Who can say where and when inspiration may strike? More significantly, why does it matter? I believe, as a teacher and guide for children, it may be all that matters.
Let me share a little story…
Surfing the internet I came across the video of a stage show I’d never heard of, “In Your Face New York.” It’s what one might expect from the title: clever, contemporary, cutting edge, cheeky. That’s what made me stay long enough for the first guest: a female curator from MOMA whose purpose for being on the show was to share three acquired paintings, fulfilling a long-overdue shift in the museum’s values to create more visibility of women artist’s works.
The last painting was this one: Die. #20 from Faith Ringgold’s series of murals entitled American People. The painting immediately grabbed at my heart. Here was an American version of Guernica, a painting that so moved me in 1972 during my very first visit to NYC, that I returned to sit in its presence countless times over the next decades. I was so moved by her mural, that I nearly missed hearing the curator tell Ms. Ringgold’s story of struggle to be accepted into MOMA’s male-dominated artistic circle, her never-ending efforts to protest the practices, if not the policies, of the MOMA of the 1960’s and beyond, but also her steadfast support of the museum for what it could be.
It was her connection to Guernica that had inspired her work and it was my common connection to that painting that sent me on a quest to learn whatever I could about this person who shared my fascination: I looked her up. I read her bio. I fell in love with her paintings and her story. I re-discovered her stories for children, stories I’d once read to my classes, in this moment failing to make the connection between the painter and the writer.
This chance moment became today’s inspiration. Creative juices began to flow in my veins. I’m filled with ideas for a classroom study, for adding to a historical study I championed a long time ago.
Before this morning’s moment, my environment had been prepared by a week of watching, listening, and discussing #BlackLivesMatter. Before this morning’s moment, I’d read James Baldwin’s “A Message to Teachers” (Baldwin, 1963) and been brought to tears. Before this moment, my environment had been prepared literally and figuratively by years of doing my best to share a vision of equality and unity with children, while striving to learn and internalize a new way of facing my inherent racism brought on by being white in a society whose systems are skewed on my behalf.
So, my dear teaching friends, never underestimate the possibility of sudden inspiration! Prepare your environments to be rich places where your students may be surrounded by all manner of experience. Prepare your lessons to be a cloud of wonder and fascination that will touch your students’ hearts, souls, and minds. Prepare your schedules with openness and freedom so your students have space to let their imaginations blossom.
For when you prepare in this way, you are paving the way for an inspiration that just may last a lifetime.