By Bethanie Hestermann
For about 90 students a week (and their parents!), Megan Suarez is a familiar face, a ray of sunshine, and a curator of creative learning. She’s a parent education teacher of preschool and art classes, and she’s taking on 2020 with her contagious can-do attitude.
In our Q&A with this wonderful human, Megan shares her top tips for fostering kids’ creative confidence at a young age and setting students up for success in a school-from-home environment. And don’t miss her advice for loving on teachers during this challenging school year!
Tell us about what you do!
The short answer would be “I’m a teacher” . . . but, for me, my job is so much more than that. I am a friend, mentor, advisor, dancer, vocalist, and performer. I teach for an Adult Education program that focuses on parent education. My role is to model instruction, lessons, strategies, and fun learning activities that can be used inside a classroom and at home as well!
Each week, my lessons are designed to engage and entertain my students, while also guiding the caregiver and offering advice to help that adult feel successful in his or her parenting role. I currently teach four preschool classes and two art classes each week.
What is the best part about teaching?
As a teacher I have always found my calling and passion when I see students discover their gifts or talents. It can be the smallest moment of learning they can write the letter “A”, seeing the amazing artwork piece they just constructed, or learning a new song and dance. But there is a moment I have seen many times in my career when a student has that special glimmer in her eyes. It’s a glimmer of pride and acknowledgment that she is important and special. That pride can’t be touched.
How do you stay energized during this really trying year?
2020 has been filled with so many challenges, and as a teacher I can say I have NEVER worked harder in my career. However, I am happy to work this hard as my students and their parents are more than just a class or a number . . . they have become family.
I have had many parents say things like, “Your face on the computer screen each week brings us a sense of normalcy and happiness”. Even if I only touch a few families in this way, knowing that I am helping a child or a family unit feel “normal” or “happy” during a time that feels so abnormal is all I need.
Favorite song(s) for boosting creativity?
When I’m at home prepping lessons, hanging out with my family, or wanting a “pick me up”, my musical inspirations come from a mix of oldies/motown (music my parents loved and played often as I grew up) and indie bands (such as Death Cab for Cutie and Over the Rhine). Music plays a big role in our family, and our home is often filled with some sort of rhythm.
How does creativity bring goodness to your life?
I am a natural born “do-er”. I am an extremely anxious person and can’t just sit back and do nothing (believe me, I am endlessly envious of those who can just relax and take life in). Having this creative outlet allows me to stay busy and focus on the things that make me happiest. I find great joy exposing my students to new ways of learning and helping them create wonderful masterpieces themselves.
What do people NOT know about what you do?
My job is such a blessing in my life, but it does not come easy. Within my program, I am completely responsible for designing, planning, and creating my curriculum. When I launched and created my art classes, I planned and created 18 weeks’ worth of lessons on various artists. I had to research the artists, create age-appropriate art projects that display and highlight a particular artist’s craft, and prepare the materials to ensure it all was possible. When you love something, time doesn’t seem to be an issue.
What made you decide to start teaching?
I have always known I wanted to be a teacher. I was the bossy child that always wanted my friends and siblings to play my students when we were on our imaginary adventures! My love of learning started very young. I always wanted to know more, ask questions, and discover new ways of doing things. I work hard to bring that love of learning into my classroom. I want my students to be explorers, imagineers, and have a hunger to learn more.
Let’s be real, what’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Some challenges are obvious (politics, standardized testing mandates, funding, and the long hours), but for me the biggest challenge may be overlooked by some. As an educator you CAN’T please everyone. This is very hard for me mentally and emotionally, because I am a people pleaser. I don’t just want to do a good job—I want to do an amazing job! So when you are met with that parent who you just can’t seem to please, it can really weigh on a dedicated teacher’s heart.
What drives you to serve your community + give back?
I love this question. My drive each day is to model kind, loving, and accepting behavior for all students. I want to show the tiny children within my class that they ARE and WILL BE an important piece of this community no matter their gender, race, beliefs, or abilities. I want them to walk away from a year spent with me knowing that learning can be fun and that with hard work, kindness, and respect they can and they will do amazing things.
Tell us about a time when using your creativity for good felt 1,000% worth it!
2020 has brought about some amazing challenges for both parents and their children. Over the summer, I decided to bring a fun and creative summer school idea into a full reality with an entire semester class dedicated to artists and their legacy. I had seen many students thrive during a summer spent at home as they explored various art platforms and had some fun while doing it! This creativity was their outlet!
How do you stay inspired + motivated both as a creative and teacher?
My greatest source of inspiration as a teacher/creative comes from my own children. My 6-year-old twins are a constant source of ideas and “ah-ha” moments. I love watching them explore the world around them and am often driven to teach a lesson in a particular way or create a certain masterpiece with my students because I know it is something my twins would LOVE! This helps ensure my teaching is meaningful, appropriate, and fun for the tiny humans I have the joy of spending time with each week. I know that if my own children will be engaged, I can count on student engagement as well.
Other sources of inspiration come from nature, music, creatives on social media, fellow teachers, and fellow parents. With age, I have learned that I am in no way an expert! I can gain so much inspiration and knowledge from listening and watching rather than talking.
How can we set our students up for success in a school-from-home environment?
Attitude is everything! My biggest advice to any parent would be that your child is a reflection of you and your attitude. We are here to model for them appropriate behaviors, choices, and actions. If you make it a goal each day to speak positively about learning from home and show your child the amazing learning opportunities that can still occur within the four walls of your home, they will feel that positivity! If you are constantly down on the idea or seem frustrated, they will in turn develop animosity towards the experience.
I also highly recommend keeping a consistent routine. Your child will do much better when you follow a schedule and lay out expectations. For example, a morning routine that is consistent each weekday so that your child is able to set their day up for success and prepare for learning time is essential.
How can we support our teachers?
Love on your teachers! This time has been hard on families having to adjust to learning from home, but it has also been hard on your child’s teachers. Send them a simple email saying “You’re doing a great job!” Have your child draw them a picture and attach it to that email. Offer support at home by ensuring your child is prepared for the day, has a positive attitude, and understands the expectations. Let the teachers in your life know they are appreciated with the small gestures . . . they go a long way!
What is your advice for fostering a love for art and creativity?
Exposure, exposure, exposure. I think this goes for so many areas of life, not just art and creativity. I really aim to show my own children and my students as much as possible! They need to see that there is so much to the world outside of their tiny community. Exposing them to various artists, types of music, foods, and ways of learning can go so so far. Our children are tiny sponges, and they are capable of amazing things. The more we let them see, touch, taste, and feel, the more they will absorb and flourish. This exposure lends itself perfectly to fostering a love of art and creativity.
What are some of your tips for building your children’s creative confidence?
I think so often children are molded and shaped through expectations, discipline, and rules. This can make it hard for some children to branch out and show a more creative side. I am a strong believer in setting up clear expectations for your children and ensuring they know their limits, but I also think it imperative that a child knows perfection is not needed, coloring outside the lines can be fun, and art is magical!
Are there any art supplies you really enjoy using with little ones?
When creating art with my tiny friends, I am a huge fan of watercolor painting, dot painting with Do-A-Dot, using magazines to create collages and practice scissor skills, stickers (lots and lots of stickers), and marble painting.
If you could give parents any encouragement during this time, what would it be? What about your students, what do you want them to know?
Remember, we are all in this together! We all want what is best for our children and have the same goal in mind. Don’t be too hard on yourself and know that in the end, your child will be just fine! Continue to love them unconditionally, support them through their academic and emotional struggles, and lead by example! Our children are always watching and learning.
I want my students to know how incredibly proud I am of them! I teach students from six months all the way up to six years! I have been told by many that online learning isn’t possible with such small children. But my little ones have proved it’s more than possible; they are succeeding! This is thanks to a lot of hard work, dedication, and positivity. I thank the amazing parents that attend classes each week and dance, sing, and craft beside their children. Your time and energy is paying off, and you are helping create such wonderful little humans. Each parent should know that they are my heroes, and it is because of them that I am successful week after week. Thank you for being on my team!
For parents looking for fun crafts, art, or learning ideas for their children, Megan recommends @littleoneslearn on Instagram and The Crafty Classroom. Check out Megan’s parent education courses through ABC Adult School.