BY MARYANNE HIGLEY HAMILTON
“A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.” — Patricia Neal
“Mrs. Hamilton, I need a new piece of paper. I don’t like my drawing! I drew the house too small,” moaned the new student standing at my desk. He showed me his artwork, which reflected 20 minutes of diligent effort and advanced artistic skill for a fifth-grader.
“You have so much detail completed already. Let’s see if we can think of a way to fix it,” I empathized. “Mistakes are often a great opportunity to enhance your artwork.”
Students I’d had the previous year, some since kindergarten, knew two of the guiding principles in my art room were creative exploration and self-expression. New students were often insecure and easily frustrated, which sometimes led to torn-up papers or smashed clay.
“Let me tell you about a mistake I made while creating wall murals in someone’s home,” I began. “One was a painting in a little girl’s bathroom. After spending the morning planning and sketching, I painted a dog. I made him more than 4 feet tall so that it looked like he was holding the bar for her towel.”
Gesturing with a paintbrush in the air for emphasis I went on, “While I was putting the finishing touch on the black dog collar, the paint dripped on part of the wall where I was not supposed to paint.”
Nearby students exchanged smiles and stopped what they were doing to listen.
“It was a wall! I couldn’t throw it away and start over,” I said dramatically to stress the extent of my crisis. “I had to figure out a way to fix it.”
I paused a few moments to give him time to consider what he would have done, then continued: “So I studied the painting for a while until I thought of a way to cover the spot: I added a red heart-shaped dog tag over it, and included the little girl’s initials.”
“Did the little girl like the painting?”
“The next day my client called to tell me her daughter loved the painting, and she was thrilled when she spotted her initials on the dog tag,” I replied, accentuating the solution to the problem.
“So when you make a mistake, make something good out of it!” chanted the other kids, who had heard me say this before!
Since retiring from teaching art in the public schools five years ago, I’ve maintained a friendship with some of my students and their families. I recently overheard two of my past students, now in college, reminiscing about their experiences in my classes. They both chanted, “When you make a mistake, make something good out of it!”