Mr. Sanders: Teaching Art during COVID-19 and his story

By: Nathan Tolson

As COVID-19 challenges the way we as students learn and teachers teach, it has become a major challenge adjusting to new norms like virtual learning and teaching, and the hybrid schedule created by Darlington County School District. We wanted to interview Mr. Sanders, an art teacher at Hartsville High School, about what it’s like to teach virtually, the challenges of a hybrid schedule and new rules as a result of COVID-19, and what led him to become an art teacher in the first place. Here’s how Mr. Sanders responded when we asked him about the following.

How would you explain what you do as a teacher at HHS to someone who doesn’t know what being a teacher entails?

“I am an art teacher, but more than that … I’m a life coach, a friend, a listener, a motivator, a nurse, a counselor, a speaker, a leader, a guide, a truth teller, a fair yet tough educator. I’m in your face, consistent and careful. I’m empathetic and passionate about what I do. I teach that art is life and art can save your life. I encourage loving, kind and honest expression. I teach how to critique and take criticism and discover the need for critical analysis as well as self-reflection. I discourage negative talk and thoughts at all costs. I am like the sun and water to my students.”

How did you become an art teacher?

“I have my degree in Visual Arts with a concentration in graphic design. I was working in the industry for 5.5 years. Life hit and I lost that job. I was blessed to gain an opportunity to work in DCSD at West Hartsville initially as a behavior manager, then as an administrative assistant & data manager. During that time I also mentored students, became a Scout leader, and I discovered a talent/love for educating the students of the Hartsville area. I then used my degree to apply and enter into the SC PACE program. Simultaneously, Dr. Charlie Burry gave me my 1st teaching opportunity in 2016 at HHS! Been rocking out, growing and learning ever since. I have my own Freelance Graphic Design business as well. I have successfully been in business for over a decade.”

What types of limitations are you facing with art supplies and projects students can work with in the classroom?

“Covid-19 is real. It’s very serious. I don’t play around with it. The truth is we can’t nearly do as much as before because a lot of the items we used are shared by all my students. With that being said, we’ve been drastically reduced in what we can do, but I do my best to monitor and adjust.”

How do you teach art without your students in the room and are there any significant challenges that come with teaching art virtually?

“I pretty much do the same in virtual as face 2 face, but I’m just not there … honestly, it’s very hard. They have to upload everything and it’s soooo many variables to what I receive. I like consistency, but these times right now are far from consistent or certain. I am challenged a lot by this WHOLE covid-19/virtual situation, but … I’ve been learning as I go and I ask my students for their feedback on how it’s going and what I can do to be a better teacher for them.”

Has anything become easier with the transition to a virtual classroom?

“Seeing my virtual students 4 times a week versus 2 times a week with my F2F students is one of the only benefits. I wouldn’t use the word easy for any of this year’s challenges. So, no. Nothing became easier for what we do in art.”

What advice would you give to someone considering a job in the art field?

“Be passionate about art. Be true to yourself. Be honest and loving. Do the knowledge of finding out as much as you can before committing to anything.”

Would you recommend being an art teacher to someone contemplating becoming one?

“I definitely would recommend being an art teacher. We are needed and very important in this unique state of the world. Art is everything. It’s the best / most constructive way to express yourself while combating/discovering personal, family, community, historical, and world issues in a way that evokes emotion, conversation, understanding and empathy … versus destruction, ignorance, misinformation, confusion and chaos.”

Thanks so much to Mr. Sanders for being a great interviewee and for taking the time to answer our queries.

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