Interview with Ken Schwab, Art Instructor

By Kathryn Pomroy on December 17th, 2018

Ken Schwab grew up in Los Angeles with both parents being involved in art. His dad was a cartoonist in high school and took up painting in his 70’s. His mother was into needlepoint, knitting, and drawing. With this kind of background, he was destined to, at the very least, dabble in some kind of art. From the moment he graduated from college, until he retired 37 years later, he was an art teacher and loved it! We caught up with Ken to see what kind of insight he could offer about being an art teacher and why he still loves art today.

Interview – Question & Answer

Tell Me a Little Bit About Your Background and What Made You Want to Become an Art Teacher?

My most influential person as a kid was my 6th-grade teacher, Mrs. Harrington. She encouraged my drawing, made mention of it to my class, and let me draw (in colored pencil) all the animals of South America. She made me aware that this was my talent. I took as many art classes in school that I could.

I moved to San Jose in 1964 and was enrolled at Blackford High School. I took Art II there even though I hadn’t taken Art I there. My teacher was a new guy, Mr. Roundtree. He saw something in me, and since I was a junior he asked what I was going to do. I had planned on being a lawyer and told him where I was going to school (Yale). He said that I had talent, and I should go into the arts. I thought about that for a while and then decided to go to San Jose State (good art school). When it came to graduation I had to do something, so I thought I would become an Art Teacher in high school for a short time until I had a fine arts career. I taught for 37 years, and I loved it.

What Do You Enjoy and Find Most Rewarding About Being an Art Teacher?

Many things are rewarding for being a teacher. Thank you’s from students at the end of the year used to make me cry. I have heard from many students over the years. Many have gone into teaching art or are professionals in the arts.

Also very rewarding is seeing a student “get it”! That is really cool. I had many talented art students, and they would always be surprised by what they could do. We won many awards at the End of the Year Art Show. I liked going to school every day. I was only absent 6 days in 37 years.

What Surprises Did You Experience as a Teacher?

Every day was a surprise. The students’ work, and the amount of time and effort given by them was very inspiring to me. I was surprised how well they did their work and the amount of thought that went into it. We had good surprises with their art and their growth as people.

What Would You Do Differently If You Could Go Back in Time?

I am sure that I would have done some things differently, but I can’t think of them now. I could have been harder on some, and I counseled many a student who thought of me as young and that I would guide them through life. That was scary. I didn’t have many problem students, but I could have handled them better. As for my curriculum and the way I taught, I would not change anything.

Every day was a surprise. The students’ work and the amount of time and effort given by them were very inspiring to me.

What Was the Biggest Challenge You Experienced over the Course of Your Career?

The biggest challenges were the paperwork needed. Attendance, grades, home contacts, and grading work. These tasks were necessary but got in the way of teaching art. The most challenging thing was trying to balance being a diving coach, being Department Chairman, and teaching 5 preps for many years.

You Created an Extensive Collection of Art Lesson Plans for Teachers. How Did This Project Get Started?

The lessons that Bob Capitolo and I have made are us trying to give back to other Art Teachers. Bob and I taught at different schools for 35 years. I was a student teacher with a man named John Quigley, and he had taught with John. I was always in competition with Bob for the art awards in our school district. Before, and after, I retired I was writing and giving my lessons and ideas to a listserve of teachers. My wife suggested I write it down and sell it.

So Bob and I decided to write some lesson plans which got pretty involved with PowerPoint demos for each lesson. My son, Brian, started a website for us, and we started selling the lessons as downloads for teachers. They are very cheap. A whole year of Art I is only $99. What makes them unique is the time we take to prepare the lesson plans is long and thorough. The PowerPoints are 28 to 35 pages of text and pictures, and the teacher gets two lessons per subject for only $29.95. Nowhere on the internet can you get this kind of detail and work for this kind of money. In fact, there are not many lesson plan sites out there.

Tell Us About the Awards Your Students Have Earned After Completing Your Lesson Plans?

Our students have gotten many awards, scholarships, etc. from our lessons. We both taught A.P. Art since 1986, and I only had one student get a 2. I have had work displayed in the White House and in Sacramento. I have been a speaker at 8 or more national conventions and have quite a following there. I also gave a workshop at one of these conventions. I have spoken at the state Art Teacher convention. The Campbell County Women’s Club of Campbell held a Senior’s Only contest in which my students would win many awards. Even though we had six schools competing, my students won 18 out of 24 awards in 2D art.

What Advice Do You Have for Students and Artists Considering a Career as an Art Teacher?

If you love art, like kids, and know what you are doing, then teaching is for you. I loved teaching. Ask a lot of questions while you’re in school. Learn to prepare lessons that are activity-based with a list of activities that will get you to where you want the students to be. I looked at the finished product and wrote down what I thought were the procedures (or activities) to get to an end product. This is like working backward explaining how you got there. Each activity is a mini-lesson and a step-by-step approach to getting the final product. Don’t forget the basics like the elements of art and principles of design.

Try not to be their friend, as it is hard to grade a friend and discipline a friend. I was always friendly but not too close. You earned the right to be called Mr., or Mrs., or Miss. Treat them (students) fairly and with equality. Kids figure you out on the first day in about 5-15 minutes. They want someone who is knowledgeable and challenging. Don’t be too simple. This is a crucial day.

Don’t let your student teaching experience be bad. Expect or ask the resident teacher to critique you and watch you. If they just leave you alone they are not doing their job, so get out of that situation or ask them to be more involved.

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