December 2017 Newsletter: Employee Spotlight—Shaker Heights Middle School Art Teacher Kathy Manning

Kathy ManningKathy Manning came from a large family and as the eldest of six, she spent her teen years babysitting younger siblings. So when she went to college, she knew she most definitely did not want to pursue a career in teaching. 

Ms. Manning took premed classes to scratch her science itch, and classes in her first passion, art. But after graduation, there weren’t any jobs in art, so she did the unthinkable and became a teacher. Nearly 35 years later, she’s still hard at work doing the job she thought she never wanted and she’s having a marvelous time at it. Better still, her career has included both of her interests: she’s been a teacher of both science and art. 

One more thing: she has a PhD in humor. No joke, she says her research on humor in the classroom enables her to better connect with students.

How did you come to Shaker Schools?

I’ve been teaching here for 17 years, but I’ve taught throughout Northeast Ohio in private schools and in Cleveland Heights. When I graduated from college, I went right into teaching for five years and burned out. Then I went to work for the Cleveland Diocese and worked with a performing arts ministry that used puppetry and storytelling to help kids who were getting mixed up in gangs. That job taught me that teachers really can make a difference So I returned to teaching 3.5 years later and worked with kids with severe behavior handicaps. That was a real baptism by fire, but it also showed me that teachers need to have an understanding of how to work with SBH kids, so I got a Masters in Counseling and Human Services from John Carroll University. After that, I taught science at Roxboro Elementary in Cleveland Heights for ten years. They did interdisciplinary units there and I thought it was a good way to connect kids to learning because we were teaching the whole child. At the time, I was also working with the Ohio Middle School Association---I met some science teachers from Shaker Heights Middle School, so that’s how I learned about Shaker. . 

And you started here as a science teacher?

Yes, I was a science teacher at the Middle School for 13 years, then four years ago, there was an opening for an art teacher and [former art department chair] Paul Richards encouraged me to apply. So I did.

What have you enjoyed about the transition?

Art can be such a great tool to navigate middle school. There’s so much problem solving, transitioning and group work in middle school and art lends itself to that kind of work so freely. Also, part of my job is to help kids find their inner artist. So I remind them that when they get dressed for the day, they’re using those artistic senses. The great thing about middle school art in Shaker is that our kids have it every day, so we send kids to high school art are really well qualified. I’ve gone to other IB middle schools, but I couldn’t find any other school who offers it to students every day. At most, they offer it for a quarter, or two or three times a week.

How do you keep art relevant for your students?

I love connecting art to what the kids are learning in other classes. I follow the history curriculum, so right now, we’re starting on world calligraphy. We’re also learning about Islamic art and that dovetails with what they’re learning. I also try to show students that art doesn’t function in a silo. Look at Leonardo Da Vinci, he was an artist and a scientist. And MC Escher was so mathematical in all of his prints. Even cartoonists like Gary Larson have earned awards from entomologists for the accuracy of his cartoons. I tell my students that the problem solvers of the world are the scientists and the artists.

Tell us about your PhD in humor.

I have a PhD in urban education and child and adolescent development and my research was on a project called Lighten Up. I surveyed 15,000 students around northeast Ohio in urban, rural and inner city environments and tried to learn from them what types of humor works in the classroom. What we know is that humor can help kids relax in the classroom, but teachers need to know their audience. Sometimes self-deprecating humor doesn’t work well and sarcasm at this age never works. I learned that you don’t have to be a standup comic in the classroom. You have to find out what makes you laugh and once you understand that, you’ll have more fun. 

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