Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Sharon Gaver has reigned as “art queen” at Franklin Middle School in Janesville since 1989, where her first teaching job proved to be her only teaching job.
A product of Two Rivers, Gaver’s entire life has been an homage to art work. Throughout her career, she has received numerous ribbons, “Best of Show” awards and purchase awards, and she was selected as the resident artist for the Tallman Arts Festival in 1994.
Today, when she’s not at Franklin helping shape young, creative minds, Gaver spends time with her family: husband, Mitch; daughters Sarah and Kristin, and her pound puppy, Shasta.
Follow Gaver on Twitter at @MrsGaver FMS, and watch for regular submissions from her art students on the Gazette’s Every Day page.
1. What led you to a career as an art teacher? I have loved art since I was a small child. I had a lot of energy, and I was drawing whenever I had the chance (by the way, crayons on the back ledge of a hot car are a big no-no!). I remember Mom bringing me to her adult art classes when I was 4 years old. I was hooked! I was a ‘hands on’ child, which sometimes got me into trouble. One time, I decided to carve decorations into my parents’ brand new chair with wooden handles! My first job from the age of 14-23 I was as a summer playground leader. I planned activities and sports events including arts and crafts for children of all ages. I learned at a young age I was good at art and good with kids.
2. When I was in school, art was all watercolors, clay and wood-cut prints. How has art class changed since you started teaching? I’ve been in the same classroom at Franklin Middle School since November 27, 1989. I want students to experience different 2-dimensional mediums as well as 3-dimensional mediums to feel successful with hands-on learning. Budget is the main concern, so you have to be creative as to what is fun for youth, hits their individual interest levels and meets state standards. I would say technology has changed the most as it provides exciting art teaching opportunities like never before.
3. If you hadn’t become an art teacher, what would you most likely be doing today? I brainwashed myself into thinking, “You can’t make any money in art,” so I started with science in college. But I was bored by my sophomore year. At the same time, I took one art class and immediately changed my major. I would probably say I would have pursued psychology if I wasn’t a teacher. I see being a teacher and parent as already being a psychologist.
4. Parents put their kids’ art on their refrigerators. What do art teachers put on their refrigerators? I still proudly display my two daughters’ artwork even from their younger years. Sarah and Kristin are now 22 and 20. My refrigerator has their artwork along with photos and magnets from places I’ve traveled.
5. Every artist has his or her basic tools to create, but some tools are better than others. Do you have any high-end, luxury item art tools? Several years ago, my husband and I finished our basement with an art studio and a music studio: His and her fine arts spaces with locking doors. I have an enclosed space with an egress window for natural light, ceramic tile to deal with spills, a TV with a sitting chair for entertainment, and a built-in sink. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
6. Where is your favorite place to unwind? It depends on my mood. My favorite unwinds include walking my dog along with my husband, working out, creating art (of course), watching horror movies with Kristin, my outdoor hot tub, sitting on the deck with coffee watching the day emerge while watching the birds, gardening, and cooking when I am in the right mood and I have enough time. My family loves my home-cooked, real food. I’m pretty particular about artificial chemicals or ingredients I can’t pronounce.
7. Name a skill you wish you had. When I was in junior high school, students had the choice of taking the arts route or the music route as an elective. Therefore I have not had any formal music training since sixth grade. My parents never encouraged music, so I lost interest in music other than dancing. My husband and I offset each other nicely because he doesn’t do art and I don’t do music. I wish I had a more musical background. I married a brilliant scientist who happens to also be a phenomenal musician. My daughter Kristin is at UW-Madison studying science heavily as she wants to be a small-animal veterinarian. Science and music are back in my life, and life works out for a reason.
8. What do students gain from attending art class that they can’t get from their other classes? I wouldn’t say they can’t get it from another class, but I do know what I consistently provide: creativity, student-centered passion, inspiration, silliness, free thinking, honesty, caring, giving, hard work, compassion and empathy, and I never give up on any child. On any given day, you will find students eating lunch with me while putting in some extra time on their projects. Students and colleagues can never guess my age because I do not act my age.
9. What was your first car? When I moved to Janesville in 1989, my first car was a burnt orange Mazda GLC. It was a manual transmission, and I had surgery on the bottom of my left foot about six months later. It was pretty hard to press the clutch with an incision on the bottom of my foot.
10. How do you hope students remember you and your class? That they remember what I teach them through experiences. My expectations are firm and clear, but my presentation is somewhat unpredictable. On any random day, I might teach students how to moonwalk, listen to their music during work time, or I might break out in dance. If a student begins dancing in my classroom, I might stand behind him or her and mirror what he or she is doing. I will have tea parties with clay projects. Sometimes I sit on the back table crossing my legs while they’re working. I feel like a vulture stalking prey because of my bird’s-eye view. I make this stuff up as I go, as life is too short not to have fun. What I like most about my job is that no two days are ever the same.
11. Do you know CPR? If so, how and when did you learn? The School District of Janesville offers professional development classes. I felt it was important to learn how to use an AED and casualty care first-aid training, as well as learn CPR. The funniest thing about the CPR class was the paramedics taught you to sing a song in your head to keep the correct beat with chest compression. The medical professionals recommend you hum “Staying Alive,” but the same rhythm also works singing “Another One Bites The Dust.”
12. Do you have a green thumb? How do you know? Look in my classroom and see more than 100 succulents and cacti terracing along my windows, shelves and computers. They live in my classroom during the colder months and on my deck when school is not in session. I also have a vegetable garden, a memorial garden in honor of my mother, various bushes blooming with the changing seasons, and the usually shrubbery. In retirement, I plan on working with plants in some way.
13. What is your favorite dish from the Franklin Middle School cafeteria? When Jane Ramstad was head cook at Franklin, I loved hot lunch. She would doctor up the traditional recipes and make them taste pretty good. Through the years, food turned somewhat institutional, especially with the federally mandated requirements. If I eat the lunch program because I forgot my food at home, my usual is a chef salad with chicken because I like real food. On days before a holiday, turkey and gravy over mashed potatoes is pretty good.
14. Are there any embarrassing teaching moments you’d be willing to share? When I was pregnant, I was a klutz. One time, I dumped a bucket of water on the floor and a girl said, “I thought your water broke.” I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself or laugh at myself. Somewhat embarrassing moments happen when I’m not looking. I can think of a couple of times I walked out of the ladies restroom with my skirt accidentally caught on my underwear. I immediately looked to see who saw me. I don’t think anybody did.
15. What is your most prized possession? Nonmaterialistic items including faith and family would be most important. Otherwise, I was very fortunate to have a grandfather, father and now myself and my brother who have season tickets to Lambeau Field. Through the years, I’ve collected Green Bay Packer paraphernalia. I acquired enough of it to put it on display in a case. My daughter Kristin calls it my “Packer shrine.”
16. Who is your favorite artist, and why? My mother was the one who inspired me, encouraged me to be my own artist, and taught me art at a young age. I was advanced beyond my years due to my best influence. Mom was going to college in the 1950s to be an art teacher, but she fell in love and married my dad in 1958. Women in the 1950s gave up their own careers to become housewives. I have multiple paintings and drawings my mother created proudly displayed around my house.
17. Would your friends say you’re well organized? I am an artist. I make a mess like everyone else, but I have levels of OCD in me. Through the years, I’ve saved most things digitally to avoid clutter. My friends consider me organized. I do have piles, but I know where everything is in the piles.
18. In the face of budget cuts, districts often pull back funding from art and music programs. Why shouldn’t they? The School District of Janesville realizes the arts are their secret weapon to learning math, reading and core subjects. I teach math on a regular basis, because skills carry over to core classes without students realizing the curriculum reinforcement and additional learning. The arts teach brainstorming and problem-solving skills. All three middle schools are currently developing “Ignite My Future” lessons. These lessons require hands-on learning, brainstorming and problem-solving. Any coincidence?
19. If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do with the money? I’ve bought two lottery tickets in my entire life, so the odds are stacked against me. Honestly, my daughter Kristin’s college education, donating to where I feel necessary and traveling everywhere on my bucket list would be my priorities.
20. Describe the first art piece you ever created. How old were you? This piece of artwork still exists and hangs in my parents’ house as my mother saved everything I created. I drew a chalk image of my plastic duck when I was 3. However, the plastic duck was swimming with fish under water and in flowers above the water. Mom dated everything, so I know my exact age. I’m actually rather shocked at how good it was for a 3-year-old.