computer skills.




If you had the stage in front of administrators and art policy-makers, what would you want to say about why art education is essential?


I grew up a lot like my students and art always gave me a sense of stability whether it was at school or home but for a lot of our students they don’t have the option of going home and exploring art or it isn’t necessarily encouraged so that might be the one thing they look forward to in their day or it might be the only reason they even come to school. Also my student’s time in my room each day is not necessarily just focused on visual art skills. Each day I see these students building communication skills, developing social skills and learning how to interact as a community; all of which are vital skills and values needed to survive in any social structure and something a lot of our schools have lost past the elementary age. Finally, we’re also seeing a shift in the job market and what employers are looking for when interviewing candidates. Having our students involved in the arts requires them to think differently and to practice creative thinking skills more often so when they get to the point where they need to compete in a job market they have those skills to set them apart.




What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator?


Either as a full-time artist or an art educator, it requires your full commitment and before making that decision you have to be prepared to give it your all especially when you are first trying to establish yourself in either field. Be prepared to be rejected a lot and know that it almost always has nothing to do with you personally. Spend the time making those connections; it sometimes is all about who you know and at the end of the day sometimes all you want to do is talk to someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. There is no such thing as a lazy artist or art educator. Anyone who tries to say your job is easy has never tried to do your job. If you are a full-time artist you are also your biggest champion, greatest critic, manager, employee and if you decide to become an art educator you are all the above times a hundred for all of your students.




Who was your arted hero growing up?


I had a few growing up; my elementary art teacher Ms. Self because she was always so enthusiastic and wasn’t afraid to let us use a variety of materials, Mr. Overby my art teacher freshman year for seeing me and entering my artwork in my first art show and my college ceramics professor Meagan Kieffer for putting up with my crazy for nearly ten semesters!