Teacher Focus: Q & A with Mariah Calman

Term: 4 Year: 2018

This term Zart Education turns the spotlight on Mariah Calman, a Creative Arts Teacher at Ambarvale High School in South Western Sydney. Mariah is also a sessional teacher at the National Art School in Sydney, and an Education Ambassador and Representative for the Museum of Contemporary Art and Campbelltown Arts Centre. She was a presenter at this year’s Nurturing Creativity Conference and was featured in a 2017 story on the ABC, Is this “fearless” rapper the best art teacher on the planet?

How does your own life experience inform your teaching and what was your own experience of art at school?

Mariah: During my own education I went to school in a low socio-economic area, my family lived on the federal poverty level and I was a young carer, providing for a parent with disabilities and illness. I needed school to be my escapism and refuge, to be a child while I was facing adult responsibilities at home. To most I went under the radar, however due to the observations of an art teacher, art became my outlet and I am now passing on that act of kindness. I have the quote “Be who you needed when you were younger” on my desk in thick permanent marker. It is my daily reminder of why I choose to teach with a focus on wellbeing and the more stories I hear of students’ own battles, the more engrained it becomes in my teaching practice. There is such a focus on 21st century learning that we forget as teachers that the strongest resource we possess is ourselves. It is not necessarily the integration of technology or new pedagogies that make students care about content, it is the genuine rapport, consideration of wellbeing and the effort we put in to share our own passion in its most accessible form.

How do you encourage and nurture creative enquiry in your students?

Mariah: Prior to my appointment in Visual Arts, I was a teacher of the Deaf in a specialised Hearing Impairment Unit. That experience will shape everything I do for the rest of my career as an educator. I facilitated a project called ‘Deaf Poets Society’, which was dedicated to providing alternative creative channels for deaf teenagers to express their own stories through deaf slam poetry, film making and performance. Without speaking, I saw the impact words had on students, the enjoyment of repetition, the game of retainment, and the power they felt over their ways to express words. We would practice speed through poetry, rap Kanye verses and turn the world around us into metaphors. Through understanding students’ accessibility and engagement needs for their learning, my classroom and practice now within a mainstream setting are visual, exaggerated, movement based, surprising, at times visceral and always dramatic. In the making of individualised learning plans for students in a support unit I quickly realised their needs for best outcomes and engagement were also contextual to their personalities and experiences, as is every student, in every classroom setting.

Nic Plowman (Zart Education)
in conversation with Mariah Calman