Becoming an Art TeacherApr 08, 2009
by Gina Plaitakis
photo by Ivan Samkov
When her daughter enrolled in kindergarten, former art director turned stay-at-home mom Gina Plaitakis bumped into a new calling
I had my daughter at age 37 and decided to stay home with her for the first couple years. After all, I had waited a long time to become a mother; I wanted to savor it. For years, while living in Park Slope, I had secretly envied the moms casually pushing their baby strollers while sipping their lattes. I was always running to catch a subway to work. I yearned for the idyllic life they appeared to have.
Advertising is probably one of the most cutthroat, backstabbing businesses you can be in, especially if you’re a creative. I had spent 10 years working as an art director. It was never a job I could relax in; the creative mantra was, “You’re only as good as your last campaign.” That constant having to prove yourself over and over again was exhausting and I was over it.
So when I got pregnant right at the time that my company was doing major layoffs, I decided to just let it be. I wasn’t going to try to get another job and pretend I wasn’t pregnant. Instead, I signed up for prenatal yoga classes and started taking portraits of other pregnant women. Photography was my college major and I had neglected it for too long while working in advertising. I also made a documentary about my aunt, a 95-year-old nun and her convent in Long Island. It was something I had always wanted to do and I knew that the opportunity was fading with every year. (Fortunately, as of now my aunt is still alive and well at 100 years old). It was a wonderfully creative year and a much needed repose after being a cog in the advertising machine for so long.
A year after my daughter’s birth, we moved to New Jersey and four years later, here I am with a kindergartner. I had already spent two years helping out in my daughter’s co-op preschool. So when her elementary school asked for volunteers to help in the library, I quickly signed up. I also volunteered to help out in her art class. Then the PTA sent out a notice looking for parents to teach After School Enrichment classes and I signed up for that too. At first, I was thinking it was just a way to be part of my daughter’s day, especially now that she was in school for a full day. Then I began to notice how excited I was before a class and how much time I spent preparing for my classes. I found that the children were fun to be around and I was amazed at their talent. All they needed was encouragement, and they were making beautiful art.
My motivation to seriously start the process was a day last fall when the art teacher asked me if I could substitute for her. When I told her I wasn’t a certified substitute, she said, “Well what are you waiting for, hurry up and do it already!” So I did. To become a certified substitute, you first need to visit your school district’s human-resources department. You might also visit their website for information. The application process is tedious, but HR was very helpful in explaining it to me. You need to do things such as get fingerprinted, take a TB test, and get letters of recommendation and a copy of your college transcripts. The entire process from start to finish took about four months; however, my application took longer then normal due to a computer-system glitch over the holidays.
So far, I’ve been subbing for the past month. It’s an excellent way to gain experience and find out what grades you like to teach. You are allowed to sub any class, K-12. I have found that the volunteer work I’ve been doing has been beneficial in giving me ways to work with the children, especially in how to keep the class under control. Subbing is harder then I thought because the kids test you and take advantage when they have a sub. (Think back to when you were a kid and had a sub.) I’ve already heard an earful of stories from other subs about their negative experiences. So what better way to learn than to observe professional teachers. I’m lucky because all of my daughter’s teachers at Seth Boyden are really good to learn from.