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Finding balance between teaching and creating.

Pennsylvania Art Education Association President Elect/Art Teacher Leslie Grace

Pennsylvania Art Education Association President Elect/Art Teacher Leslie Grace

Leslie is originally from Beaufort, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. A southerner by birth, she is a transplant to Philadelphia where she has called it her home for the last 13 years. 

Leslie received her BFA in Art Education from Georgia State University (Atlanta) and her MS in Education from Saint Joseph's University (Philadelphia) and was recognized in the Alpha Epsilon Lambda National Honor Society
Leslie began her teaching career in Atlanta, GA at North Springs Magnet HIgh School for Arts & Sciences. After 2 years in that position, she moved to Philadelphia and taught in Delaware at 2 elementary schools. After a year of teaching in Delaware, and after traveling to Japan through the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholarship, Leslie began teaching at Friends Central School in Philadelphia. For 6 years, Leslie taught middle school art at FCS and assisted with costuming the middle and upper school plays. From FCS, Leslie moved on to teach art in the public schools within the School District of Philadelphia. Since 2013 Leslie has been teaching K-8 art in urban Philadelphia.
In 2015, Leslie was recognized by as one of  Philadelphia's top 16 Leaders in Education under 40 years of age. In 2016, Leslie received the PAEA Outstanding Elementary Art Educator of the Year Award and the  Center for Creative Learning through the Arts Outstanding Educator of the Year. Starting in the Fall of 2017, Leslie began an additional position to her current role as an adjunct professor at University of the Arts, where she instructed undergrad and grad students on Methods in Elementary Art Education.

Outside of teaching and creating art, Leslie likes to travel, see bands perform, urban garden, cook, binge watch TV shows, and play Zelda. :)

You are heavily involved with the Pennsylvania Art Education Association on top of your work as a teacher. What does your typical day look like? How do you balance all of your responsibilities?

A typical day for me begins at 6am. I walk a short walk to school and begin the day readying lessons and catching up on emails for an hour before I teach. After that I re-write my daily post it note to-do list, prioritizing what is most important to get done first and before the end of the school day. I am huge list maker. Embedded with in my tasks list I have other categories of lists like "PAEA (Pennsylvania Art Education Association) business", "To-do at school", "UArts to-do", etc. Beyond these digital tasks list, it's the post-it note that truly helps keep me focused on what needs to get accomplished most immediately. After making my lists, I teach my k-8 students. At lunch time, I continue to catch up on emails again, or post blogs for PAEA. At the end of the school day, if there is no drama club or art club scheduled, I once again catch up on emails, clean the art room, prepare lessons for the next day and finally reflect on my day as I stroll home. Once home, I catch up (with a glass of wine) on any other PAEA business or any Philadelphia Art Teacher Alliance (PATA) business, and in the fall I spend a lot of my evening time after work grading UArt's students' papers, lessons, and reflections. (PATA is a group I founded and runs of more localized art teachers in Philadelphia who meet once a month to connect, support, and share ideas.)  After all that, I cook dinner and decompresses in front of the TV with my favorite shows. That decompression time is key to my sanity. It allows me to turn my brain off for an hour or so and just relax. As for balancing all my responsibilities, I  am a very logistical minded person and maybe a bit more left brained than the typical artist. My prioritizing and list making help me stay on top of responsibilities, and I understand how to manage my time while still giving myself a little space to breathe. 

Are you optimistic for the future of the arts in your state's classrooms? 
Sometimes it is hard to be optimistic for the arts in education when leadership does not always support it, but for Pennsylvania, I choose to view the situation as a glass half full. The School District of Philadelphia is on an upswing of hiring arts educators, granted, there were major cut backs of specialist teachers around 2011/2012, which left many schools in the district without art or music programs. Besides Philadelphia's renewed energy in promoting the arts within our schools, the Pennsylvania Art Education Association works diligently on arts advocacy for our schools and students. Including Youth Art Month in March, the PAEA, has a lot of initiatives happening to help teachers promote their programs and make the case for arts education. Their presence is heard at the Capitol, with frequent art advocacy postcards being sent to politicians, and with art teachers and students traveling to Harrisburg to advocate for arts education to the state senate and lawmakers directly! Within the Pennsylvania Department of Education, their is a Fine Arts Education Consultant named David Deitz who works endlessly to promote an arts education curriculum and to keep arts educators of all arts disciplines connected across our large state. There are a lot of gears in motion to support the future of the arts in our state's classroom, and for me,  that is inspiring and hopeful. 

What is the PAEA doing to support teachers who want to do art on the side as well as teach? Do you feel like there is a need for such support?

The PAEA hosts an art show almost every other year for members to exhibit their personal art. In addition to that, we have a makers mart at our state annual conventions, much like the NAEA does. Some of those PAEA "makers" are also promoted on the the PAEA website. For PAEA, Pennsylvania is divided into 12 regions and each region has 1-2 representatives who serve on the PAEA board. Each regional representative hosts at least 2 workshops a year in their region. Some workshops are related to the members’ role as educators, while others are to support the educator as an artist. A few regions have annual paint slams for members, which allows them to get together for a few intensive hours and hone their painting skills while having a group to critique. Recently, one of our PAEA board members wrote a blog entry discussing her method of balancing the artist and her work life. 

I believe art educators do need support in their ambitions to create art as well as teach art. Some art educators do not have the desire to also create and exhibit their own art, and with teaching being more than a full time job, that makes sense as teaching is an art! But those teachers who do aspire to create and exhibit sometimes need a little inspiration or the time carved out in a workshop to help them realize their ideas, and its also helpful to have a dependable venue to be able to exhibit like the PAEA provides.

What would you tell someone who is considering going into art education, but isn't quite sure about it?

I would tell them that they need to be sure that this is something they want to do. Being an art educator puts you on a path of continuous learning, reflecting, and growing and one has to be passionate about their field to keep up with the fast changing trends and best practices. That passion for art education also comes into play when an art teacher makes and provides a nurturing creative environment for their students. Students can feel the teacher's energy and enthusiasm for what they do, and if the passion isn't their, engagement is lost. I would suggest to the prospective art educator to visit a few art classrooms in different settings, to talk to some art teachers, read a few art teacher blogs, and begin to get a feel for what their lives are like.  

Being a teacher is not a "just in case" type of degree. It takes full commitment and love for the role. There will be a lot of bad days and a lot of good days, dedicated students and apathetic ones, supportive administrations and administrations that do not value art, but the love for teaching something you are passionate about and inspiring future generations will drive you to get through those more difficult moments. 

Are you involved in any sort of support network of other artists or teachers?

I am involved with a group of art teachers called the Philadelphia Art Teachers Alliance (PATA). PATA is a group I founded when I began teaching in the School district of Philadelphia and felt brand new to teaching all over again. I felt that teachers in the district were so isolated and often needed support and resources, and so PATA grew out of a smaller meeting I attended frequently. Philadelphia area art teachers get together once a month to share student art, share lesson plans, offer classroom management advice, support each other, and collaborate with local institutions and museums. Through PAEA, we offer professional development hours (ACT 48 in PA) to PATA teachers who are also PAEA members.

In addition to that, I’m involved in Prints Link Philadelphia, which is a group of art educators who work in printmaking. They host workshops, present at conferences, and exhibit art every other year. 

Do your students see you making art?

Besides seeing me make exemplars for the lessons my students work on, they frequently see me painting the backdrop or creating costumes and props for the school play. When students are working more independently on their art, I often sit at a table with students and work on my exemplar of the same lesson they are completing. It creates a rapport and sense of camaraderie with my students when they see me creating alongside them. Other than that, I couldn't possibly manage making my own personal art in my classroom as I am often pulled in so many directions that I feel I would be neglecting my students who need assistance or more guidance. My classes are 45 minutes long and we try to accomplish a lot in their, so time is super precious and often spent in a somewhat organized chaotic way.

What role does music play in your classroom?

In my classroom, I sometimes plays music to help keep the students creativity flowing...that's if she can remember to turn it on! With back to back classes, and little to no time in between, I can become forgetful of that detail. ;) While cellphones are not supposed to be brought to school, and are supposed to be collected by classroom teachers, students still often have them with them throughout the day. I am of the mindset to not fight this trend....students will have technology in their hands, we can fight it, or find ways to utilize it. So if my students have their phone, and want to listen to music in their earbuds while working, I am fine with that, and I see that it does keep them "in the zone". I also allow them to research images they want to draw. They usually ask me first if that's ok, and of course I say absolutely!

How has teaching changed the way you make art?

When I make art I  am often thinking about what I would tell my students if they were doing what I am doing. Teaching art has opened my ideas up to endless possibilities in what I can create and work with, becoming a jack of all (art) trades. As an art teacher, you have to know how to work with a wide variety of materials and mediums. Though in the past I was into photography, and currently have been into printmaking, I  am thinking about making botanical watercolor illustrations next, as I have found a new love for watercolor techniques through the lessons I have taught with my students. My classroom has also inspired my love for picture story books, especially ones that are related to the art room, and I aspires one day to write and illustrate my own picture books, though that may be far off in the future.

How has your own art influenced the way you teach?

I try to remember how my interests and passions are what fuel my desire to create and that can be applied in my classroom. I teach at a school that did not have art for about 15 years and I built the program from the ground up. Many of my older students are insecure about their art, and plagued with the "I can'ts” . . . “I can't draw . . . I can't do art . . . I can't paint . . ." So with those kiddos, I try to create projects that would be successful for all students and that would allow them to draw from their personal interests. When they come in and say "I can't think of what to draw", I urge them to draw from their interests, use their favorite colors, represent themselves, as that will engage them more in what they are creating and they will feel more ownership and more empowerment in their art. 

What advice would you give other artist teachers?

I don't know that I have the best advice to give. I find it difficult myself to carve out time to create, and normally I use my summers to make new art. But for me what works is creating art that I can start and walk away from for extending periods, and then pick it up again and just keep going. That is why I like monoprinting and creating collages from those prints. I can take a few hours to build up some monoprinted (gel-prints) of textures and designs, and put those aside for weeks. Some of them I draw directly on top of, but others I focus on creating radial designs, sometime referring to them as Mandalas as I do find it to be a meditative practice for myself. If I am collaging them, I can be cutting out shapes and pieces on another day, and again, put that down until I find the time or inspiration to assemble them into a radial creation. So for me, the pleasure of creating comes from engaging myself in something that is more non-committal and something that gives me peace to create, and I suppose that is what I would advise other teacher artists to consider - to find their grove in a practice like that. 

What advice would you give to a brand new teacher who wants to be an artist as well?  

Honestly, I would suggest to them not to push themselves or be to hard on themselves if they are not creating art those first few years. Those first few years of teaching can be quite overwhelming, and any free time that exists is spent on building up their lesson plans and building their art curriculum. Once they find their grove in teaching, then they need to find their grove in balancing their time as an artist, and that can be tricky to figure out, at least it is with me since I have my hand in so many other pots of the art ed world!

Why is it important to you to continue making art?

I want to stay connected with the emotional and physical experience involved in making art. I want to keep my skills sharp and understand the metacognitive process that takes place when I make artistic decisions. This understanding helps me think of how I teach in my classroom, how I can get my students to be more aware of their thoughts and decisions that they make in their art and to be more empathetic to the struggle they may feel when trying to express their ideas through art.

Do you listen to any podcasts or read any books that help keep you motivated in teaching and creating art?

I tried listening to few few Podcasts like The Art of Ed podcast and A Piece of Work by Abbi Jacobson, but personally I get super annoyed by some of the banter that podcasts naturally seem to slip into. I prefer listening to books on audio- some art related and some not. Currently I am listening to The Gardner Heist, and recently finished up Provenance: How a Conman and Forger Rewrote the History of Art. In the near future I look forward to listening/reading The Artist's Way. I don't have a lot of time to read books, so I find listening to them something that allows me to multitask. I listen while getting ready in the morning, on my walk to and from work, and when doing chores around the house. I guess it is sort of cheating, but for me, it's my podcast time in a way. :)

Find Leslie on the following media:


The Philadelphia Art Teacher Alliance webpage:




Nebinger Artsonia:


Linked in:

Visual Artist/Musician/High School Teacher       Chris Yee

Visual Artist/Musician/High School Teacher Chris Yee

Artist/High School Art Teacher Danielle Livoti

Artist/High School Art Teacher Danielle Livoti