When Tricia Erickson was a little girl, her mother found her drawing pictures of Yogi Bear and his cartoon friends Tricia watched on TV. Struck by how accurate the drawings were, her mom asked, “You drew these from figures moving on a screen?”
“That was the first time I realized maybe I’m good at something,” Erickson recalls with a smile, in her high school art classroom.
Good at drawing, and as it turns out, very good at teaching. So says the Michigan Art Education Association, which has named Erickson both the Secondary Art Educator of the Year and Michigan’s 2018 Art Educator of the Year. She will formally receive the honors Nov. 4 at the MAEA conference in Detroit.
Her first impulse was to feel she didn’t deserve it: “There are so many great art teachers out there that are very deserving of this, including especially my colleague next door,” Erickson says, referring to Tanya Lockwood, who teaches art one classroom over. But she quickly realized the award pays tribute to the support and assistance she’s received from fellow teachers, her family and others.
“By saying ‘thank you,’ I’m really honoring all those people who have helped me,” says Erickson, in her 11th year of teaching at Northview High.
Lockwood, who has taught alongside Erickson for 10 of those years, expresses no such doubt about her deserving the award.
“She is the type of person who truly cares,” says Lockwood, who is treasurer of the MAEA but was not on the committee that selected Erickson. “She cares about the well-being of the students. Beyond what’s happening in the classroom, she also cares about what’s happening to them outside,” and tailors her interactions and lessons to “what’s best for students.”
“Teaching is an art,” she adds. “There is a finesse to teaching, and she does it so well.”
Felt the Calling Early
Indeed, Erickson is “an exemplary art educator,” says MAEA President Ren Hullender, an associate professor at Central Michigan University. Perhaps that is not surprising for someone who says she knew she wanted to be an art teacher in second grade.
That was when she had a teacher named Mrs. DeVriendt, at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Grand Rapids. Mrs. DeVriendt drew Disney characters like the Little Mermaid on the chalkboard each week. It was a revelation for the budding Yogi Bear artist.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age,” Erickson says. “Then I realized, ‘You can be an art teacher?’ That was it.”
She also drew inspiration from her “super-crafty” aunt, Louise Amash, a recently retired special education teacher at Cedar Springs Middle School, who taught Erickson how to cross-stitch.
After graduatingfrom Coopersville High School, she majored in art and design with a secondary education emphasis at Grand Valley State University, and earned a master’s in art education at Kendall College of Art & Design. Following two years of elementary teaching in West Ottawa and Hudsonville, she came to Northview, where she had student-taught in college.
Freedom to be Flexible
It’s proven to be a great fit. Erickson has teamed with Lockwood to build an art program enrolling some 500-plus students, many of whom have produced award-winning works. They include works by Ellie Haveman and Nick Ensing that were chosen for display in U.S. Rep. Justin Amash’s office in this year’s Congressional Art Competition.
The teachers developed a course called Creative Problem Solving, which features “design thinking,” an approach widely used in industry to develop products. On a recent morning, Erickson had her class meet with Superintendent Scott Korpak and Executive Assistant Lisa Wieringa to design the perfect pair of shoes for each.
She’s also teaching Advanced Art, Fashion Design and Photoshop this semester, and will lead classes in drawing and photography next semester. Erickson loves the freedom such classes offer from strict standardized testing objectives, as well as the interaction with students they foster.
“There’s flexibility in art to do different things. Because of that I get to see more of my students than the average teacher,” says Erickson, who often roams the classroom checking out students’ work. “I have the time to sit down and talk to kids: ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ What I love about what I do is connecting and building relationships.”
She also likes helping to prepare students for “what’s next,” whether that’s art school or something else: “just finding your passion and what you care about.” She calls art class a safe place for many students to explore that and express their feelings.
Several of her students have gone on to artistic achievements and careers. One of them is Amelia Volwiler-Stanley, whose installation work “Burden” is featured in ArtPrize. She recently returned to speak with Erickson’s students.
She loves seeing her former students who have gone on to prosper in art – or other fields.
“That’s the most exciting part as a teacher,” Erickson says. “Even the kids who are not in fields related to art, hearing what they’re doing – it’s very cool, very rewarding.”