Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Kristin Kubacki grew up in Grand Rapids, and moved to Ann Arbor when she became a student at the University of Michigan. She has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from U-M’s School of Art and Design, with concentrations in photography and sculpture, and a master’s in art education from Eastern Michigan University.
She began teaching at Huron High School in 1999, and lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and three children, who attend Ann Arbor Public Schools.
What classes do you teach, and which is your favorite? I teach Darkroom Photography I and II and the IB Diploma Program Visual Arts course. I couldn’t choose a favorite! What I love about teaching Darkroom Photography is that it is a brand new medium to nearly all of my students. When they enter the first-level course, it’s likely that they have zero experience with manual film cameras and darkroom procedures. The hands-on process is so engaging, and many students fall in love with it. I love watching them get excited about learning something brand new.
The IBDP Visual Arts course is new this year, and teaching it is a dream come true. It’s a two-year course for juniors and seniors who are serious about art. The extended format gives us the opportunity to explore lots of different mediums, including painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, and much more. I have been completely blown away by the work my students have produced in the first year of the course, and can’t wait to see how far they progress next year.
What makes a good day at school? A good day at school is one where I get to see a student make a breakthrough with something that’s been a struggle.
What inspired you to become a teacher? My high school art teacher, David Rodgers, told me how important it was to love the career I chose. At that time, I was considering multiple possibilities, including engineering, like my older siblings. But I knew that art gave me the most joy and I saw how much Mr. Rodgers enjoyed teaching it, so I followed his advice, and his career path.
What do you love about what you do? Every day, my students make me laugh—a lot! I work with the best team of art teachers, too, and we often ask ourselves if it’s normal to have as much fun as we’re having at work.
How do you keep students engaged? In art, students have to be active learners, both mentally and physically. Because art is a hands-on subject, I’m able to tangibly see where students are succeeding and where they are struggling. This allows me to respond to them pretty quickly. I make it a goal to have a one-on-one check-in with every student, every day.
In your 19 years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? That you have to meet every single student where they are, at that moment. My subject matter is important, but we’re not going to get very far if my students aren’t ready to receive what I have to teach. They have to know that I care about them individually, and that I’m willing to do what it takes to help them succeed. It’s amazing how much we can accomplish once that’s been established. When a student truly knows that you care about them as a person, they’re much more receptive to your instruction and to your constructive feedback.
Describe an average workday. I move around a lot on an average day, and that’s the way I like it. I teach three different courses right now, and the courses I teach change pretty much every semester. I also get a daily collaboration period with the Huron Art Department. This time with my fellow art colleagues is a real highlight of my day. We also try to eat lunch together in our department, and there’s always a lot of art students around, working on projects, or just hanging out. I stay after school most days to work with students who need individual help, or just need more studio time. I also facilitate two Huron clubs—the Darkroom Photography Club, and the Queer/Straight Alliance—so that’s another aspect of my day.
What’s a typical Saturday like for you? I have three school-age kids, so my weekends are a juggling act of their activities. I love watching them explore their interests, and it’s also a good social outlet for me to connect with other AAPS employees and parents. Weekends are also a time for me to get caught up on grading and other work responsibilities.
What’s the last new skill you learned? Last year, I taught printmaking for the first time, so I learned lithography, which is such a complex, hands-on process. I think learning new art skills makes me a better teacher because it reminds me how it feels to be trying something for the first time.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher? Keep reminding yourself that becoming a great teacher, like becoming a great learner, is a process. Don’t try to perfect everything all at once. Set goals for yourself every few months, and allow yourself to concentrate on those areas.
Favorite website: http://www.thisiscolossal.com
What is one of your hidden talents? It’s not that hidden, but I love to sing. I sing at my church, and sometimes I spot a student in the congregation who seems surprised and confused to see me in that context.
How do you show school spirit? Anyone who knows me knows how much I love being part of the Huron community. I show my school spirit by speaking openly and positively about the great things happening at Huron. I make a point of telling my students how much I love working at Huron and how lucky they are to go to such an excellent school.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? The most rewarding part of teaching is building meaningful relationships with students. The most rewarding part of teaching art, specifically, is watching students develop new skills and create work that makes them proud. It’s incredibly gratifying, to them and to me, when they amaze themselves with their own artistic creations.
What have you changed your mind about recently? I used to think that the more thorough I could be in my explanations, the better. Now, I realize that there’s value in being concise and efficient with my words.
What has surprised you most about the profession? It doesn’t surprise me anymore, but initially, I was surprised at how dynamic the profession is. There are constantly new ideas about pedagogy and new approaches to try. This can make the job challenging, but also exciting.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? It’s a lot like the job of a parent. There’s always work I could be doing, and I never feel like I can say, “Well, I’m all caught up on my job.” If I’m not at work with students, I’m grading their projects, writing curriculum, updating my website, or just thinking about the students. Most teachers I know are in the profession because they truly care about kids and about their subjects, and I wish that people would start with that assumption.
How have you spent your summer breaks? My summers are a lot like my weekends—full of kid activities. However, I make sure to make time to create my own artwork in the summer. It’s hard to find the creative energy in the school year, but I think it’s important that art teachers work as producing artists too.
Tell us about this mural you are standing in front of in this photo. The Huron Art Club collaborated with local mural artist Mary Thiefels for this mural. The mural design is based on the IB Learner Profile, and expresses the attributes we value and support at Huron. Each of the ten figures depicts a current Huron student in a pose that personifies each attribute of the Learner Profile. The colorful arches in the background are a nod to the iconic Huron arch.
You use film in your Darkroom Photography Class Here. Why? Is it hard to even find film? Darkroom Photography teaches students to be intentional about image making because the resources are finite and it takes a lot of effort to produce a finished image. It’s good for teens to have to stop and think about their final outcomes before they act, and then to engage in a process that requires persistence. I often remind my students that no one makes art because it’s fast or easy. We make art because we love the process, and Darkroom Photography is a wonderful process.
Is your home filled with art? Yes! There’s artwork on every wall of my home, and I wish I had more walls so that I could display more art. Most of the work is created by local artists, friends, my children, myself, and even my students, so there’s a lot of personal connection to the artwork in my home.