Alumni Spotlight: Karly Basham (BFA ‘18)

The Department of Art Education recently caught up with alum Karly Basham (formerly Hartline) about their career as an Art Educator with Richmond Public Schools. Mx. Basham (or KB to their students) graduated Magna Cum Laude from VCU in Fall of 2018 with a BFA in Art Education and minors in Psychology and Art History. In addition to teaching pre-K through fifth graders, they also support current VCUarts Art Education students in the classroom as a cooperating teacher for their teacher practicum experience.

Hi Karly! Where do you work, and what is your title?

I currently work at Chimborazo Elementary School in Churchill, where I’ve been for 4 years. My title is Art Educator, and I teach every student in the school (pre-k through 5th grade) around 400 students in total every week, give or take. 

Describe your current job and what a day-to-day may entail.

I typically show up at school around 7:50 each morning, make a pot of coffee, and do a quick check of my emails. My students start to arrive at school around 8 am; I hang out in the hallway with a bluetooth speaker and playlist to greet all of the students and get them hyped-up for their school day. After our morning announcements, I start teaching my first class at 8:30. I have about 5 classes a day, and they run 45 minutes each, in which we may do anything from pottery to painting to sculpting or beyond. I prep and switch materials with 15 minutes between most classes to reset for the next group. I have a dedicated classroom, which I am thankful for (some art teachers are on a cart and travel to each classroom, sometimes multiple schools a day!). In between a few of my classes, I have some longer periods of dedicated time to plan lessons, collaborate with other teachers, prep and reset materials, grade student work, and present work for displaying around the school. Around 3:10, we start dismissal and I help to get kids on their bus. From there I work independently to prepare for the next day, or catch up on emails and leave to go home sometime between 3:30 and 4pm. 

How did your experience as an Art Education student prepare you for this career path?

I can’t rave enough about my experience in the Art Education department as a student. Each semester of classes built upon the previous and helped me understand all I needed to know, one step at a time. I started off learning how to make one really good lesson plan to help students connect their art back to their own lives and communities; I then was able to move on to learning how to build an entire themed curriculum for a whole school year, exploring different 2d, 3d, and digital materials, and slowly stepping into classrooms around the community to first observe and then to teach. By the time I graduated, I felt completely prepared and confident. They even helped us create our own teacher portfolio for job interviews, and introduced us to the head of fine arts departments in 4 different school districts. 

What sparked your interest in this job and how did you become connected with the organization/business?

Originally, I chose the Art Education route because I wanted to pursue a masters in Art Therapy, and it contained all of the credits I needed to apply for the masters program. But I have found that I  absolutely love my job as a teacher so much that I’ve put that on hold for the time being. 

What project or experience has been a highlight of your job so far?

Last year, I was able to try out my first fully handwritten curriculum called “Superheroes of Chimborazo,” where my 2nd and 3rd graders explored the term “hero” and what exactly defines a hero. By the end of the school year, they had done many different projects that explored the concept; but my favorite of all was creating a superhero character that represented themselves and making a costume, which they did a photoshoot in! We got to study the lovely Ruth Carter, lead costume designer for Black Panther and learn about black futurism, remixing ideas, and much more. The kids loved it, and that’s what mattered most. They couldn’t wait to take their costumes home and show their caregivers and parents.

What should current Art Education students know if they are interested in pursuing a similar career path?

1. You can do it. When I started the program, I was terrible at public speaking and my anxiety made me question whether I was capable of becoming a teacher; I learned once I started to teach a lesson here or there during my practicum that I was more than capable, and I found my groove. If you had told me years ago that I would wake up every morning and talk in front of a room of students all day, I would have laughed and said no way. But the transitional period they put you through in Art Ed is a slow process and eases you into it. 

2. Self care is critical (and not just hot baths and face masks!). As a teacher, the things you learn about students’ home life and the behaviors you run into can have an intense effect on you. I suggest consistently talking to a therapist, leaning on your support system, and not pushing yourself too hard to do too many things. Burnout is REAL! 

3.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t nab the first job you apply for. Keep applying and interviewing. It’s true what they say about finding a school environment that aligns with you; and always try to take away a silver lining from the experiences you have; learning what you DON’T want to be like as a teacher is just as valuable as learning what you DO want to hold on to. 

Follow along with Mx. Basham’s classroom on Instagram at @Chimborazo_ES_Arts!