Kelsi Quicksall (BAAED ‘17) is a K-5 Elementary Art Teacher at Osceola Elementary. When she's not teaching, she creates wearable art, like jean jackets with Van Gogh's Starry Night or a self portrait by Frida Kahlo, which she wears when teaching about the artists. Quicksall uses her own energy and passion for art to motivate and encourage her students.
What drew you to teaching?
It took me entirely too long to realize that teaching art was a viable career option, and a super rewarding one! I always loved art and school. I considered myself an artist, took all of the art classes in high school... but for some reason, it wasn't portrayed to me as a realistic career.
It wasn't until I found myself feeling out of place in my first major that I stumbled upon UF's Art Education program. Quite literally, too- I was in the car with my boyfriend at the time (now fiancé) after class, rambling about how I didn't know what I wanted to do with my future. He looked at me (and my crazy outfit) and said, "You know who you remind me of? My elementary art teacher. You even dress like her. You ARE an art teacher!"
After that, I met with the amazing School of Art + Art History advisor and officially made the switch. I graduated with a minor in Mass Communications and still enjoy media and writing, mainly on social media, but I did recently have an article published in School Arts Magazine! I gave my parents a copy and joked that I was putting my minor to good use.
What do you find most rewarding about your job? What are some challenges?
Teaching is one of the most under-appreciated and underpaid professions, but that's not the challenge. The challenge is in the way teachers think and the time we spend thinking. Educators cannot simply "turn off" their brains- I now think of everything in life as a potential lesson, an art project, or teachable moment. That being said, teachers work hard. Countless unpaid hours planning lessons, money spent out of pocket on supplies, classroom improvements, rewards for kids... the list goes on. But I sincerely enjoy doing it and wouldn't want to do anything else- I'd keep teaching art even if I won the lottery! It's purely out of passion. I feel the most alive when I'm creating art, and a sense of purpose when I share my passion with children. The simplest things are the most rewarding, like watching a 5 year old mix yellow and blue to be overjoyed in discovering that it creates green. Pure magic. Aiding students in achieving their artistic visions and seeing their pride in their work is priceless.
How do you keep your students motivated?
When students are engaged, they are motivated. When they are engaged and motivated, my job becomes much easier. [Negative] behaviors are minimized when your students come to class wanting to learn. I also find that I have to be passionate about what I'm teaching--if I'm not passionate about it, why should my students be? Teaching is almost like performing, you have to play everything up to students, especially the young ones.
If I am so excited about something that I look silly, it works and sticks with my students 9 times out of 10. As art educator Cassie Stephens says, silly sticks.
I love art history and it is a crucial part of any good art program, but it is difficult for students to understand what the current art world is like if they only are taught about dead white guys, that's only a small piece of the puzzle. I like to incorporate contemporary artists that address topics that my students are able to relate to and make them realize that there are numerous potential career paths in the arts. I want my students to leave elementary school with confidence in their ability to learn and develop their skills, as well as hold on to their sense of wonder.
Which teacher was significant in your life?
My #1 classroom rule stems from one implemented by my very own elementary art teacher, Mrs. Benjamin: never say "I can't." I teach this from day 1. It is so easy to avoid something you don't know how to do and just say "I can't do it." I joke that those are "bad words" in my room that I never want to hear. The only exception? I can't do it YET. If I hear a student say "I can't do this," I don't even have to react, the rest of my students do for me. They respond in unison, "YES YOU CAN!" Growth mindset is key in the elementary art room. Every single one of them is there to learn, experience, and grow. I am grateful to my own art teachers who all played significant roles in my own artistic growth: my elementary art teacher, Mrs. Benjamin; my high school art teacher, Mrs. Botkin; and my UF Art Education professor Dr. Craig Roland.
How did UF prepare you for your career?
I like to say that I am an Artist, an Educator and an Art Educator. I truly appreciate and am thankful that I was able to major in Art Education because it's the only thing I would ever want to teach. Being a part of the School of Art + Art History was a truly unique experience. I was trained in various areas of the arts, which is key to my job. I was able to learn Art History, Ceramics, Photography, Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Graphic Design and Printmaking all in one place. As an indecisive human and artist that enjoys mixed media primarily for that reason, I am thankful that I didn't have to choose one art form to focus on at UF. Every single professor I had at UF is currently having an impact on my career, and ultimately benefiting and impacting my students. I love teaching my students what I've learned, and plan to continue this lifelong journey of learning and teaching.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a teaching career?
JUST DO IT. Take the leap. If you aren't sure, just send me a message! The world of art education can seem lonely, especially when you're one of few pursuing this career path. And then if you're like me, you become the only art teacher at your school. Instagram has particularly been a beneficial resource and community for me, especially through my first couple years of teaching. I have befriended a community of amazingly talented and experienced art teachers who love teaching--and also love teaching others about teaching as much as I do. I also secretly miss being a SA+AH Ambassador, giving tours and mentoring potential Art Ed students. I promise I never sugar coat anything about teaching, like the fact that I'm working on a lesson I'm teaching at 8 am tomorrow and it's 11:30 pm. Hey, I never said teachers got a lot of sleep right? I'll end it with this though: we DO get summer break, thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break... something to consider!
You can keep up with Quicksall on Instagram @kelsiquicksall.