The art department is a small room between a photography studio and a room covered in paint clay and student creations. Boxes of camera equipment pile against a wall, waiting for SHARE students to take them to their respective homes. Each art teacher has a plethora of objects, photos, and binders covering their desk space. A couch sits in the corner, draped in blankets. One student interviews a teacher, eager for stories.
Zoe: Hello, Ms. Allen. What you teach?
Ms. Allen: I teach painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and digital media.
Z: Nice! So a little bit of everything.
Z: What did you do before you worked at Schaumburg, or before you came here?
A: I worked in business for many years; I was a buyer, so I bought book materials, and I also bought paper. I was in a totally different field and then was creating art going to school to get my second Bachelor’s in art and my Master’s in art teaching.
Z: What finally made you decide finally to make that change from business to teaching here?
A: I think it was a progressive decision. There were many years where I was making art and getting my bachelors in art, then I got it and then I said “what do I want do?”. Then I looked into different avenues of art, but I thought that teaching would help me to affect the most people, so that’s the reason why I chose teaching.
Z: So then have you always liked art? Even as a kid, did you draw on everything, like crayon on the walls?
A: I think so, yeah. I got it from my mom. She used to be on the phone with her friends and she used to doodle a lot, so I used to watch her do that, and I think I got it from her. As a kid, I used to draw a lot. And then I think [in] sixth grade, I had a contest that I entered in to see who would get the best drawing. I ended up winning that, but I didn’t know how, I just made up whatever the subject was–whatever the subject was, I just went along with it, but I ended up winning the contest.
Z: What’s your favorite medium to use?
A: I’d say oil painting.
Z: What’s your favorite piece that you’ve ever made at any point in time?
A: That’s hard to answer that. I have several that I’ve made, and I don’t remember all of them, but there was one of myself that I made when I went to Nigeria when I was a small child and someone bought it. I didn’t realize until they bought it that I was really attached to it, so I think that’s one of my favorites and I wish I had it. But I have a picture of it. It’s not the same, though.
Z: Who do you look up to, or who inspires you?
A: I combine a lot of different styles in my art, but I mostly like impressionists, the way that they use their brush of paint. That would be like Degas; he’s one of my favorite painters. Rembrandt is one of my favorite painters. I think I like the typical artists, but then I like some African artists, and things like that, too.
Z: Okay! What’s your favorite thing about teaching here so far?
A: I think seeing the students everyday and seeing their enthusiasm for art. At the beginning of the semester, they’re kind of like “what’s going on” and they all look kinda drab. As the semester is starting to build, to see their interest in different things, and them talking to me about them—I think that right now, that’s one of the exciting things for me.
Z: What surprises you about teaching? Like, was there anything that you weren’t expecting? Or anything that, like, first day of school you were like “wait, what?” Anything…jump out at you?
A: No. I try to always expect the unexpected. I try to leave my expectations open and flow with things as they flow until, you know, something may come up and I’ll say, “well, no, I don’t want to do that.” I usually just try to do things that way.
Z: Okay, and you said you went to school for your Bachelor’s and Master’s—where did you go for those?
A: Columbia College was my Bachelor’s for art and then my Master’s is from DePaul University.
Z: Was it general art or specific?
A: Painting was my bachelors and fine art. They consider if you want to specialize in something. My specialty was in painting. My Master’s is in education specializing in visual art.
Z: That’s cool. So, kind of a change in direction. Do you have any pets?
A: I have two turtles.
Z: What are their names?
A: (laughing) Turtle and Turtle. They don’t have names, so they’re Turtle and Turtle. I don’t know if they’re a girl and a boy.
Z: If you could be any animal, what would you choose?
A: Any animal? I think I’d be a lion.
Z: A lion. Why?
A: Because she’s, like, the queen of everything. (laughs)
Z: I like that. If you could wake up tomorrow morning and have one superpower, what would it be? You could make up your own superpower.
A: I don’t know… maybe like a magic wand that would let me travel the world. That’s what I want to do. Travel the world, but there’s no time.
Z: So if you could go anywhere in the world, if you had that wand, where would you go?
A: Maybe Japan?
Z: Have you been anywhere outside the US?
A: I’ve been to Mexico, I’ve been to the Bahamas, I’ve been to…maybe that’s it? Canada! That’s out of the country! (laughs) That might be it.
Z: Which place did you like the most, including the US as well?
A: I don’t know…I think I liked Mexico the best. It was really different and seeing that there were dirt roads—the main roads were dirt roads—and seeing the different way of living. Even though it’s much simpler, they were happy and fine.
Z: Other than art, what’s something you’re really passionate about?
A: Other than art…I don’t know…What am I passionate about? Maybe teaching? Yeah, I’d say, right now.
Z: Do you know any, like, weird facts? What can you teach me in five minutes?
A: Uh-oh…I don’t know! (laughing) I can’t, on the spot, I can’t. I’ll be thinking about that all day now, I swear, until I come up with something. “That’s what I wanted to say!” Sorry, I don’t know. I’m not good on the spot, so…
Z: So, what if you could have dinner with any person, like past, present, future, like any person in the world, no matter who they are? Who would you want to have dinner with, and just, like, talk to?
A: Oh man. I’d probably say my grandfather. He’s past, so I’d probably want to have dinner with him.
Z: Why your grandfather?
A: Hm…Because we used to go out to eat a lot, and he’s past, so I’d love to do that one more time. Yeah, that’d be great.
Z: One more dinner?
Throughout my time at Schaumburg High School, I’ve enjoyed taking art classes because of the different way of thinking that they require. It’s a break from the rigid facts of STEM classes, the wordsmithing of English, and the deeds of dead people. Art is traditional and unconventional, organic and geometric, quiet and bold–all at the same time. An integral part of being an artist is understanding how to have conversations about the process of making art and constructively critiquing it. Art teachers have difficult jobs because painting, drawing, sculpting, and digital work isn’t a clear-cut process. There isn’t a sequence of steps that lead to a successful art piece every time. I wanted to interview Ms. Allen because she is new to the SHS Art Department this year, and I enjoy learning about teachers and their lives outside their windowless classrooms.