Faculty Profile, Samantha Hansen Early Childhood & Lower School Visual Art Teacher
January 13, 2022
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I've been an artist since I was little, and I think that's kind of where my passion for this work comes from. I think that artists are born in the very early stages of their lives. I started taking classes at a local art studio in High School and also worked as an assistant. That’s where my passion for teaching started.
I majored in Fine Arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology and I continued to work in the same studio. I loved making art but I also loved working with children so, in my senior year of college, I worked for the Guggenheim Learning Through Art Program. Through that program, I volunteered at a school in Chinatown with another artist teaching a class of 4th graders portraiture, watercolor and sculpting techniques. From there, I started working at the Children’s Museum of the Arts where I was a lead teaching artist. We taught at various schools around the city using different mediums and disciplines. While I was there, I met Katya Buslo, who is now the Head Teacher in Léman Explorers.
When the pandemic hit, I started teaching virtually but I was looking for a position in a school. Katya was working at Léman and introduced me to the school. I started at Léman as a PreK 2 teacher and, when the position opened up to teach visual arts, I applied and was hired. I’m also getting my master’s at Queens College in Art Education right now.
What did you like about teaching PreK 2?
There’s so much raw energy at that age, and I feel like you're cultivating their creativity. Everything they do is creative and imaginative, and they're constantly learning new things. In the process of making, you learn so much and that's what they're doing, they’re forming new thoughts, new memories, new ideas, and they're just so sweet and so genuinely excited to be doing whatever it is that they're doing and getting so much joy. I brought a lot of art-making to the PreK 2 classroom. I think there's always that kind of element in art-making, but I feel like it influenced my teaching and influenced our curriculum last year. It's special to watch them grow throughout the year.
Now I'm excited because all the kids that I had in PreK 2 last year are now in my PreK 3 art class which I think gives them a level of comfort with me which means I can push them to go outside their comfort zone a little bit.
You’ve worked as an art educator in a variety of settings. What do you bring from those experiences into your classroom?
I think that something that was special about working in different environments is you always must be on your toes. Teaching art specifically is very student-centered, and so it teaches you to cater what you're doing to the student and make it exciting for that group of people. At the Children’s Museum of the Arts, part of my teaching was fine arts and part was multimedia, and I would switch between the two depending on which class I was teaching. I could go into the same space with the same exact lesson plan. And depending on the group of students I was with, the lesson could go in a completely different direction based on their ability or interests.
I can teach these kids a set of skills that are useful but it's just a jumping-off point. The direction that the project is going to go in is dependent on what the student wants to do with it. I think that's exciting about being in this space. Today, I was teaching a 5th-grade class and they're so creative and smart. We were doing a project where we trace our bodies and then they're using watercolors to fill in the outline in an abstract way that represents who they are. For each student, the direction they go in and what they come up with is so creative and interesting. I think that teaching at CMA helped me with that, that jumping-off point and realizing that it's important to approach teaching in a student-centered way. And then on top of that, we did a lot of inquiry-based teaching. We had a lot of shows within the museum. So especially if I was teaching a class in the museum, we would walk around and make projects inspired by artwork. And I do a lot of that in the classroom now.
Inquiry-based learning is an important tenant of an IB World School. How do you incorporate that into your classroom?
I think it’s important to expose students to all different work from all different places, so they have a well-rounded view of the art world. That's something about IB education and Léman’s mission specifically, “Each Student, Future Prepared,” that I think pertains to fine arts. Every student isn't going to be a professional artist, but you can bring the skills you’re learning here to any future career. They are learning how to communicate and collaborate. Creative problem-solving skills are so important, and you're doing that every time that you're making a work of art, you're learning about different cultures, you're learning about different artists from different places. You're learning how to kind of reflect on yourself and reflect on your practice and create a practice for yourself, especially with the older groups in fourth and fifth grade, we're working on setting deadlines and collaboration and reflecting. These are skills that they will continue to use throughout their entire lives.
Why do you think arts education is important at a young age?
At a young age, children are more willing to take risks. Creativity and imagination flourish at a young age, everything is exciting and fascinating, and I think it's important to hone in on that and to not let that go. And instead of stifling it at a young age to watch it grow and blossom and tangle off in weird ways. I think art can also be a tool for a lot of students to express themselves. Maybe if a young child is not particularly verbal, art gives them a way to express themselves.
I had a professor once that told me when you do an observational drawing and you learn how to draw something accurately, you are having a more intimate relationship with that object and with the world around you. When children are making, they're getting such a deeper, richer knowledge about the world around them. I think it’s important for students to start doing that at a young age.
What do you like about teaching at Léman?
I love the community and the culture here, it's my favorite place that I've worked. I love everybody that I work with. I've worked in a lot of schools where I feel like the staff and the faculty are dispassionate. I never get that feeling here. Every person who works here is so incredibly caring and dedicated to their students, and the resources here are unbelievable. Any art material that I'd ever want is here to kind of give the kids the best experience that they can have. And I think that the approach to learning here is super individualistic, we're working as a community, but we're focusing on what each child needs.
The resources we have like the woodworking studio and the kiln, I have everything and anything that the kid can need. I like that we're standards-based, but there's flexibility within that and there is so much collaboration between coworkers. I’m constantly talking to other teachers about ways we can collaborate to create rich experiences for the kids. I feel like everybody is so willing to collaborate and it makes for a better experience for the kids.