The arts encourage students to be creative, divergent thinkers, but they require educators to see each child as unique, according to Arkansas’ Teacher of the Year for 2012.

Speaking to an annual conference of school board members earlier this month, Kim Wilson, who teaches visual art classes at Monticello High School, said it’s not enough to teach students techniques such as how to mold clay into a coffee mug. Machines can perform that task. As a teacher, she must help them become critical thinkers driven by decisions, which means they must consider how the mug will feel when touching a person’s lips or why what was supposed to be blue instead turned green.

“If all the apprentice does is memorize the master, then they’re doomed to remain an apprentice,” she said.

She said that arts classes help students learn because they are places where it’s OK for them to fail, and where mistakes can become opportunities. She said that teachers also should view students’ flaws as opportunities and should see each child as unique.

“Great teachers see our students for who they are,” she said. “We help each student strive to their personal best regardless if that exists beyond the parameters of a framework, a standardized test or a data graph.”

She displayed slides featuring coffee mugs her students had created. One featured an oversized handle coupled with a small container. It wasn’t at first glance very attractive. But upon closer inspection, she said, the handle was meant to represent a doughnut, and many good things happen when people meet over coffee and doughnuts.

“In most classrooms, you’re penalized for breaking the rules. but we see that as discovering new solutions, creating something that is not listed in the textbook, or something that I didn’t provide to you in a demonstration,” she said. “It’s something that you found, that you put the energy and effort into.”

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