As a longtime
art educator and recent recipient of the NYC Art Teacher Association’s “Art
Teacher of the Year” award—not to mention a Fulbright scholarship—Ida Owens
strives to make her classroom at Q270, an elementary and middle school in Queens, a place where students are given the liberty to
explore the depths of their creativity. Not surprisingly, she gave her daughter, Aziza, the same treatment–and she became an art teacher, too.
Tell me about
your background/career. How long have you been an art teacher? Is it something
you always knew you wanted to do?
teaching for over 25 years. I spent my first 19 years teaching in Brooklyn, and I’ve been teaching in Queens ever since. I teach art to grades K-8,
with a predominant concentration on grades 6-8. I’ve always wanted to teach.
Coming from a family of educators, it’s almost like it’s in my blood.
Tell me about a
typical day in your art class at school.
A typical class
starts out with a demonstration and a Q&A about the topic at hand.
Depending on the topic we’re covering that day, we work with other mediums of
creative expression, such as literature, music and dance, in order to further
develop our knowledge of the subject material. I allow the students to work on
individual projects or collaborations throughout the class time. When they
finally complete their work, we critique each piece, which invites suggestions
and critical comments.
on winning a Fulbright scholarship! Tell me about the research you’ll be doing
in India this summer.
scholarship gives educators the opportunity of a lifetime, quite literally. The
purpose of the program is to help administrators enhance their understanding of
foreign cultures through field study. I wanted to travel to India because it’s a country rich in cultures
and traditions that I’d love to bring back into the classroom.
What do you
love most about your work?
One of my
proudest moments as a teacher traces back to one of my students from Brooklyn. She made magnificent projects in my
classroom and went on to keep up with art in college. Shortly after, she
decided to student teach with me. She was ready to teach in my place by the
time I left to take on my new position in Queens. Being able to pass the torch to my
former student was my most rewarding experience.
daughter, Aziza, is also an art teacher. What is it like to be able to share
that passion with her?
As artists, we
always like to keep our minds creatively active. We fill the household with
music, dance and different languages so that our creative processes are able to
develop further. We love to travel to different countries and expose ourselves
to new ways of thinking: Jamaica, Africa and the Dominican Republic, to name a few. It’s amazing that I’m
able to share my passion with someone who’s so important to my life.
As a mom of
an adult daughter, do you have any advice for new parents who are just starting
I think that
when they’re young, children need structure and direction. At the same time,
they need their freedom. They need to be given choices and you do that by
exposing them to different facets of the world. You have to grant your child
the opportunity to think critically so that they can make informative
decisions. And if you’ve done your job right, that shield of knowledge will
always be there to protect them.
some of your favorite things to do with Aziza in the city when she was growing
I enjoyed raising her in the city because it’s so
alive. We went to museums, free concerts, thrift shops, foreign film festivals—anything
that stimulated our interest. We continue to explore New York together because it’s always changing and evolving.
When you’re lucky enough to live in the city, you have to take advantage of everything
Photo: Ida Owens.