Our Exceptional Teachers: Creekside’s Jane Montero shares the art of teaching

Most people are defined by one or two things during their time on this spinning rock – Jane Montero feels fortunate to be defined by two things that are completely connected, creative and very, very rewarding.

Imagine finishing a magnificent painting or completing a perfect sculpture or drawing something so beautiful it causes your eyes to pop and heart to pound. Montero has been there, done that – and is still doing it. Now imagine being able to teach a young and enthusiastic child how they can create and capture such beauty. Montero has been there and done that, too. And she’s still doing it and loving it.

Montero has been the full-time art teacher at Creekside Intermediate School in Dexter for the past 20 years, sharing her gift and passion for the arts. She’s a talented artist in her own right who found the right fit for a career in helping teach others how they can turn a blank sheet of paper into something memorable and meaningful and magical.

“Art is my passion – from drawing to painting, photography to digital design,” she says. “I have always loved drawing ever since I was in elementary school. My aunt showed me how to draw a cat when I was about 9 years old and I must have practiced that one cat for an entire year. In high school, I took as many art courses as I could – graphic design, photography and painting. I even entered Rotary Contests and won several times.”

Her education was a palette of artistic endeavors. She earned a B.S. in design from the University of California/Davis, a B.F.A. in Advertising Design from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Ca., and an M.S. in Education from the University of Southern California.

After college she tried advertising but the colors simply didn’t match up. And then everything changed.

“I was asked to substitute teach at Art Center College of Design, and from the moment I opened the classroom door, I knew teaching was the place for me,” she says. “I love working with students and helping them discover their own creativity.”

When it comes to teaching and sharing her knowledge and passion for the arts, Montero’s canvas is large and diverse. She isn’t a starving artist who uses teaching to pay the bills – she takes teaching very, very seriously.

Let’s head to the head of the classroom and discover the art of teaching.

Jane Montero with the award she received from the National Art Education Association’s School for Art Leaders in 2019.

“Teaching is about giving,” says Montero. “Giving of our time, talents and support. When I reflect upon the best teachers I’ve known – either when I was a student or with my colleagues – those who have risen above the rest have passion, dedication and a deep level of motivation to help everyone succeed.”

Montero admits that teaching can be challenging – especially now – but the rewards are endless and meaningful. She says teaching requires knowledge, ethics and “the strength to never give up on students.”

And teachers wear many hats.

“We are teachers first but have also been known to assume the roles of parent, friend, advisor, listener, and most of all, advocate,” she says. “Teaching is the most personally rewarding career I can imagine.  I have laughed, cried, been frustrated, and exhausted; yet, I’ve also experienced joy with students, colleagues and the community.

“As teachers, we model respect, inclusion and kindness. We can help make a difference in the lives of children and have a responsibility to be there for them, now more than ever. Teaching is a creative collaboration between learners and educators. There is nothing better than being in the classroom with a room full of excited students ready to learn!”

Which brings us to 2021, when teachers haven’t been in a classroom with a “room full of excited students.”

Montero recently wrote an article on teaching in a COVID world for School Arts, a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts.

The article, called “Pulling Out All the Stops,” is a reflection of teaching art under COVID times. Student art was submitted and Anna Lueken’s (now 7th grade) was selected for the article by the editors of School Arts.  She just received notification that School Arts is publishing a second article she submitted titled “Mosaic Madness” which is co-authored with Janine Campbell, a middle school Art teacher from northern Michigan.

In “Pulling Out All the Stops,” Montero talks about how she helped create an online learning environment intended to engage and empower her students. “This new world of teaching has become all about online communication, building relationships through Zoom meetings and discovering new ways to deliver high-level content,” she stated in the article.

After Dexter schools closed due to COVID-19 last March, Montero created a Virtual Art Club via Google Classroom. In 24 hours, membership rose to 75 students. “Students submitted their drawings, iPad sketches, and photography for feedback from peers and me,” she says. “The relationships that were built have carried forward into this school year.”

Montero currently has 90 students in the Virtual Art Club and they meet once a week via Zoom. “This project is an evolving experience that has promoted trust, friendship, and a sense of belonging,” she said.

Even though they have been teaching virtually, Montero says, “each classroom has become a collaborative community,” that she looks forward to seeing every day.

Another creation she is proud of is a graphic design project using Google Chromebooks.

“One of the struggles regarding teaching art to fifth and sixth graders is that by that age, students are very aware of their artistic abilities, those who they see can draw, and those who have difficulty with hand-eye coordination,” she says. “In order for students to experience success, especially those who say they can’t draw, I created a graphic design project using Google Chromebooks during art. What I found was that students who claimed they couldn’t draw excelled and loved having the chance to create art that wasn’t solely based on drawing ability.”

Additionally, this project worked beautifully for the school’s Special Education students with assistance from Paraprofessional Educators. “Students who couldn’t physically type were able to tell the Paraprofessional what words they wanted to use, and these were typed for them,” she says. “Students searched online for images to use instead of drawing by hand. I believe the success of this project was due to the novelty of technology in the art room and non-reliance on artistic skills.”

“These two pieces represent me before (above) the pandemic and now (below),” says Jane Montero. “I based the design on Pablo Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ painting he created as a response to the bombing of Guernica. “These are kind of ‘somber,’ but it kind of tells it like it is right now.

A California girl, Montero met her husband Pete at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and the couple have been married 31 years. After seven years of teaching in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District (just south of LAX along the Pacific Ocean), Montero began her teaching career at Creekside in 2001.

“When I first came to Dexter, teachers said, ‘what you will find here is that teachers truly care about students and our community. The front office knows all the kids by first name,” she remembers. “This has been proven over and over again since I started here. Dexter is a small town with families invested in education and teachers and administrators who promote a caring environment for all students.”

Of course, Montero is still very active in the art community, and her desire to create is as strong and exciting as ever. It’s a full circle, she not only inspires her students, but they inspire her as well.

Montero has four presentations accepted for the upcoming National Art Education Association’s virtual conference 2021 that begins next month. These proposals were written over the summer and based on Virtual Art Education, Empathy in Art Education, and Design Thinking.

A lot has changed since Montero first walked to the head of the class – “when I began teaching in 1989, teachers were allowed to smoke in the staff lunch room, and men sat at one table, women at the other” – but most of the changes have been for the better – for the students, the teachers and the future of art in our culture.

“Teaching, regardless of the subject matter, is a fantastic career and one that I am proud to call mine,” she says.

“This is one of my pieces that I love because I have a printmaking background and created this entire piece using digital design tools,” says Jane Montero.

Our Exceptional Teachers: Denise Dutcher, Creekside Intermediate School

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