Dec 8, 2015

Meet a Mural Arts Teacher!

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

Meet Monay Washington, our newest lead teacher in the Arts Education program. Her journey with Mural Arts stretches back to eye-opening artistic experiences in high school as a student in our Mural Corps program, and now she’s come full circle!  Monay’s been honored by Mural Arts as a winner of the Jane Golden Visionary Educator Award, and recently spoke at the National Guild for Community Arts Education conference alongside Lisa Murch, Mural Arts’ director of arts education. Read on for Monay’s 360 degree perspective on life at Mural Arts as a student, an assistant, and a teacher.

Carly: How did you get started with Mural Arts?

Monay: In 10th grade, I heard an announcement at high school that there were some after-school opportunities with Mural Arts. They were having a portfolio day, where students could bring a portfolio, Mural Arts staff would look at the art, and then let you know if you could join the program. I wasn’t sure if my stuff was good enough, but my mom really encouraged me to gather all my drawings and sketches and go for it. An artist came and looked at my work, and told me that it looked great and that she would like to have me as a student in the program. I was in the program during 10th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade, and I had amazing teachers, people like Betsy Casanas, Michelle Ortiz, James Burns, Kien Nguyen, and a few others. Their teaching stuck with me, and they were really supportive. My teachers were great about keeping in touch after I’d left classes. Michelle Ortiz helped me to stay involved in art activities, even after I graduated from high school – and she always used to ask me to assist in other mural projects. Betsy Casanas was also incredibly supportive, and she helped me to get scholarships for classes at University of the Arts and at PAFA.

Carly: And after you graduated from high school, you still kept in contact with Mural Arts?

Monay: Yes! Lisa asked me if I had any interest in being a teacher’s assistant or a mural assistant, and I told her I’d love to be a teacher’s assistant. I started by assisting with the Big Picture Program. It was elementary school students, and there was a lead teaching artist and I was her assistant. It was incredible. And from there, I worked with about six different teaching artists. I really liked that they would alternate the assistants and that we got to work with different teachers, because I feel like I learned a lot from different types of artists and their teaching – it made me the teacher I am today. It made me well-rounded, and more confident and secure in my teaching voice.

And now, as a teacher, I have my own assistant! October was my first month, so this is a new thing for me. Lisa had emailed me and asked if I wanted to become a teacher. I didn’t know how to respond – I kind of was in shock! I talked to a mentor of mine at Mural Arts, Ellissa, who asked me if I wanted to teach. I realized that I really did, and that I was ready to take this on. It’s going really smoothly, and I feel really comfortable with the curriculum that I’m presenting to them – the students are responding well to it.

Also, as someone who’s struggled with dyslexia, I’m very aware of making the classroom a place where all different types of people can learn, and that all of my students have ways to express themselves. I make my quizzes visual, rather than verbal, so that my students have lots of ways to understand and express themselves.

Carly: What sorts of things are students learning in your class now?

Monay: In October, we stuck with the Open Source theme, so we did a SWOON-inspired wheatpaste print, and then we did a SWOON inspired installation box. They turned out incredibly well. This month, we’re working on our Cyrus Kabiru inspired spectacles and Kabiru inspired self-portrait.

Carly: Do you think that you have a different perspective on teaching, having gone through the program yourself?

Monay: I feel like I have the perspective of a teacher and a student. Since I’ve been in the program as a student, I can put myself in their shoes and that whole learning and experiencing a whole new art world. I have the excitement that they have, and I have the curiosity – I still have that curiosity as an adult, it’s just never going to go away. I just love art.

And I want them to take it as seriously as I do, to know that this is a real art class. I have high expectations for my students, but I have high expectations for myself too. I think when you give students a challenge, they will rise to it, and even go beyond what they thought they could do.

I’m also trying to introduce my students to lots of artists. I’m arranging for guest artists to come talk to the students and to give them insight into different things. I’m excited because Amira Mohammed is coming to talk, and she’s the subject of a mural that’s on the wall of the Friends Center. She’s such a great role model for the girls, showing how someone really turned her life around. They can really relate to Amira’s story and what they’ve been through.

Carly: Do you imagine that one day, your students will be mural assistants or teachers too?

Monay: I would love that. I can see one or two students who really stand out to me already. They are so focused and detailed. They come into class and get straight to work, and always ask me great questions about how to be a better artist. I’m going to try and help them get even more artistic opportunities. I’m still learning, but I hope I can be like my first teachers, be that supportive, and give my students good advice.

Carly: That’s fantastic. So do you think you’ll be teaching for a while?

Monay: I want to be at Mural Arts until I retire! And I’m only kidding a little bit – I really love working here and I want to for many, many years. I also want to be open to lots of teaching opportunities. I’ve been thinking about going back to school to get a teaching degree, because since I’ve been doing this, I’ve really found I loved teaching.

Carly: Thanks so much, Monay!

Last updated: Jan 6, 2016

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