Crockett ES teacher nurturing student artists, one child at a time

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and other team members, Crockett Elementary School teacher Geetha Thomas talks about how her after-school art program is producing a steady stream of award-winning artists, why so many of her students’ works have graced the district’s annual holiday card, and what prompted the common theme among their entries.

You recently celebrated your tenth anniversary with HISD. Have you always taught at Crockett? How did you first come to the district?

Geetha Thomas with some of her students

Yes, I’ve completed ten years at Crockett and feel very blessed. I continue to teach fifth grade and have been given the opportunity to serve as a lead teacher for reading, to function as a grade-level chairperson, and also to teach English as a Second Language (ESL).

I was teaching in the Middle East—in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at the American International School—until unfortunate events like the Iraq War brought me to Houston, where my daughter lives. My former principal, Elida Troutman, hired me on the spot.

According to the district’s email system, you teach English as a Second Language, but I remember you primarily as an art teacher. Do you teach both or have you switched subjects?

I was primarily a regular teacher, but after discovering the great need to teach reading to English-language learners, I got my ESL certification. Our fifth grade is departmentalized, so I teach reading during the school day and art in the after-school program. Learning to draw and paint develops self-confidence, self-discipline, persistence, and the knowledge of how to make multiple revisions to create high-quality work, which finally leads to academic success.

Back in the 2000s, students working under your direction won the district’s holiday art card contest four out of five years in a row. Why do you think that is? What is it that you teach your students to make their entries so outstanding? Is there a particular technique?

My philosophy of teaching art to children is quite simple: to engage and inspire with age-appropriate techniques and subjects, which helps develop a positive work ethic, flexibility, and pride in a job well done.

I teach painting techniques to one student at a time. The student and I sit side-by-side and paint the same subject. The child watches, learns, and repeats the process continuously and the end result is a fantastic product. Now she or he becomes the advanced student and helps another child using the same techniques, while I teach another student. This technique is time-consuming, but very effective. The enthusiasm that students demonstrate is because they are allowed to paint the subject of their choice. Thursday is “free art day”—any subject, any medium (watercolors, acrylics, oils) any technique, and best of all, painting with their friends.

If memory serves, three out of the four students referenced above had snowmen on their winning entries. Was that at your suggestion or something they came up with on their own?

Geetha Thomas's student Noe Resendiz holds the artwork he created that was selected as the design for the official 2007 HISD Holiday Card.

How funny! I hadn’t actually realized until now that three of the winning entries were paintings of snowmen. However, I vividly remember Noe, a fourth-grader whose artist mother had died of cancer. Noe had inherited her skills, and to overcome his grief, he would come to art class every day and paint. When I entered him into the holiday card contest, he wanted to paint a snow globe, since his mother loved snow globes. He drew two snowmen inside the globe, saying it was him and his mother. I also vaguely remember another student who had visited Chicago for the first time and had built a snowman there. That was her inspiration.

What is your own art background? Do you pursue your own creative projects? How has your own work been recognized?

I don’t have any formal education in art, but I feel excited and inspired every time there is an opportunity for me to create it. There is such a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction during the process, as well as in imagining how it could inspire those who might see my drawing or painting.

But since I teach art for one hour a day, every day, that is enough for me. I am more interested in exhibiting my students’ art, not mine. My students’ work has appeared in the Art Car Parade and at the Houston ROXX event, and won awards from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Air Alliance Houston, Torani, and Tar Wars.

Professionally, I have been recognized as Crockett’s Teacher of the Year, the ESL Teacher of the Year, and now, a Highly Effective Teacher.

Do you plan to remain at HISD? What’s your favorite part of teaching?

For now, HISD is my home, but my dream is to start an art studio that would serve as an intimate place to teach children enriching and inspiring art lessons. I know I should say that my favorite part of teaching is developing young minds and souls, imparting knowledge, and influencing the future, but it isn’t. My favorite part is teaching stuff I love and making the kids love it, too.

If you know a graduate, student, employee, or other member of Team HISD who should be featured here, please email us at info@houstonisd.org.