Don’t let all those degrees fool you.
Art teacher Krissi Oden grew up in Seymour and she’s very comfortable in a small school district, in a small town. In fact, starting a new art program at Alvord Middle School and Alvord High School this year is her “dream job.”
“The students are phenomenal,” she said after school last Thursday. “One of the best things is that they come in not thinking that they’re capable of certain things because they have these ideals in their heads of what art should be.
“Then when they start working with the mediums, they have that moment of, ‘Oh, I can do this!'”
It’s the moment every teacher lives for, and Oden gets to experience it almost every day.
She has two classes at the middle school campus – seventh and eighth graders combined, about 26 in all – and five at the high school with 16 to 20 students in each. This year, it’s all Art I – a popular new elective.
“I get to see that excitement on their faces, that confidence,” she said. “I’ve even had a couple of them take their stuff to [AHS principal] Dr. King after class just to say, ‘Look what I did!’ I can feel their confidence getting better.
“I’ve already had parents contact me, telling me how much their kiddos love the art class, it’s meant so much to them.
“That’s why I do this. That’s it. That was all I needed.”
Oden brings 10 years of teaching experience to Alvord ISD, most of it in museums. She earned a BFA in art history from the University of North Texas, then stayed at UNT for a master’s in art history. She finishes a second master’s in teaching/art education at Texas Woman’s University next May.
She has taught and designed after-school and in-school art programs, taught in museums, worked with art education nonprofits – even taught at the college level and helped create teaching and learning materials for the art collection at Cowboys Stadium.
“One of the biggest reasons I wanted to move back into the classroom was, I wanted more than that one shot at kids,” she said. “Teaching in museums was fantastic, and I loved that they were able to bring them there, but I wanted more.
“I wanted to be there with them, watch them grow and scaffold that learning for them.”
Her background in art history helps Oden teach her students the context in which great art was created and how to talk about art – others’ and their own.
“How do you look at a painting, how do you look at artwork, how do you understand what it is you see?” she said. “Do you understand that your experience is never going to be the same as anyone else’s experience with that piece of art?”
She started her students with drawing and is now moving into pastels, the use of color. They drew a still-life, but now she’s working them away from realism to a deeper expression of what’s inside them.
She plays music in her classroom, and has given her students a theme for the year – “What is your truth?”
“It’s all about kind of understanding who you are, being proud of who you are, being able to express who you are through your art work,” she said. “And so when we do critiques, that’s a huge portion of their grade – being able to talk about their artwork and tell me how their truth is reflected in it.”
They’re not allowed to just say, “I like it.” There must be a “because…” And even when they critique each other’s work, they don’t criticize.
“It can’t be negative,” she said. “We’re here to build each other up. The point is to have confidence to do your art and talk about your art.”
As they learn to express themselves through lines, colors, shapes, forms and textures, they’re also learning to express themselves verbally – all without fear.
“I told them the first week school started, this room is a safe space,” she said. “We are family when we come into this room. We are never mean to each other;, we don’t say negative things to each other. This is where you can be who you are.
“They respected that – they got it – and they are every day becoming more and more open and free about just being who they are when they get here.”
And as Alvord’s emerging artists continue to gain skill and confidence, Oden hopes to add Art II, Art III and AP Art to the curriculum over the next few years.
Proving again that sometimes big talent can be found in small places.