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Community Engagement through Glassblowing

In developing my identity as a teacher I have come to acknowledge my need to cultivate a classroom that has a direct connection with its community. In the education system we pull together a host of students from different backgrounds, cultures, and socioeconomic groupings and ask them to collaborate, learn, play, and innovate together in a conducive work environment. While this certainly doesn't always happen, it's something most educators try to work towards in their classrooms, clubs, and schools. Personally, I think an educator's responsibilities reach beyond the school; we are part of a bigger unit, and if we aren't showing our students how to engage with their communities, we're not teaching them how to become active members in society.

I had this in mind when I started my first student teaching placement at a local high school. I had been paired with an amazing sculpture teacher who I discovered has a mutual affection for working with glass. Over the past 8 months or so, I have been helping a good friend of mine in his glass studio, Tallahassee Glassworks, and have been interested in trying to bring him in to work with my students after I have a classroom of my own. Seeing the ideal learning opportunity, I briefly mentioned this interest to my cooperating teacher in the hopes that she would be able to lend some advice on how that process would work (with funding and getting approval from administration and what not). She surprised me, however, by immediately jumping on the idea and insisting we find a way to bring him out to the school if we could find a set up that worked for both parties.

Today, after months of planning, we were able to see our efforts come to fruition. After unloading the furnace and equipment Sunday night, we buckled in for what we knew would be a short night of sleep. Alarms were set for 3:30 in the morning, and the three of us groggily pulled ourselves out of bed to start heating the furnace and getting our space set up for the demos ahead. The hours quickly ticked by until teachers and students started rolling in, curiously looking at the giant ball of fire occupying one of their walkways. Finally, it came time to begin our demonstrations. Class after class filed out through the gates to surround our work station, excited about what they were going to see, not really know what to expect. We grabbed our tools, took a deep breath, and started explaining our craft.

On the whole, we had an amazing response from students and faculty alike. Tallahassee, while a fairly large town, doesn't really have any glassblowers other than our collaborator, Max Epstein at Tallahassee Glassworks. When he started developing his studio a little over two years ago, he had this lack of accessibility in mind as he started to formulate his business practice. When I began working as a teacher, he asked me if I would be interested in helping find a way to bring the rig out to local schools. Obviously I jumped on the opportunity and we found a way to make that happen.

Although the process was remarkably stressful as there were many factors to be taken into account, we were able to finish the day (albeit exhausted) feeling successful knowing we had done something that mattered. Over the course of the day, we were able to get some of our advanced sculpture students on the bench, hands on, directly working with little fingers of glass. Each student timidly sculpted their own glass caterpillar, gaining confidence while learning how to create a jackline. This Saturday we have even arranged for any of our advanced students who are able to come out to the hotshop to create their own glass pumpkin or ornament as an extension of what they were able to practice today. I'm thrilled we had this opportunity, and I'm excited to see how this continues to open doors for Tallahassee Glassworks to work with more schools in the local area!


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