J.J. Finley's Louise Brown brings art to life for kids

Teacher of the Year finalist Louise Brown can summon their innate creativity

Louise Brown works with her third-grade class on Thursday. She is one of three Teacher of the Year finalists in Alachua County Public Schools.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 9:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 9:20 p.m.

As her students splatter gray paint on construction paper and construct castles, J.J. Finley Elementary School art teacher Louise Brown flits across the room, picking up pieces bound for the drying rack.


Louise Brown

School: J.J. Finley Elementary School

Years teaching: 25

Subject: Art

“Some days I'm a history teacher, some days I'm an art teacher,” she said. “Today, I'm an art waitress.”

Brown's knack for incorporating core studies while giving her students complete creative freedom qualified her as a finalist for the Alachua County Teacher of the Year award. One of the three finalists will be selected on Feb. 17 to represent the district during the state Teacher of the Year contest.

The experience has been reaffirming, because she was selected by fellow teachers, said Brown, 59.

“You can't fool teachers,” she said. “They know what the day is like. They know what the kids are like.”

Brown, who was selected among all elementary school winners, has taught at J.J. Finley for more than 25 years, all the while working with the Harn Museum and other organizations to display the artwork of young people.

It's watching pint-sized Picassos grow that still brings her satisfaction.

“I call it creative chaos,” she said as students grabbed brushes, mixed paint and haphazardly painted their castles. “The kids work as individually as possible.”

Brown said success sometimes comes in the shape of failure, evidenced by a few printmaking projects gone awry.

“Can we problem-solve and figure out why some of the prints came out and some didn't?” she asks her group of fourth-graders.

Eventually the class consensus centers on excess tissue paper absorbing the ink.

“Art is a lot harder than math,” she said. “In math, there's usually one right answer. In art, there's thousands of right answers.”

Brown said she wears multiple hats with each project. For the castle project, her students watched an educational movie about castles and learned about the Middle Ages.

“Some kids don't get a lot of social studies any more,” she said. “Art and music are places where we can teach culture and history.”

Ben Harnsberger, 9, said Brown gives him the freedom to do his own work.

“She tells us all about it first and then she lets us make our own creations,” he said.

That's what art is about, Brown said. “It wouldn't be very creative if they're all the same,” she said.

Teaching is art in itself sometimes, Brown said, but it's not about the artist — just the finished piece.

“Teaching is not about me,” she said. “It's about the kids.”

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