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Chosen by art, to her students’ benefit

Rockstar Teacher: Tanya Lockwood, MAEA art educator of the year

Northview — One might sometimes mistake Tanya Lockwood’s art classroom for a lesson in modern dance.

The fluid movements and expressive gestures of the Northview High School teacher as she moves around her room paint a vivid portrait of her approach to teaching students how to think about art.

“I ask my students to reflect on why they choose what they choose, why they are drawn to certain images,” Lockwood said after a recent review of color theory, before assigning them to paint an original image inspired by a famous artist.

No matter the project, “I have to be able to explain, ‘This is the rationale, this is the process, this is the result,’ and I have to be conscious about why I am teaching this way,” she said. “I want them to be thinkers, and the best way to learn is to teach someone else what you know.”

Art Was Choosing Her

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lockwood was adopted at age 5 and grew up in Grandville. She graduated from Grandville High School in 1989.

“I’d always been artistically inclined, as well as had an eye for design,” she said. “People would always tell me I was so crafty … it was an interest of mine, but not something I thought I would pursue as a career.”

She liked to draw and paint as a child, and said her artwork was noticed. She played architect and interior designer, drafting sketches of elaborate homes and decorating the spaces inside. 

‘Her telling me I could do better, that I was capable, it just lit this fire in me. … Who knows where I would have been if I hadn’t had such a passionate teacher.’

— Caleb Wells, 2017 graduate and clothing designer

As so many other children do, “I also pretended to be a teacher when I was little.”

Lockwood took her first art class as a senior in high school. She hadn’t made time for it before then in her school schedule, as she was focused on saxophone in band and was a drum major.

A broken arm while playing girls football in high school (called “powder puff” back then) led to an initial plan to pursue a degree in medicine. But a meeting with a guidance counselor while a junior in college revealed her credit path to be most aligned with a degree in fine arts “because every elective I’d taken besides Spanish was a visual arts class.”

So you might say that while she didn’t overtly choose art as a degree and her life’s path, art had been choosing her all along.

Growing an Art Program

Lockwood earned a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s degree in reading and language arts from Grand Valley State University, and a second master’s degree in art education from Kendall College of Art and Design

She has taught art throughout K-12 schools, first at Roguewood Elementary in Rockford, then while living in Colorado and Virginia. When she and her family moved back to the area, she taught at Godwin Heights High School before joining the staff at Northview in 2008.

Lockwood keeps this note from a former student in her office

“I have taught at every grade level, and every level has its delightful, and its worrisome, elements,” she said with a laugh. “Working at the high school is fantastic because of the in-depth conversations I get to have with students. When you can see them consistently every day for a semester, or for a full year, it’s lovely having that ability to really get to know them.”

Neither she nor colleague Tricia Erickson were full-time when both started at the high school. Now both are, and their classes are consistently filled. The district has become known for its visual, performing and musical arts programs. 

It was such a subtle thing, to see our art program grow,” Lockwood said. “Tricia and I are very proud of the fact that so many students wanted to take our classes that we were overloaded.”

Erickson, Lockwood and middle-school art teacher September Buys have all earned recognition from the Michigan Art Education Association for teaching art, with Lockwood named most recently as its art educator of the year. She also was named art educator of the year for the region. Buys also has earned national recognition.

“For a district to have three, (that means) half of its art teachers have state or national recognition,” Lockwood said. “That is pretty cool.

“I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many well-crafted teachers in their fields. I can always learn from them, because they have crafted the art of teaching.”

Still Learning

This esteemed company extends to her peers outside the district, who she says continually contribute to her professional development.

Lockwood is a mentor teacher for various universities’ teacher preparation programs, and has been an adjunct instructor at Aquinas College and Calvin University. In addition, her roles in the MAEA have included regional liaison, conference presenter, planning committee member, co-chair and mentor.

Does she regret not going into medicine? 

She thinks for a moment about her late mother’s cancer, and perhaps being able to recognize symptoms in time for treatment if she had been a doctor or nurse. 

Otherwise, no regrets. Those expressive hands have been put to good use.

“I still love what I do. Coming to work is fun. It makes me happy,” she said. “I always tell my students that, if you can find a job you love, that doesn’t seem like work, that pays the bills and gives you discretionary income as well, life is good.”

Long-term Impact

Lockwood keeps in touch with former students, mostly through social media. And she’s glad to know some have taken those words to heart. 

Jessa Challa had Lockwood as a teacher starting in her junior year at Northview, having just transferred from another district. The 2013 grad said Lockwood “was the first art teacher I had that really encouraged me to put my work in competitions, whereas before I never really thought that was a possibility.” 

Today, Challa is a software engineer and CEO of Mallowfields in Grand Rapids. She still paints as a hobby, and thinks Lockwood’s influence has carried into her professional life.

“In the work I create now, my passion is to make data that people can consume in a visual way,” Challa said. “When I visualize data and put together a website or software, I really have to think about how the audience is going to look at it and navigate through it. You want the viewer’s eyes to go from one focal point to another and really be immersed in that experience, to make that impact.”

‘I want them to be thinkers, and the best way to learn is to teach someone else what you know.

– art teacher Tanya Lockwood

Caleb Wells, who graduated from Northview in 2017, was involved in art and the flag-spinning color guard, and now designs color guard uniforms and heads a genderless and sustainable clothing company.

“(Lockwood) was always willing to go out of her way to help any student who was interested in a specific type of art, to help them learn more and grow on their own,” Wells said. “That’s what made a lot of students so excited to go to her class.” 

Lockwood pushed for more from Wells’ senior portfolio, a critique her student appreciated. “She just told me, ‘You are so talented, but these aren’t your best works. I know you can do better, you have to step out of your comfort zone.’ 

“Her telling me I could do better, that I was capable, it just lit this fire in me,” Wells recalled. “Here was someone who cared about me and valued me and my art. It’s a moment that will always resonate with me — her being real but so genuine and caring. Who knows where I would have been if I hadn’t had such a passionate teacher.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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