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About the art of education
MHS mural
Manteca Highs Advanced Art classes with the Art Wing mural painted outside classrooms earlier this year.

My name is Matt McDonald and I teach Visual Art at Manteca High School. I am extremely blessed to be an educator here at Manteca Unified School District and part of a culture of educators who have a passion for their craft and the students we work with.

When I started teaching, I was so franticly creating lesson plans and sourcing materials that I hardly had time to think about a philosophy of education.

I mostly noticed when things went poorly. I noticed when a student lacked confidence, or isolated themselves. I got into education later in life after pursuing several career options. I began to think about how these students would perform in real world jobs and situations where you need a variety of skills to make it. I knew that I had to teach these young adults more than just how to make art.

I found this quote by the late Elliot Eisner, Stanford Professor of Art and Education:

“We are interested in helping viewers understand that art activities in school are not designed simply to produce pretty pictures, but to stimulate, develop, and refine a wide range of very sophisticated modes of thought.”

I immediately put it on the wall in my classroom where it would constantly remind me of my greater purpose.

A step into any Art classroom will tell a beautiful visual story. Drawings, paintings, and murals adorn the walls. The finished products are great to look at and can really spruce up a room, or a campus.

However, it’s the process that the students undergo which is the most important. The creative process forces a student to experience a wide variety of emotions. They feel excitement, anxiety and doubt and ultimately feel pride and accomplishment.

The technical process exercises the mind to figure out what materials will produce the best result, and what aspects to approach first in executing correct order of operations. Classroom discussions about art open the students up to vulnerability and they learn important social skills.

Art students do incredible things on a daily basis. Often they are experimenting with Physics in balancing objects and compositions.

They use chemistry to mix mediums and create the perfect viscosity of paint. These “Makers” get their hands dirty everyday with plaster, clay, and oil.

Art students engineer and construct sculptures with real tools, such as saws, hammers, and drills. They calculate ratios and measurements to scale up drawings and murals. These students also learn entry level job skills in Design related fields.

We love to have fun in Art class. We listen to all kinds of music, play games, watch films, and students move freely about the room working on a variety of projects.

To someone coming into the room during class it may look a bit chaotic, but the students are engaged. My students don’t wait for inspiration, they show up to work every day, just like a job.

When we are working on a mural, every student participates, every day, no exceptions. Even if they are the one who is moving a ladder or cleaning a bucket.

Leaders emerge who jump in to do the difficult tasks and serve others. We work out in the elements, and I hear complaints, “It’s too hot”, “It’s too cold”, “It’s too windy”, and I encourage them to work through it.

I know that by working through the tough stuff comes the feelings of accomplishment and pride. No matter how small a part they played or how hard it was to go outside on a cold early morning, they will remember that a strong work ethic and willingness to jump in and help makes them an integral part of the greater good.

Every year we have site Art shows, as well as the District “Best of the Best” art show, and I am so overwhelmingly proud. That sense of pride doesn’t come from all the compliments I hear, or how many of my students received awards.

I’m proud that my students worked through adversity to accomplish something. When I look at the Artwork I don’t see pretty pictures anymore, I see the student who created it.

I recall all the time and effort they put into it, and I hope they took something more than a wall hanging with them.