The Art of Teaching: The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco
Grandma told me I was a natural artist, so I couldn't wait to take art at school next fall.
I only had one problem left--tests. I just couldn't seem to pass them.
But Trisha is lucky. Her new sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Donovan, sees that she easily masters the material but that she reads so slowly that she needs extra time to finish her exams. He also sees something exceptional in her drawings during their once-weekly art-on-a-cart class and arranges for released time for her to join Miss Chew's high school advanced art program two days a week.
"In this class we are going to learn to speak in another language, the language of art. It is the language of emotion and imagination," said Miss Chew.
"But first, you need to learn to see. SEEEEE!"
With her artist's eye, Miss Chew sees Patricia's extraordinary ability, but she also sees something else in it that no other teacher has seen: Trisha sees "negative space" and is able to read only by picturing the pattern of each word within that space. Suddenly the sixth grader sees her reading disability in a different way--as the flip side of her artistic perception, and that understanding gives her insight, hope, and inspiration. She does her best work for Miss Chew, and Miss Chew recognizes her achievement with a promise to give her work a place in the annual high school art show.
But then Mr. Donovan's father in Ireland dies suddenly, and a substitute, the unsmiling Miss Spaulding, takes his place. Miss Spaulding sees Trisha's incomplete tests as examples of laziness and lack of application and rips her unfinished tests from Patricia's desk.
"When I say you're finished, you are finished! Your time is better spent studying for your tests instead of leaving this school to take art classes."
Teaching is an art as well as a set of defined skills, and the young Patricia Polacco is again lucky in her art teacher's ability to see, really see, what she needs to succeed. Miss Chew recruits the system reading specialist, who understands the problem and overrules Miss Spaulding's ban on special art until Mr. Donovan returns, and Trisha's work hangs in the annual art show, the only elementary art student given that recognition.
"Remember," the wise Miss Chew tells her, "yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift."
And the award-winning Patricia Polacco puts her artistic gifts to work in her latest, The Art of Miss Chew (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012), which joins Thank You, Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders (see my review here) in her series of poignant and gloriously illustrated autobiographical picture books which deal equally with art and with the art of teaching, indeed, the gifts of those significant teachers in her life.