Riverwood International Charter School teacher Dana Munson, no stranger to awards, was recently honored for her work teaching students art.
Munson was honored as Georgia’s National Art Honor Society Distinguished Teacher of the Year alongside her students as they won their own awards.
“Though the honor should be enough, what I treasured most was that my National Art Honor Society kids were there to see me win this award. To be able to share that with the kids that made it possible to win the award was one of my finest moments as a teacher,” Munson said of accepting the award, which was announced at the group’s March conference.
She has previously been honored as Educator of the Year for both the Georgia Art Education Association and from the National Art Education Association.
For nine years of Munson’s 20-year career, she has been teaching at Riverwood in Sandy Springs. Munson believes art teaches kids how to “dream big, to make mistakes, to fail and to succeed.”
She could be on her way to another award. Munson and teacher Lana Ensmann have been nominated as sponsors of the year by the Georgia Art Education Association for their work with Riverwood’s National Art Honor Society, where they have led students to raise $1,500 for a nonprofit.
“I really enjoy getting to know my students through the art that they create,” she said.
Q: What keeps you going year after year?
A: The students are the reason I keep coming back. Each student is unique and it is part of the puzzle of educating that you have to find a way to reach each one. Some kids are easier than others, but that is part of the reason that teaching never gets old.
Q: What do you want to see in your students?
A: One student told me once that I had taught him more science than any other teacher. Though I know that just wasn’t the case, I also realized that through the arts, he had actually applied his science knowledge in a different way. I really enjoy seeing when a student realizes some insight (large or small) that makes an impact on him or her. Those are the moments that we, as teachers, look forward to.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career?
A: Though I have won several awards and those were proud moments, the one thing that I am most proud of is that I was able to teach my daughters when they were in elementary school and I was able to teach them in high school. They are graduating this year from Riverwood and I couldn’t be prouder of them and the time we have spent together.
Q: What is your favorite memory at your school?
A: Though I have had some fabulous memories at Riverwood throughout my time here, I have to say my favorite (to date) was having my last day with my graduating [Advanced Placement] art students this year. I have taught these kids for three to four years and have become very fond of each of them. It was a sad day for me to see each of them move their name to the AP art student name wall (a tradition in my room), but I know that each of these fabulous kids will do great things in the future. Right now, it is my proudest memory.
Q: What do you hope students learn from you?
A: Deep down, I really want my students to appreciate their talent and skills. As an artist, we create and it is through creating that we gain insights into ourselves. For students, the arts help to give them the confidence that each needs to be able to conquer problems.
One of the quotes in my room is, “In art, it’s not a mistake, it’s an opportunity.” The arts teach kids that it is okay to make a mistake and to learn how to go beyond that mistake. Art is about process and achieving a goal and for my students, I think this is the greatest lesson.
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