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Teacher finds joy in sharing the magic of art

Why I Teach: Deanne Basse

Godwin Heights — It was the Monday after her wedding day that Deanne Basse started working in Godwin Heights.

“I say Godwin has been my honeymoon because we didn’t go on one,” she said with a laugh. 

And the honeymoon has not ended; for the past 16 years, Basse has made the daily trek from her Kalamazoo home to Godwin Heights, all because of the students.

“The students here are heartfelt,” Basse said. “They are good, kind people to each other and to me. They make it a good place for me and I just feel like (the district is) very homey.”

What is the thing that gets you up in the morning and excited about teaching? “I think one of the things that makes me excited is when the students look at me and make me feel like I’m doing something magical, and then they express, ‘How did you just do what you do? How can you just start drawing and then you have this end product?’ Then I teach them the tricks and tools and the magic becomes theirs. When they reflect and put that admiration on themselves, that’s what’s really fulfilling: that they own that magic.”

What are some of the biggest challenges of teaching, and how do you strive to meet them? “I think one of the challenges is that everybody assumes that every student that lands in art wants to be in art, and that’s not true. A lot of students are here with a lot of hesitation, anxiety and self-doubt. So earning their trust is key, whether they are already competent in art or if they are not at all. Letting them know that they are where they need to be and I’m going to get them to the next level … that I’m in it with them and I’m going to lead them in a way that they’re going to be proud of themselves and they’re going to find accomplishment.”

Basse noted that one of the most satisfying moments is when a student who did not want to be in art class comes to her at the end of the semester and says, “I don’t want to leave.”

High school art teacher Deanne Basse looks through some of her students’ work

What are some of the biggest differences in teaching pre- and post-pandemic? “I think one of the cool things that I saw (during the pandemic) was, there were a lot of students looking for a creative outlet when they were not coming to school. They were doing a lot of self-teaching and a lot of YouTube videos. There’s a lot of creativity that they sought out. 

“Teaching-wise, I feel like I see a lot more hesitation … There’s a lot being withheld. I love that (in art class) I get the lens of seeing some very personal journeys, visually, and I just saw a lot that was being withheld as soon as they came back. It’s kind of slowly developing, and they’re finding that artist and outlet for some of their mental health and wellbeing.”

What’s the most amazing thing about teaching art to high school students? “I think it’s really cool that we have four separate grades, but in the art room, they’re all mixed. So whatever I’m teaching, I have a ninth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grader in there somewhere. When they find that art is the equalizer, they can celebrate each other’s successes, whatever grade they’re in. So when I start to hear them honoring each other’s efforts without me prodding them, that’s one of the most satisfying things because they have become an art community rather than, ‘I’m in this grade or this grade or this grade or I’m above you or I’m below you.’”

What would you say to someone considering teaching as a profession? “Be prepared to keep learning and be graceful with your own learning curves, because there’s going to be some. Have confidence in your skill, because your skill will be there. It’s the relationship piece that needs developing and trusting yourself that needs to be part of teaching. As (important) as knowing the content is being able to build relationships with the students. 

“Also, make sure that you are personally mindful of your own space and time, so you can be refreshed to come back and give all you have to the students. If you don’t do that, burnout can be real.”

What’s the most amazing thing about teaching art to high-school students? “I love that it’s different every single day. I can teach the same skill but because each student is a different vessel, there is a newly inspired something in front of me every day. 

“Also, I feel like the students connect me to the real world. I’ve been in Godwin Heights High School for 16 years and the kids keep me refreshed. They are my connection to the outside world and what’s going on. I’d much rather see the world through their lenses than watching it on TV.”

Read more from Godwin Heights: 
Windproof houses and trash collectors made of trash: students get creative through STEM
Building bonds, one game at a time

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio

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