Anita Ambrister

Anita Ambrister is recently retired from teaching after 40 years. A mostly self-taught artist, she taught art at Oxford for the last 20 years. In her retirement, Ambrister plans to focus on creating more of her own art, as well as sharing tips and teaching art classes. Until then, the community can keep up with her through her Facebook page, Ambrister’s Artistic Expressions, and her YouTube Channel, Mrs. AAA Art Anita Ambrister.

How long did you teach?

I taught for 40 years: 18 years at Trinity Christian Academy and 22 years at Oxford. I taught art full-time for the last 20 years. Prior to that, I taught fourth grade for 12 years and fifth grade for five years. I taught art part-time after school for elementary and senior high when I was at Trinity.

How did you become an art teacher?

I went to college to study art, but I never had a background in art. I really was not prepared; it was like asking a person who has never studied algebra to go into engineering. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was ignorant of what I needed to know because we did not have art in high school. My approach with teaching children is that I want them to know the things I did not know and had to learn and research for myself. I went into education because the art department just looked at me like, “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

What was your first connection to art?

First grade. Ms. Stanford handed us this beautiful gray paper, and I was mesmerized how the white crayon showed up like rain on the gray paper. That was 55 years ago, but I still remember that.

What was your classroom like?

I take all the erasers off the pencils in my classroom, and of course, the first thing the students do is look for the pencil with the eraser. I take them off because I want them to think about things before they do them. Once you say something hurtful, you can say “I’m sorry,” but the other person will never forget it. Your actions need to be deliberate; it is the same thing with painting.

What was your method for working with uncooperative students?

You have to be patient. I look at them and tell them that I have been exactly where they are; I have been a stubborn student of life at times. I can tell you 532 ways not to do something; I may not be able to tell you what way is best for you to do something, but I have seen it go wrong a lot of times. The quicker you open up to the lesson, the quicker you move on. I use a videogame analogy for students; when you start on level one, it takes a while to learn the tricks and where things are hidden. You can move through level one easily, but if you do not learn the lesson on level five or six, where do you end back up? Level one.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in 40 years of teaching?

Nothing will ever be perfect. Allow yourself to make a mistake and learn from it.

Was that a difficult lesson to learn?

It is a life process. I can look back at things and think, “Oh, I wish I had not done that.” Those are the things you do not do a second time. Make new mistakes (laughter).

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