Arts Teacher of the Year Susan Anderson
Advises Students and Teachers Alike to ‘Go For It’
Being called to the principal’s office almost always instills fear in the heart of anyone summoned there. So, when Susan Anderson was called into the office of Shawn Cerra, her principal at Coral Springs’ J.P. Taravella High School, she had no idea what was in store for her. Cerra talked about the schedule for next year and then directed her to the school’s auditorium.
When she arrived, it was filled with her students, other art students, arts teachers and her fiancée! It was there where she received the announcement that she had been selected as Broward County’s Arts Teacher of the Year! “Wow!” she remembers. “It was really, really something!” And so it was.
Susan Anderson is a rarity among teachers. She has taught at Taravella for 18 years, and she has never changed schools. “I have the best support system ever! Everyone backs the fine arts department 1,000%! Why would I ever give that up?” she asks. At this time of program cut-backs, the fine arts classes at her school remain intact.
Educated at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan during the ’70s, Anderson is herself an artist. She varies her medium, sometimes according to the season. “When it’s spring, I often switch to pastels or softer colors. Fall makes me want to take photographs.” Clay, drawing and painting complete her repertoire.
When asked how she transmits this love of art to her students, Anderson replies, “I try to show them that art is a process, and frankly, you can learn as much from your non-successes as you can from your triumphs.” She hopes that these young people will realize that growing up is a tough time, and she attempts to provide them with the tools they need in the visual arts so they have this very positive outlet.
During the 2008 school year, Anderson and her co-teacher Donna Haynes wrote and received a $10,000 grant from the School Board of Broward County in conjunction with the Broward Cultural Division. The grant allowed these women and their students to create a 23-foot x 10-foot mosaic wall. “Students who had never shown any interest in art at all would stop by and ask if they could work on the wall. We never turned anyone down,” Anderson says. Beth Ravitz, a professional artist, was integrally involved in the project through the Artist-in-Residence Program and assisted with the completion of the wall.
Additionally, during the previous school year Anderson and her students worked with world-famous Brazilian artist Romero Britto. For two solid days the group was immersed in art as he advised, guided and inspired them. Britto described himself as a poor Brazilian kid who had never been able to imagine himself as a professional artist. His advice to the students? Simply put, he said, “You can live your dream! Look at me!” Anderson seconds this as she encourages her students not just to think about how art might be a part of their futures, but to do whatever it takes to make sure it is.
Her advice to new teachers of the fine arts during this difficult economic time is, again, “Go for it! Don’t let this fear of program cuts keep you from sharing your gifts and your love for the arts!” She would tell them how every day is different; how sharing what you love is the greatest gift you can give both yourself and others; and how fine arts are truly academic and an important way to help keep kids in school.
Susan Anderson speaks very little about herself because she is too busy singing the praises of her fellow teachers, her principal and the county support staff. “Humbled,” she adds. “That’s how I felt when I heard that I was the Arts Teacher of the Year – humbled.”
The fact that this gifted teacher was humbled by such a well-deserved award speaks volumes about her. She is a treasure – both in and out of the classroom. She deserves our respect and our applause! Brava!