Ms. Gina O’Toole is a P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist who teaches visual arts in Central California. We love her commitment to her students and her innovative ways to teach visual arts with recycled materials. We interviewed Ms. Gina about her techniques and ideas and what she’s learned as a P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist. Find out more below!
Tell us about yourself and your art discipline.
I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where I graduated with an art teaching degree then I moved to the USA. After I got married and had three amazing children, I went back to school to complete the classes I needed to get my USA teaching degree. We lived in New England, Maine, for 20 years, then we came back to California. At the University of Southern Maine, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Art Education with a major in Sculpture. I love to recycle things and create art with them; this is second nature because I grew up in a third-world country where recycling is a way of life. I love for my students to discover their unique capacity to create out of “mistakes” or “mess-ups.” I love visual arts, and I’m always ready to learn something new to teach my students.
What does your current teaching setup look like? What are some of the tools that are essential to your virtual classroom these days?
My virtual classroom is in my studio at home. I have a dry erase board there and all the tools needed to teach with, like colored dry erase markers, an eraser, lights, a green screen, etc. I have a desk with my materials like my handmade visuals, my laptop, obviously, and any books to reinforce my lessons. The tools that I consider essential to my virtual classroom are my commitment to reach and teach all of my students, and my motivation to make my lessons interesting, fun, and creative enough to make it possible for my students to create with the materials they have at home.
It is essential for my students to have the materials and proper tools to create art and for me to do the teaching, keeping them engaged.
Share a “magic moment” you experienced teaching in the last year (an inspirational experience as a teacher or with a student).
I don’t know if this experience was magical, but it is very special to me. It was the last day of “normal” life, the day we got the message that the schools were closed because of the pandemic. That day a second-grade boy was running to his classroom. Without stopping, he asked me not to go that he had something for me. I said I was not leaving yet. I went inside my classroom and started cleaning to leave my classroom in order, not knowing when I will be back again. As I gathered my belongings, he came to the door as I was ready to lock it. He gave me a piece of paper, and he told me that he wrote me a letter at home. It was a special letter telling me how he enjoys art, loves my class and I’m the best art teacher and his favorite one. He then gave me a big hug and left running. That was the last hug I had from a child. Sadly, soon, it will be a year since I last saw him in person. I do miss my students.
Who is an artist you are currently inspired by?
This artist inspires me for everything she is and says, and for her passion, struggle, and art. I’m a visual artist, and she is not, but her words are images that moved me. Amanda Gorman is her name, and I saw her for the first time at the president’s inauguration. She has inspired many of my lessons.
How has teaching for P.S. ARTS shaped your practice as a teaching artist?
One of the things that have shaped my teaching practice is P.S. ARTS encouraging the inclusion of artists from minority races and their social justice messages as examples to our students, celebrating diversity in the arts, cultures, races, and religions. I love to see student’s pride in their culture and the inspiration and aspiration for an equal society. The arts have always had an important role in changing society, and I’m very happy to be part of teaching and guiding our children through P.S.Arts in having a voice and a way to express the changes they want to see in society.
Thank you for sharing with us, Ms. Gina! We appreciate your work and love what you do for your students!