CARTHAGE, Mo. — Every year across the state of Missouri, an organization accepts nominations to honor exemplary art teachers with a prestigious award for each age division. What’s unique about this year’s round of winners is two of them are from the same school district – the Carthage R-9.
The Missouri Art Education Association named Cheryl Church as the high school level recipient, and Alexandra Burnside won the elementary division (Fairview Elementary School). In 2015, Carthage’s Fred Mintert was selected as the junior high recipient. Church and Burnside have been in a bit of “sticker shock,” but said this award means a lot to their careers, their schools and their kids.
“I’ve been an art teacher for 24 years and I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever receive such an award,” Church said. “I feel like the students I’ve had throughout the years have taught me more than I taught them. This is quite a moment for Carthage because I don’t think there’s ever been three teachers acknowledged as a Teacher of the Year from one district.”
The MAEA started the Teacher of the Year award in 1979 as one prestigious award, and in 2000 the organization established eight categories across age divisions plus other special awards. This special honor recognizes educators across the state who preserve, promote and perpetuate art education. A portion of the extensive criteria to be nominated includes membership of the MAEA, community involvement and leadership within art organizations.
“This is my third year on the (MAEA) council and it’s a very cool experience to be a part of this group of fantastic, elite hard workers across the state,” Burnside said. “Art teachers can feel like they’re on an island – doing their own thing in a school building – but this organization helps bring art teachers together into this mega team across the state. It’s an honor. It’s an honor to help create opportunities for teachers to work together.”
Burnside represents nine counties in southwest Missouri as a liaison between the schools and the organization. She was nominated by Jessie Linhardt-Bayless, of Owensville, Mo. – a fellow art teacher she met during a conference.
“Through this organization, I’ve met the kind of art teachers I want to be,” Burnside said. “I care very much for my program and my kids. At the elementary level, you’re building the scaffolding for their world of art. Everyone can feel like an artist at that age, and it is about building their confidence – which will follow them wherever they go. It’s not about a path to perfection, and these days art has evolved from the one-project-done program. It’s more thoughtful, it’s more authentic and more aware of social influences. It’s so cool to be on the cusp of this new age of art and the next generation of artists.”
Church and Burnside will travel to St. Louis this spring to accept their awards at the MAEA conference. And it won’t be the first time they’ve got together outside their school buildings.
“I don’t know about other school districts, but I think Carthage is pretty special to have such a collaboration of art teachers,” Burnside said. “We get together every summer to go over our projects and lessons, and we have fun together. Friends with the same drive, rooting for each other, building off each other’s ideas and passions – it’s what makes you want to stay. And what I love most about this community is the visibility of the arts, the support from leadership and those who cheer them on in the district.”