First Semester – complete!

This week wrapped up my 1st of 3 semesters at Towson University studying Art Education. I learned so much; it’s kinda hard to put it into words… Instead, watch this dope stop-motion animation my classmates and I made!

But for real, this semester has been one of the most life-affirming periods of my life.

When this semester began, I had a very strong motivation and intention for entering the program, which served as the foundation for my philosophy of education. However, this philosophy has changed, largely in part because I have learned so much this semester: classroom management, classroom design, curriculum planning, lesson structure, growth mindset, etc. Understanding and practicing these methods gave me the nuts and bolts of teaching to develop real confidence. Teaching is an art, meaning that it has to be practice and perfected over time, but only if you first fully understand the techniques at the start. I feel that this class gave me that foundation. With that confidence, my original motivation has been strengthened.

At the start of this semester, I knew that teaching was my vocational calling – serving the community and contributing to society through art education – but again this motivation was strengthened by how much fun and joy arose through learning and practicing secondary education techniques. What has changed is that every single day I came to class, I discovered a deep passion and love for education and art. Dave Burgess says in How to Teach Like A Pirate, “When you interact with someone who is fully engaged and filled with passion, it can be an overwhelming and unforgettable experience. There is no faking it…” and I feel that my passion and love of the teaching profession and for art curriculum is now a core element of my teaching philosophy.


My philosophy has also been challenged: teaching requires incredible discipline, organization, and planning. It is not sufficient enough to have a strong motivation and passion. I will need a back-up plan for my back-up plan. Scaffolding curriculum and back-mapping unit plans to create engaging and effective lessons, requires attention to detail and many hours of planning, reflecting, and revising lessons. This is what I will need to work on because organization and logic are not my strengths. However, I am hopeful that since now I understand and appreciate the importance of these elements for the learning and success of my students, I will approach it with the same joy as other aspects of teaching.

Special thanks to my amazing teachers this semester – Kay Broadwater, Diane Kuthy, Dave Ninos, David Vocke, and Venetia Zacahary!! ❤

New work: “Float Thru My Mind”

2019 Copyright Monica Heiser

In this 18 x 24″ mixed media collage and acrylic painting, you see my mother as a child, being held by my grandmother, Irene. They float as a reflection in a swirling bubble, dancing between flowers in a field of irises. This work reflects on mother/child relationships, memory, and time, so that the viewer feels both pulled into the past and present simultaneously.

This painting has been in my heart for a long time. The fact that I am in school for art education right now is in large part due to the support and kindness that my mom and dad have shown me over the years: art supplies, books, classes… My mom is my biggest patron. At this point, I’ve painted so many paintings for her that the imagery of iris flowers has become a reoccurring symbol in my art.

Irises are my mother’s favorite flower, in part, because it was her mother’s favorite flower. My grandmother Irene reflects the symbolism of the flower color: purple irises symbolize royalty and wisdom; blue irises symbolize faith and hope. All four of these words symbolize my mother and grandmother. After WWII when the Soviet’s were unrolling the Iron Curtain, my grandmother fled from Poland with her mother and sibling. She stayed in England for a number of years, until she met her husband at age 23. My mother was born in England, and then emigrated when she was 5 years old with my grandmother and grandfather. There are some very sad parts of this story: my grandmother’s brother taken forever to concentration camps before they escaped; my mother’s father dying of cancer when she was 10 years old; and ultimately my grandmother dying of Alzheimer’s disease. This painting is an ode to my matriarchal lineage of resiliency. They will be remembered by their faith in God, their hope for a better future for their children, and their wisdom that they passed onto their families.

Additionally, irises are an ancient symbol; in Greek, the word iris means “rainbow” and the goddess Iris was the personification of the rainbow. The interesting thing with rainbows, bubbles, and moments of time, are that they all arise and pass away so quickly. Their beauty is in part because you realize how special it is that you are present to witness their truth bloom. Also, when you capture a photo of a bubble, by default, the background becomes blurry. I played with this idea in the foreground with the irises, and feel like it relates to human focus and memory.

When my mom was visiting her only sister in Seattle, she dug up a bunch of archival photos. I used the photos as a reference as I drew their portraits with pencil. I love drawing! It was so nice to “spend time” with my grandmother and mom by drawing their faces. I then scanned that drawing, edited it with Photoshop, and printed it out. I also used reference pictures of flowers and bubbles to get closer to a realistic rendering. The process to this painting is important: I messed up multiple times and it was because of those errors that I was able to figure out what I wanted. I spray painted the sky blue with the bubble being black. Then I realized I wanted the scene to be at night – representing the trials my mother and grandmother experienced. Wanting to experiment, I painted the bubble white and attempted my first “acrylic transfer” by soaking it with water and medium. I waited an hour for it to dry, but it seriously looked bad. The image severely tore when I rubbed the paper away and although the original image had supersaturated colors, the transfer was too washed out. Instead I just collaged another water-soaked copy of the image directly onto the canvas with medium, placing it directly on top of the acrylic transfer residue. It worked and had the saturation, warmth, and brightness of a summer day.

Feel free to let me know what you think, and/or if you ever want a commissioned portrait, leave me a message in the contact form on my website.

Elementary School Visit!

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Garrison Elementary School to see 2nd grade and Kindergarten art classes!

When the 2nd graders came into the classroom, they were directed to sit in the middle of a colorful 6×4 rug in the middle of the room. There, the teacher, Ms. Hulse, reviewed with the students the activities for the day: glazing their ceramic sculptures! She did an informal pre-assessment reviewing material about ceramics: no glaze on the bottom, the fired pieces will break if dropped, etc. Her voice was naturally soothing and soft; the children really listened! She called the names on the bottom of the ceramic pieces and they stood up to collect it and go back to their seats. She asked 2 students to help set up glazing pots. They worked for most of the class. At one point when she wanted to clam the class, she turned off the lights briefly. The clean up procedure was interesting: the painted pots were put on a cafeteria tray at the table, and then all the students received a wet wipe. After cleaning their hands they wiped off their tables.

Daffodils blooming in Fort Garrison Elementary art class ~

For the kindergarteners, they also came in and immediately sat on the rug, but their instruction was slightly different since they were starting a new project: they were drawing and painting daffodils! Earlier that morning, Ms. Hulse had picked daffodils and now a few bloomed in a vase at each of the tables. With a daffodil in her hand, she asked the students to identify the shapes and parts of the flower: stem, ruffles, bowl, leaf, etc. She then had the students move aside so she could demonstrate in the middle of the rug how to look and draw a daffodil with chalk, and then fill in the flowers with tempera paint. I appreciated how she used the rug as a “fishbowl” instructional area, bringing the content down to the children’s physical level. Also, bringing in a natural element into the classroom (a blooming seasonal flower) was a great way to bring introduce observational drawing. In total, the introduction and demonstration only took 15 minutes. The students then got up, got a sheet of paper and a piece of chalk and the art began. For their signal to stop working, Ms. Hulse chimed a bell. After they finished painting, they put their art on the drying rack and did the same wet wipe cleanup as the earlier class.

Note: I don’t know how I feel about this, but when she was having the students move, she did it a very disciplined way, explicitly naming the students and directing where and when they could move their bodies. I understand it was to help the flow of the class and optimize time, but it seemed rigid and controlling to me. Also, I noticed that the kids got supplies from a variety of different places. Perhaps if the supplies were pre-arranged in the middle of the room and accessible for students, it would help the flow of traffic in the room.

This semester has been crazy busy, and this has not been my first classroom observation (sorry I haven’t been able to write about them more!) However, it’s important to reflect on these visits and experiences because I always learn so much by watching expert teachers in actions! Stay tuned for another post soon about another school visit!

America Reads

Did you know there is a literacy crisis in Baltimore City? According to the 2016 PARCC Assessment, 21.6% of 3rd graders are reading below grade level, a figure that is double the State average. One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time. This is not okay.

That’s why I signed up for Reading Partners, an organization that collaborates with schools to bring in volunteers to address the reading crisis. It’s not a simple “read a book program”- it is a highly structured and personalized set of goals that address the student’s reading needs – phonological pronunciation of sounds, reading comprehension, fluency, and more. I will be volunteering with Robert Coleman Elementary School every week, and I could not be more excited!

For children to have equal access to opportunities and education, they need to be able to read well, and this learning happens at a very young age. Most of the kids I will be working with are in Kindergarten to 2nd grade. As an activist, there is a lot of work done around about trying to reduce crime, poverty, addiction, homelessness, police brutality, all of which are important, but helping a child learn to read so they can make better decisions for themselves and their community is an absolutely essential key to these problems, the student’s freedom, and to our collective liberation.

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” – Malcolm X

Did you know that Malcolm X taught himself how to read while he was in prison? Did you know that Frederick Douglass revealed that reading speeches by English politicians produced in him a deep love of liberty and hatred of oppression? Learning to read is a tangible and concrete act of activism because it instills in us the ability to navigate, reflect, and respond critically to the world around us. It is a basic skill that many of us take for granted, but remember, you weren’t born being able to read! Someone, or many people, taught you and showed you how.

Check out this excerpt of Malcolm X’s autobiography, where he details his journey of self-education while in prison:

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

Book review time!!! Yes, 100% you need to read this book, especially if you’re a teacher, student, activist, feminist, woman, &/or critical thinker. In this collection of 14 short essays, bell hooks speaks to the spirit and realities of education as a practice of liberation, as a “way of teaching that anyone can learn.” She is profoundly influenced by Paulo Freire’s life and work as an activist educator, so if you haven’t read his work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I would encourage you to read that before reading hooks, as it will give you better insight into her perspective and conversations. (For reference, the term pedagogy is defined as the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept). Some of my biggest take-aways from this book:

  • Being an engaged teacher means caring so deeply that you invest your mind/body and entire self into being fully present in the classroom, not only teaching your content, but really living it. This means goods teaching is hard, demanding, and incredibly fulfilling, for both the students and teachers: “Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process.”
  • If we truly want to engage in a liberatory education, we must confront the evils of racism, xenophobia, sexism, white supremacy, and capitalism perpetuated not only in our content, but also in our pedagogical practices personally and institutionally. To do this we must, “embrace struggle and sacrifice. We cannot be easily discouraged. We cannot despair when there is conflict. Our solidarity must be affirmed by shared belief in a spirit of intellectual openness that celebrates diversity, welcomes dissent, and rejoices in collective dedication to truth.”
  • Creating a sense of community, rooted in multiculturalism, where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute and take ownership of their own education, is a central goal of transformative pedagogy. As a white teacher, I need to continually study and assess “whiteness” and my biases of any kind so that my classroom’s affirmation of this multiculturalism and unbiased inclusive perspective is present whether or not their are people of color in my classroom.
  • With the ability to put words to your experience, to be able to explain and understand your struggle – theorizing – can be a space of profound healing.
  • The ability for students to speak from a personal experience, from the “authority of experience,” is important element of critical thinking. It should be encouraged in student discussion and discourse to increase engagement, not to silence others. The encouragement is especially important for voices that have been traditionally oppressed and silenced. “There is a particular knowledge that comes from suffering. It is a way of knowing that is often expressed through the body, what it knows, what it has been deeply inscribed on it through experience. This complexity of experience can rarely be voiced and named from a distance. It is a privileged location, even as it is not the only or even always the most important location from which one can know.”
  • Chapter 7 really resonated with me. Rather than deny, white women must seek to understand the many historical and recent ways we have passively and aggressively undermined the freedom of black women, in order for us to be able to work successfully together on a united feminist front. We must seek to confront our mistakes that has resulted in the generational mistrust, suspicion, and competition that linger today. “… the degree to which a white woman can accept the truth of racist oppression – of white female complicity, of the privileges white women receive in a racist structure – determines the extent to which they can be empathic with women of color .” It will take focused work, not only on an anti-racist front, but also on a feminist front, to critically analyze and cease the ways we exercise our biases and power trips over women of color. That is what is demanded of us white women to build sisterhood and overthrow the patriarchy…
  • Black women, those who deal with sexism and racism, develop important strategies for survival and resistance, and discover herself “holds the key to liberation.” This wisdom is so important for the entire black community and their voices need to be heard, especially since until recently, there has been a serious omission of black women thinkers and writers in the published world.
  • It’s important and possible to build allyships with people within your profession.
  • As a teacher, I must be unafraid and willing to give up control of the classroom to empower my students, again to create an engaged learning environment for everyone.
  • The engaged classroom is one that is full of passion and feeling. We must be careful not to disembody ourselves and our students, but recognize that our bodies are an important vehicle of knowing and traveling through this world.
  • bell hooks’ “commitment to engaged pedagogy is an expression of political activism.” I aspire to this level of engagement to liberate myself and my students.

1st Week of Classes at TU!

I’m so energized from this past week’s first days of classes at Towson University. I’m taking five courses: two on Tuesdays (9:30am – 6:50pm), two on Thursdays (9:30 – 7:20pm), and one online. This makes for long days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I’m grateful to only have to commute up to campus twice a week since I don’t have a car. The bus ride is about one hour (vs. a 20 minute drive via car LOL crazy) but the ride gives me a chance to meditate and collect myself before and after school.

My cohorts in the program are awesome. The 10 to 14 of us in Art Education have two or more classes together so we have already started bonding and creating a community of respect and excitement for learning! Four of them are also 2nd Bachelor students, meaning they too have degrees or career experience in other fields before choosing to pursue Art Ed.

The Art Education program requirements themselves are very engaging. This semester I am studying the media and techniques to teach to both elementary and secondary students. My two professors for this class are engaging, very experienced, and deeply care about art education. I am also studying Foundations of Secondary Education – the nuts and bolts of how to manage a middle and/or high school classroom – again, with a dynamic and caring professor! All three of these classes will prepare me for the practicalities of teaching: classroom management, lesson planning, and developmentally appropriate art content for kids, designed around the Visual Arts National Standards. I will be an active participant in experimenting and practicing the techniques I am taught, so I get first-hand experience of why those methods work. Both classes will get me in front of kids, with part of the class requirement being 20 hours of observing real teachers and classes in Baltimore County Public Schools. Wanted to share this cool graphic that we discussed in class yesterday:

Art-making is important to me because it teaches us a profoundly personal way of exploring and understanding ourselves and the world around us. It encourages us to be open-minded, to see new perspectives, and to have fun and enjoy ourselves while we explore! It values the experience and the process of our work and lives unfolding, not just the end product or profit.

Disperse Archives Opening x Daughters of Dust Artist Talk

Woo!! There is so much art happening in Baltimore; it’s hard to keep up! Last night and today Chappell and I went to two different art events that I am so grateful to write about it here.

Disperse Archives is a collaboration between Lawrence Burney, Joy Davis, and Jessica Douglas. At this point, I need preface that rather than listen to me write about, or archive the experience, you should just go to the exhibit. Why? Because this exhibition specifically centers black culture and how its narratives are constructed while empowering black people how to archive their own histories. It was a privilege to be at the opening and as a white woman, I would rather point to their genius so you can see it for yourself.

I did get to chat with Joy Davis, and as she is a professional archivist and curator, it was really inspiring to see her focus on the black people of Baltimore and their narratives. History and art history are sorely lacking the perspective of black people, especially when it comes to their own stories and histories. The Waller Gallery specifically highlights work by people of color. Located at 2420 N Calvert St., the work will be on display until March 2nd so you should check it out!

Today at the Parkway Theatre, we went to a special screening of Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash. It closed with an artist talk by Delita Martin, whose work is inspired by the film and is currently showing at the Galerie Myrtis.

Daughters of the Dust has been on my to-watch list since I took Video Art in undergrad at UNC-CH – shout out to Professor Truong (artist website). The film was shot on the breathtakingly beautiful Gullah Island, or Ibo Landing, off the coast of South Carolina set in 1902. It centers black women – their sisters, cousins, mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors – in the midst of a debate about identity before some of their family embark for the mainland. Rather than create a protagonist, Julie Dash frames the narrative in a nonlinear, and nonWestern format, using the act of remembrance and dramatic monologues from a variety of characters to weave a story that is timeless and enduring.

Delita Martin is a printmaker and artist, whose work has been consciously and unconsciously shaped by this movie. As an African American woman, she explores her own identity through her memories and relationships with her mother and grandmother. From a variety of symbols of safety pins, birds, bowls, to textured layers and slave ledgers, she constructs a symbolic and spiritual expression of her being.

It was cool to first see Disperse Archives show, and then follow it with this seminal film. Daughters of the Dust has been so influential in Black culture and identity since its release in 1991, partly being that it was the first nationally released film to be directed by an African American woman. Julie Dash archived her perspective through narrative film and since it has inspired countless other great black women artists, include Delita Martin and Beyoncé. I know a whole class could be taught on this movie, so I leave it here. Comments welcome!

10×10 & Beyond Beautiful Exhibition Openings

Last night my beautiful friend and fashionista Sandra Marie (link!) and my boyfriend went to two art openings, both which centered around community storytelling and youth empowerment.

The first was the Arts Every Day 10×10 Exhibit’s opening reception, a show put-on in conjunction with over 200 Baltimore City Schools, Baltimore Ceasefire, Access Art, and Art with a Heart and more at the Motor House. The works’ theme centered around the Baltimore Ceasefire movement of working together to build empathy and compassion, while teaching direct tactics of peace such as:

  • non-violent conflict resolutions,
  • respect for oneself, others, and our community, and
  • celebrating life through embodying and sharing life-affirming experiences.

The work was powerful, blunt, and raw in the way that only kids can do in putting color and emotion into a 10×10 square. Some squares were collages, others were paintings – one high school even did a ceramic mosaic. Still others included words like, “Black is beautiful; embrace yourself,” and “They ball hands in fists they shoot, we put our hands up they shoot.” The trauma some of these children experience – gun violence, police murder, and racism – are shocking. Rather than deny their experience, this art project helped the students form their own visual language and express themselves as a way to move through the pain to promote creativity and healing.

We got there late so we weren’t able to talk to the curators or teachers, but I did get to talk to two students whose artwork was on the wall. They were with their family and proudly pointed out their pieces on the wall to me. One of them launched into a detailed description of her choices behind her piece – the color purple, the last minute stitching additions, and the choice to frame just her photo and not the entire square. What was clear about both these students was they were proud of their work and their ability to display it to the larger community. For an aspiring art educator, this is *exactly* the type of art and community engagement that can encourage kids to enjoy art, heal themselves, and reaffirm their futures and see art as valuable peacemaking and community making tool. Bravo!

The exhibit is up at the Motor House until February 28rd. There is another “coffee talk” event on Feb 6h – Click for Eventbrite event link
For more information on the Baltimore Ceasefire project, visit:

Next was Beyond Beautiful: One Thousand Love Letters at the the Maryland Art Place (MAP). We caught the tail-end of the opening reception, with speakers and performers, curated by Peter Brunn. Back in July 2018, Peter put out an open call to all Baltimoreans requesting a love letter. He then lovingly illustrated and selected verses from the letters he received.

The great thing about attending opening receptions is that you get to hear directly from the artists – their intention, their emotion, their experience. The MAP has a stage, and folks from Access Art and Baltimore Clubhouse who had written letters were at the mic sharing their stories. A common theme of familial love emerged: one woman explained her love story as her family grew to 9 people; another described the loss and revelation of her mother’s constant love even after death; another spoke about choosing family by extending her love to those who suffered similar loss. The program concluded with a performance by Cherry Hill’s Youth Resiliency Institute. It included a larger-than-life, paper maché black grandmother and birds carried by a line of students whose preformed a call and response song on the power of love and family.

The performance and the stories shared helped bring the exhibit to life in a way that viewing it alone could not do it justice. From start to end, it was incredibly heart-warming, humbling, and inspiring, both challenging the audience to love more deeply, and to extend that love out to the rest of Baltimore. There will be other performances through the spring focusing on different themes – I definitely encourage you to check it out!

The exhibit is located at MAP – 218 West Saratoga Street, and will be on display through March 10, 2019.

Questions & Answers with myself

About ten days ago, I left my job at National Geographic Expeditions to focus full time on art, and to go back to school to become an art educator. Later this month I will begin taking classes at Towson University’s 2nd Bachelor program. The program will last about a year and a half. During this time, my intention is to focus on learning, reflection, and practicing my skills in art making, theorizing, and teaching. For this reason, I think it’s really important to have journal, a place to write and reflect and process my journey. I hope you can journal and journey with me.

Q: Why did you leave Nat Geo Expeditions?
While working at Nat Geo, I learned a lot about business. While well-intentioned with a 72 / 27 forprofit / nonprofit split, my work there was ultimately for another for-profit, capitalist venture that focused on profits so aggressively that it often contradicted itself. The efforts to grow no matter the cost creates a paradox that capitalism tries to blind us from. After the third round of CEO/VP changes, it was clear that the wealth is just changing hands and accumulating with larger companies like Disney and FOX. It made me question, “What do I want to work so aggressively for? What do I want to grow YOY (year-over-year)?”

Q: So what do you want to work for? (working answer)
The answer to the question above is people. Individual people, their mind, and their potential are the only thing in this world that have the ability to do what capitalism seeks – to grow endlessly. Having worked with children for many years as a swim team coach, babysitter, meditation teacher, I love encouraging, inspiring, and believing in the potential of children. Their joy is often infectious, and and I truly believe that they are worth my time, love, resources, support, and talents. In order to be a teacher of others, and to fully embody my belief of human potential, myself being a person, that means a lifelong commitment to growing myself as well. One cannot be a teacher without being a student. So I’m off to school to become a teacher!

Q: Where and why do you want to be a teacher?
I want to teach art in Baltimore City to be able to work with students to organize for equity in schools, and against the oppressive systems – internal biases, institutional racism, perpetual lack of resources and care, capitalistic values of production over humanity and the devaluing of the artist – everything that holds children back from reaching their potential. Many studies show that when children establish strong and caring relationships with teachers, they are more likely to succeed academically, even when factoring out other variables like race, socioeconomic status, and gender. Teachers are the first line of support for kids’ success, and I want to personally invest my life and career into teaching.

Q: Why do you want to focus on art? What does art mean to you?
Art is a visual language that transcends time and words. It connects us together in such a fundamentally human way. Art reflects the culture, environment, and people who make it and gives people the opportunity to form and reflect on their identities and actions in the world. Being an artist with some talent to see and recreate these connections in a visual way, I have a responsibility to use and make art that uplifts and transforms my own heart and mind and those of my community.

Q: What do you want to focus on in your art?
I want to focus on community connection, for without others, I am nothing. I want to focus on uplifting and using all of my privileges to improve the lives of others through art.

Q: What age of kids do you want to teach art?
I don’t know yet! I have worked with children ages 4 to 18yo and each age has its own challenges and joys. Many times it depends on what job I can get! After the completion of my program, I will be licensed to teach art to Kindergarten through 12th grade in Maryland.

Q: What expectations do you have of being an artist / teacher?
I expect to be challenged, to struggle, and to enjoy it. I want to be constantly making and teaching art, growing and helping my students to grow. If you were to ask me, where do you see yourself in 5 years, I will be teaching and making art in Baltimore. Hopefully I will still be writing in this blog for us to find out!