Exploring Education at WIS
Humans of WIS: Meet Mara Wilson
This post is the first in an occasional series featuring different #HumansofWIS.
When Design Technology and Art Teacher Mara Wilson was attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the WIS Primary School was under construction next door. At the time, she thought, “I want to get into that building some day.” She had no idea that one day she would be teaching at WIS!
Since 2002, Mara had been working in art education in various capacities. When she decided to return to school to earn her Master’s degree in Art Education from the Corcoran College of Art & Design a few years ago, the program required her to student teach. As she considered how she wanted to fulfill this requirement, she thought, “I’ve already worked in public schools, I’ve worked in public charter schools, and I’ve worked in international schools, but I have never done international education in the U.S. So I thought...let me try teaching somewhere that will expand my knowledge.” That’s when she rediscovered WIS! She completed her student teaching at WIS and, after spending a year away, returned to WIS to work in the Middle and Upper School Visual Art Department. This year marks her fourth year at WIS.
Why does she like working here? What makes her stay?
“I’m happy. I’m supported here, especially in regard to professional development. I can actually use my planning periods as they are intended—whether it’s grading, working on tech issues, shadowing another teacher, supporting a child—I can just do my job, and I am actually able to do most of it at work.
Also, the conversations are different here. They are constantly reflective about your practice as a teacher. I have conversations with others about their varied experiences, where we learn from each other about the different places we have lived and traveled. It’s nice when someone knows where you have been, and they don’t need a map. We may have different viewpoints on an issue, because our experiences of it are different. But we approach those differences with respect and interest, not judgment.”
Here are some interesting facts about Ms. Wilson that you may not know…
She will have a piece of her art displayed at the National Art Education Association Museum in Alexandria, starting in October.
“I have a reduction print inspired from a series of South African art works that I am working on. It is a four-color reduction linoleum print of a person grinding corn. It was selected to be displayed at the the NAEA gallery in Alexandria from October–April.
What inspired me to do reduction prints is that I had never done them before. Nancy Totten had been doing them for years, as part of a unit that we do with the Grade 7 students. I had never done it before, so I had to do it alongside my students last year, so that I could teach them. I did a smaller one of corn, as a practice, but teaching them forced me to get it done more quickly.”
She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
“I served in the Peace Corps in South Africa, in Limpopo Province. I was what they called a resource teacher (here they would call it an educational coach). I worked with three primary schools—early childhood up to Grade 8, in all subjects. This year is my 10-year anniversary of returning.” What made her want to join the Peace Corps? “I had so many teachers who helped me get where I am, whether it was working with me during lunch time, or letting me know about other opportunities. I thought, “You know what? I can go away and help other people, and I don’t really need anything from them in return.” To me, it was about just being kind to other human beings.” She found that she really enjoyed teaching, and wanted to continue when she returned to the US.
She has worked at the Holocaust Museum.
“I worked there in the summers during college, and I’ve also worked there the past few summers. The most recent program I’ve worked with is called “Art & Stories.” We work with high school students—we give them a tour of the museum, and then they meet a survivor. They talk to the survivor and then create a painting based on that individual’s story. We help them to tell the story visually.”
She collaborated with the Anacostia Museum this summer.
“People in my community came to what is called an artist’s studio visit. They came into my apartment (because I work at home in the summers). I put out my art work and they could see how a practicing artist does it in the community. It was nice, because as a teacher, I had all the steps and drafts ready to show them. When they had questions, I could provide the answers and the steps I took, and explain all my reasons for why I did something a certain way.”
She is on the WISSIT faculty, and will be presenting her “Migration of Color” workshop from WISSIT at her alma mater, VCU.
Without spoiling it for those who have not attended, this workshop focuses on a specific color—its history, the way it became a status symbol, the way different cultures have used it over time. “I slowly revealed information as the workshop progressed. I might present one fact, or image, that attendees would interpret. Then I would present an article, then the article would reveal the image they were seeing. Then they realized we were talking about this specific color. And so each time I revealed something, I just felt like it was a deeper dialogue. The conversations were much more interesting.”
The next time you see Ms. Wilson in the halls, be sure to ask her about her personal works of art—they are stunning!
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