By Sarah Kohnle
For Paisley Goembel, art isn’t just something she teaches – it’s even in her name. She says her mom named her after the pattern and her dad agreed because he was a Prince fan and Paisley Park was Prince’s recording studio and private estate in Minnesota.
Goembel will be starting her fourth year in Canton this fall, and much to her delight, at the same school she attended as a child. There’s a certain inherent comfort level because her kindergarten teacher is there, and she teaches in the same art room where she learned art from Mrs. Levengood. In fact, most of the staff at Canton were her teachers.
Teaching wasn’t her initial thought when she graduated from Culver-Stockton with a fine arts degree in graphic design. She worked in advertising her first year out of college, but the career wasn’t calling her.
“I felt like something was missing, and it was hard to sit all day. Plus, I was commuting from Canton to Hannibal, 45 minutes every day,” she says.
Her mom, a teacher in a nearby district, suggested teaching might be a better fit. Goembel discussed the idea with one of her professors, whose wife happened to be the Canton school nurse and had an office right across from the art room. Connections were made and Goembel says the next thing she knew, she was meeting with the superintendent to apply and interview. She returned to Culver for more classes and student teaching in order to get her certification, which she recently earned.
She teaches kindergarten through sixth-grade, with a little preschool mixed it. With the youngest students, her goal is to expose them to art in small ways, perhaps like a letter of the week or something seasonal.
She gets to know her older students by sharing a lot of stories.
“It helps build relationships and then they will share. I try to find out their interests too. When they sit together and talk, I hear what they are interested in,” she says.
The fifth-graders love to talk about the news and current events, she says, and their comments run across the political spectrum, leading to a bit of discussion.
“Current events provide a great deal of inspiration for their work, when I give them a little more creative freedom. They also help me when planning, because I know they’ll be drawn to the subject matter.”
Her biggest misconception about teaching was something she didn’t pick up in her books.
“I didn’t realize that in addition to subject matter, you teach a lot of behavior like sharing, listening, giving step-by-step directions, practicing safety, and the power of pre-corrects. Like for example, ‘don’t throw clay.’ It might be squishy, but there is sand mixed inside it or please do not drink the watercolor water. I know it looks like Kool-Aid, but it is not!”
During this past year, her third year, she says she has pushed herself.
“It takes time to decide what kind of teacher you want to be. I have worked hard to make this room an experience for them.”
Borrowing a concept from one of her former high school teachers, Goembel created a trip to Europe for students. Because she knew they loved news and current events, she tied art into the April fire at the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. She lined up chairs in the classroom in the configuration of a plane and showed a YouTube video of plane taking off and landing. Using Google Earth, the class explored Paris.
“We studied Notre Dame’s gothic architecture and the students drew Notre Dame, and incorporated watercolor on the top to look like lights that occur occasionally on the building at night.”
One favorite lesson has been with her fourth-graders. It’s a favorite for her because she loves to see it evolve over four class periods. She takes a photo of their faces, and the students cut out half and have to draw the other half. They get accustomed to drawing with value and texture she says.
“From beginning to end, it’s remarkable to see their progress.”
During Black History Month, her older students studied internationally acclaimed artist Tyree Guyton and his work, such as Magic Trash and Heidelberg Street in Detroit. Goembel checked out his website and contacted him, and his assistant emailed her back. Her students made projects inspired by Guyton’s style and shared them with him via a video chat. Goembel says he admitted it was the first time he’s talked to a class, and there was no charge. His story was inspiring and made such an impact on the Canton art students that one student told Goembel, “this is going to be like the only famous person I’ll ever meet!”
For her sixth-graders, she became a moving art exhibit this spring. She had recently taken up sewing and sewed a white dress as a canvas. Students kept adding patterns with fabric markers, getting it ready for her to wear at the art show.
For Goembel, the great part of being an art teacher is being that person that helps them form a passion to create.
“I love teaching in such a happy, loving environment. It’s rare to find a career where kids greet you with hugs when they’re excited to see you! When my students see me outside of school, they run over to hug me or shout to me across parking lots! They make me feel like a rock star!”