A Conversation With Kelsey Schmitt ’12

Art educator and practicing artist, Kelsey Schmitt ’12 is proof that graduates of MICA’s Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) program are prepared to teach anywhere on the planet.

Schmitt landed her first job after college teaching art at Fajir Secondary School in Singapore, and she is currently teaching arts-integrated English courses at Shenzhen Senior High School in Shenzhen, China.

Although she did not enter the M.A.T with the intent to work overseas, she said that her experience at the College opened her eyes to possibilities she’d never considered before. Schmitt recently spoke with Commotion to discuss her time at MICA, her role models, and how the challenge of teaching overseas has transformed her life and career.

When you decided to pursue the M.A.T. at MICA, did you know you were interested in working abroad? Did you approach your coursework with that goal in mind?

When I decided to pursue the M.A.T. at MICA, I had no idea where I would want to teach; I simply knew that I loved the arts, I loved people and had always liked the idea of becoming a teacher. I only started to think about teaching overseas when Karen Carroll [former director of the MAT program] gave a presentation about a visit she’d taken to Singapore and how their school system works. During my time at MICA, I also had many friends that were studying abroad. So, I guess you could say MICA enticed me to venture off to new horizons I never thought I’d venture to.

The M.A.T. at MICA has a reputation as one of the nation’s leading art education programs. In your opinion, what are the program’s strengths?

The M.A.T. program sets up future teachers for success. I signed up for a job where I would be speaking in public for a living, and the funny thing is, I really don’t like public speaking. I didn’t put two and two together until I did my teaching internships. The fact that MICA’s program gave me the opportunity to be in a real life classroom, with real students and teachers, truly gave me an understanding of what I was getting into as a teacher. Having this opportunity made me gain confidence in my public speaking skills, and it made me realize that teaching was my passion and profession for life.

The M.A.T. program is set up to make sure that every student is fully aware of what it’s like to be a teacher, so that you can apply for teaching positions with confidence in knowing what you are pursuing. The program is designed to perfection. Within the M.A.T. program, I blossomed into the woman, artist and teacher that I am today.

Can you tell us about your mentors and peers in the program? What influence have they had on your career?

The love and mentorship from the M.A.T. program has carried on far past my graduation. I still stay in touch with faculty; Shyla Rao and Karen Carroll, for example, have been extremely helpful throughout my process of teaching abroad, and they have provided me with professional and emotional support. We have met on Skype numerous times; and both Shyla and Karen traveled to Singapore and visited my school and school events that I had organized, giving me support and feedback. Another faculty mentor that has touched my life deeply is Bryan Bieniek. He was involved in a spiritual retreat called School of Lost Borders. After my graduation, I went on this retreat and it changed my life forever. He helped guide me towards having enough confidence in myself to follow my dreams.

I have also made lifelong friends within the M.A.T. program I keep in touch with many of my classmates over Facebook, Skype and email. We all continue to share ideas for lessons and share artwork we are creating.

Are you pursuing a personal art practice in addition to teaching?

Yes! I still paint and do photography. During my summer holidays I try to exhibit in at least one art show, and I’ve sold many of my works, which has enabled me to support my passion for travel and scuba diving. I continue to be active in various artist communities and join chat groups on different platforms to keep myself in the loop of the arts and sharing ideas with other artists around the world. In Shenzhen, I have made many art friends, so we try to make “painting-dates” as often as possible.

What has your experience been like teaching abroad? What is it about the experience that inspires you?

Teaching abroad has made me a stronger person in every way possible, especially as a teacher. I taught fine arts to middle school and high school students in Singapore for two years right after I graduated from MICA. The first two years is always a challenge for any new teacher, but those two years were quite difficult. Being so far from my family and teaching in a school system that was very different from what I was used to really pushed me outside of my comfort zone — which was just what I needed.

I had 40 kids per class that spoke English as a second language, and I saw them one to two times a week for 40 minutes. After conquering this challenge, I felt like I could take on anything. The challenge forced me to become a confident leader.

Teaching abroad inspires me, because, right when I think I have something figured out, I am surprised and pushed to grow even more. Every year, month and day I am abroad, I learn something new about myself. Being abroad, at this point in my life is just what I need to grow into the person I desire to be. I am strong and growing stronger. I am a part of something massively beautiful. My eyes and heart have expanded and opened wider than I ever thought possible. The world is my home now, and that feels amazing. Without MICA, the M.A.T. my family and friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today.