Like teachers everywhere, Jackie Shows spent the summer nervously wondering what fall semester would look like and how to prepare for it.
“Last spring was very difficult, I think, for every teacher and every student,” said the fifth-year Columbus High School ceramics instructor. Thrown abruptly into teaching online by the global pandemic in March, educators had to rapidly adjust.
Most core educational courses are text-based, but ceramics is a 3D art, a tactile learning experience. Shows knew she had to MacGyver her way through teaching hands-on skills without the ability to be hands-on at all. Her strategy then involved virtual discussions on art and pottery, plus sculpture-building projects using items students could find around the house. Play-Doh was a next-best option when clay couldn’t be had, but few families were eager to get out in stores to buy it during the health emergency. Spring was challenging, but challenges lead to innovation.
“It gave me my desire to try even harder in the fall,” Shows said. “I just turned that into this year I’m going to do this, and I was going to make it work. … I’ve been a mother for a long time and a teacher for a long time, and there are times you just put on the brave face.”
Shows currently teaches Ceramics I and Ceramics II to students enrolled in the hybrid schedule — attending in-person classes two days each week — plus a significant number of students taking all their classes online, or virtually.
“My hybrid students work hands-on in my classroom, and when they’re not at school I have them study and prepare,” said Shows. “They only get two class periods this semester a week instead of being with me every day for five days, so we have to make it and we have to work.”
Hybrid-schedule students may have less studio time with their instructor per week, but class sizes are smaller this fall, allowing for more one-on-one interaction in person.
Virtual students don’t have the face-to-face instruction, but they do have the option of increased online studio time if they desire, able to join any video classroom.
With all students, the instructor teaches hand-building techniques including pinch pottery, coil building and slab building.
But what about clay?
On any school day afternoon, it’s not unusual to see a car ease up to Show’s “clay cart” outside Columbus High. The cart is one of the instructor’s solutions to a pandemic problem.
“I roll it out every afternoon from 3:15 to 4 p.m. and students can swing by to pick up clay or drop off pieces to be fired in the kiln,” Shows explained. “They message they need clay that day, or that they need to drop off, and they don’t have to come in the building.”
“She gives us enough clay to last a week, and then we go back for more,” said ninth-grader Shakira Brooks. “I just turned in an open-mouthed monster and a leaf dish to be fired.” Brooks takes ceramics virtually. She’s a first-time student but already proud of what she’s learned.
“I put (my finished pieces) on display around the house,” she said. “It feels good actually; I see the accomplishments.”
Like all Shows’ students, Brooks has been researching proverbs for a new project — specifically proverbs that contain the word “hand.” Students are also designing a hand sculpture inspired by and containing the selected proverb.
“They’re designing whether the fingers will be together or apart, whether they will do one hand or two,” said Shows about some of the decisions students need to make.
“I’ve chosen my proverb,” said Brooks. “I’m doing one hand and I’m using ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.'”
The hand project illustrates how Shows incorporates other fields into her lessons.
“I try to teach them a little bit of chemistry; they’re learning the chain reaction when (clay) goes from dirt to glass,” she said. “I’m also incorporating English, like the proverbs, or Shakespeare or paintings.”
Donation of kilns
Two kilns donated to Columbus High School this past week by the Columbus Arts Council are cause for celebration.
“We are so grateful. I’m super excited,” said Shows. “It’s going to allow me to fire more frequently, and larger pieces also, and we’ll be able to glaze students’ pottery. That means we can actually make a usable plate or coffee mug.”
The kilns, surplus to arts council needs, were transported to the school Wednesday.
Arts Council Executive Director Jan Miller remarked, “With COVID-19, we are working hard at the Columbus Arts Council to assist the schools in any way we can. (The pandemic) has not been easy for any of us, but we have increased our outreach to the schools; we’ll continue to help our art teachers as we can.”
With additional kilns and hopes for eventually adding pottery wheels to CHS ceramics, Shows is optimistic about student opportunities. And, though no one wanted it, the pandemic has answered one question: Yes, hands-on skills can be taught even in a hands-off world.
(See more photos at cdispatch.com Lifestyles link.)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.