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May 3, 2021 | Abby Liu
This is a part of a new video interview series so that you can get to know our Middle School faculty. We hope that you enjoy learning more about them!
Abby Liu: Hello, I’m Abby Liu, the Director of Marketing and Communications here at Mustard Seed School, and today I have with me Clara Buckley. Welcome. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do here Mustard Seed School?
Clara Buckley: My main role is that I’m the art teacher for fourth through eighth grade in the middle school, and three mornings a week I teach a Pre-K 3 class. I’m the lead teacher for that class.
Abby Liu: You must be in the Pre-K classroom because I see the Pre-K art behind you, which I always love. What don’t you tell us a little bit about what you studied in college?
Clara Buckley: So my degree is in contemporary craft specializing in ceramics and textiles. We also covered woodwork and metalwork as part of my degree, and I also studied architecture for two years before I switched my major to be more hands-on. So I have my finger in a lot of different art media.
Abby Liu: And do I remember that you are also a science-math kind of person too?
Clara Buckley: I did my A levels in England. We took three A levels and I took art, math, and physics. I thought about going into engineering, and I picked architecture initially, and then I really missed hands-on making and so I switched my majors.
Abby Liu: What are you most passionate about in terms of teaching content?
Clara Buckley: I really want children to find something in art that they enjoy. I try to offer a range of projects, a range of media to work with. This time of moving into tweens and teens is a time when children can get really discouraged with their art making. It doesn’t look like what they want it to look like. And so I want to find something that they enjoy.
Abby Liu: That’s great. Can you describe a moment when a student was challenged beyond what you were expecting of them in your classroom? What did that look like and what was exciting about that for you as a teacher?
Clara Buckley: Sure. In seventh and eighth grade, they produce a number of exhibitions in many different subjects: math and social studies and history, and they also have an art exhibition. It comes around every two years and we have tried a number of things when finally I thought, well if we call it an exhibition, why don’t we have an actual exhibition? So that year, I spoke to different people in the community and we arranged an exhibition of the students’ art in the public library, and in a storefront on Washington Street. That really challenged the students because it upped the ante and raised the stakes for them when they realized that their art would be displayed to the public. The exhibition was about children’s book illustration, or actually just young adult book illustration, and the eighth grade created a book jacket for that class read Dark Sons. Actually. your son was one of those eighth graders!
Abby Liu: I remember that! It was really an impressive display in the library. I remember walking in and feeling so proud of all of our students and the work that they did. I love that it’s out in the community.
As you know, we’ve been thinking a lot about belonging as we’re studying Universal Design for Learning (or UDL as we call it in school), and diversity, equity and inclusion. Can you tell us something that you’ve tried in your classroom as a result of the professional development and the work that we’ve been doing this year in Universal Design for Learning?
Clara Buckley: Sure. Often at the end of a project at Mustard Seed we offer a time of reflection and students look back on their project and think about what they would change or improve. I wanted to offer that time earlier in the project, so the students actually had time to revise and improve their work, and that runs alongside the national art education standards as well. So I built time into the project for self assessment and for peer critiques, as well as teacher feedback, and then gave the students time to actually revise and make those improvements that they had suggested on their artwork.
Abby Liu: That’s great. One of the things I’ve been writing about in terms of our education is iterative drafting and how important that is in the work that we do as students, just continuing to refine and add more details and I love that you built that in.
What’s an action that you’ve taken to better honor and celebrate diversity in your classroom?
Clara Buckley: This year, the middle school was looking at the artwork of Jacob Lawrence, who was part of the Harlem Renaissance. He painted a series of paintings, telling the story of people and events that are not often told in history. Inspired by that, the seventh and eighth grades got to choose what stories they would like to tell. They chose to represent events from 2020, a very big year, in a series of artworks. Several students chose to represent either the Black Lives Matter protests, or the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Brianna Taylor, George Floyd. So I worked with them and talked with them about how to honor a person’s life, while not hiding or shying away from their death, and how to be respectful in the artwork that they created, and passionate and powerful. An artwork doesn’t have to be only beautiful, it can be powerful and striking in different ways as well.
Abby Liu: Sounds like it had a lot of emotion in that study as well.
Clara Buckley: Definitely. I could tell their passion from the artwork they created.
Abby Liu: That’s fantastic.
Well, what motivates and inspires you as a teacher?
Clara Buckley: I think what I said before about finding something in art that every student can enjoy. I enjoy so many different facets of art– from stained glass, to architectural drawing, to building with clay, to painting. I really want to be able to provide that for every student.
Abby Liu: That’s great.
Is there anything else that you would like our families to know about you?
Clara Buckley: Well I think it’s fairly obvious from my accent that I’m not from America! Students do notice in the classroom when I pronounce art materials differently to what they used to. They’re very gracious to me.
Abby Liu: That’s good! All right, I’ve got some quick questions for you. How long have you worked at Mustard Seed School?
Clara Buckley: I’m coming up on the end of my 13th year.
Abby Liu: Wow! What’s the last book you read?
Clara Buckley: There’s a book called Catastrophic Happiness about motherhood on my bedside table. It’s a series of essays, and I have not finished it. It’s been there for a long time.
Abby Liu: Well that’s great. I’m glad it’s essays so you can do it in chunks, right? It’s hard when you’re exhausted and in the middle of a pandemic.
What’s the first thing you’re gonna do when the pandemic is over, or at least some of the major restrictions lifted?
Clara Buckley: All of my son’s grandparents live a plane ride away, so we’re looking forward to seeing family eventually, when that’s possible.
Abby Liu: That’s going to be a great day. Favorite dessert?
Clara Buckley: Chocolate. Or something lemony.
Abby Liu: Name a band or artists that you enjoy listening to!
Clara Buckley: My favorite band since I was a teenager is Blur, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them several times in concert in England and America.
Abby Liu: Oh, very fun. Okay, what’s one item that will always be in your fridge?
Clara Buckley: Cheese! Many different kinds of cheeses.
Abby Liu: One of the things I’m learning in these interviews is that we should have more cheese, cheesecake, and also Diet Coke, at our next staff meeting. It’s been very interesting.
Anyway, thank you so much for joining me today! It’s been a pleasure to get to speak with you.
Clara Buckley: Thank you!