Rachel Jensen has been selected as the Michigan Art Education Association’s Middle Level Art Educator of the Year.
Rachel Jensen has taught Art & Design to 4th-8th graders at A2 STEAM at Northside for the last eight years. She serves as lead teacher, as well as the district’s Middle School Art Teaching Learning Network (TLN) lead.
The Michigan Art Education Association has selected Jensen as the MAEA’s 2023 Middle Level Art Educator of the Year. She will receive the award during the annual MAEA Conference in Ann Arbor this Saturday, Oct. 28.
Jensen was nominated by Clague Middle School art teacher Sara Griesinger, who calls her a fierce advocate for the visual arts and equity in all AAPS classrooms.
“She is a natural leader, always showing professionalism while staying true to the needs of our programs,” says Griesinger. “Her passion for the arts is apparent in her participation with the Michigan Art Education Association, where she serves as the middle-level division chair as well as a co-chair for our upcoming conference in Ann Arbor. She is somebody I can go to for a productive, thoughtful, honest conversation about art education. We are fortunate to have her on our AAPS team.”
Jensen was born in Boston but moved to Michigan at an early age. She attended Farmington Public Schools for K-12 education. She then earned a BFA with concentrations in Clay & Graphic Design at the University of Michigan.
After two years working as a graphic designer and teaching children’s clay classes on the weekends, she felt called to enroll at Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a post-bac teacher certification in
Visual Art Education, and eventually a master’s in VAE, as well.
Prior to working for AAPS, she taught for nine years in various placements within Romulus Community Schools. Outside of K-12, she taught Art Ed classes at EMU and Digital Design in the Washtenaw Community College Lifelong Learning program.
In the MAEA, Rachel has served as the Middle Level Division Chair for the past 3 years, as well as co-chair for the 2023 Fall conference in Ann Arbor. She has been a member of the organization since she began teaching.
Her own creative work has mostly been with clay, watercolor, or graphic design, though she says she enjoys working with just about any material she can get her hands on.
Outside of school, Jensen enjoys spending time with her husband, Brandon, children Soren, 8, and Sigrid, 5, and cat, Booboo. Together, they travel, camp, hike, make stuff, and “get into all sorts of hi-jinx.”
Why did you pursue a career in teaching?
I started out in the field of Graphic Design while teaching ceramics classes for fun. I quickly realized that my day job wasn’t having the positive impact on the world that I wanted it to have. Teaching is something I felt called to do. On the hard days, it’s what keeps me going.
Describe an average workday.
No such thing as an average day in a school. Every day is a new adventure, for better or worse. Ha!
What are your best tips for classroom management?
Relationships: That is the key to classroom management and life, really. It helps to be consistent, engaged, have boundaries, etcetera. Cultivating good relationships with students is foundational to teaching.
Why did you want to work for Ann Arbor Public Schools?
I moved here to attend U of M decades ago and enjoyed the vibrant community that surrounded it. As soon as I decided to teach, I knew I wanted to do it in my own community.
What do you like about working at A2 STEAM specifically?
A2 STEAM is a magical unicorn of a school. I feel so lucky to work with such great people. We have a smart, engaged, and highly collaborative staff that genuinely like each other. Our focus on Project Based Learning makes learning authentic and fun. The students and the families are wonderful, as well. I enjoy opportunities when our whole community comes together to celebrate.
How important is art education?
Art Education is a critical part of a child’s education. When we teach students the Studio Habits of Mind (Understand Art Worlds, Observe, Envision, Develop Draft, Stretch & Explore, Express, Engage & Persist, Reflect), we are preparing them to value multiple perspectives and to be kind, self-aware, contributing global citizens.
What do you want most for your students?
I want them to know their worth, be contributing global citizens, and lead fulfilling lives.
How do you feel about receiving the Michigan Art Education Association’s Middle Level Art Educator of the Year award?
I’m floored! I was surprised, as I have met so many amazing art educators through the MAEA. I know that I am just one of hundreds of art teachers who deserve this award. I am honored.
Favorite podcasts, websites, apps, must-see TV:
I love a quirky comedy, but the true crime and mystery/thriller/horror section of the library is usually my go-to.
What are your thoughts on the district’s focus this year on dignity, belonging, and well-being?
I think it is important to show that we value everyone in our educational system and that their well-being matters. I am hopeful that we can find ways to change structures and challenge current practices to make this happen. There is a lot of work to do.
Do you make time to create art during your free time? Is your home filled with your work?
My home is filled with art, but most of it is from friends and other artists I love. Clay is my preferred material but lately, due to time and space issues, I do a lot more stitching.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Stick with it. You don’t have to know everything or pretend to be perfect. Be human and open to learning from your colleagues as well as your students. After almost 2 decades of teaching, I am still learning every day.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
Any time a student implies that what I have done matters to them, I feel good.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Probably the legacy. Teachers are able to impact the lives of so many people. It is pretty cool to know that you can have an effect on the world in that way.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I don’t think people realize that to teach is to connect, negotiate with, support, manage, love, care for, and empathize with younger humans. The curriculum is the easy part. This other stuff, the human relationship stuff, is the core of what we do. It is challenging and draining to attempt to meet the needs of so many. It can be all-consuming. It’s important, and we love it, but it can be exhausting.
How do you spend your summers?
I enjoy camping up north with my husband, two kids (a kindergartener and a third grader), and a friend. We like to hang out at the pool in the evenings, and of course, obsess over new ideas for my classes the next year.