ABOVE: Amber Kuper holds a student’s art project, a hamburger made of clay.
Amber Kuper believes art is a skill akin to learning to ride a bike or typing and that there is always something to show when finished with a project.
In her art class at Salem Church Middle School, Kuper’s students explore this concept.
“One of the things that I’m really proud of is: I try to give them some baby steps … I call it my three steps of drawing, so I try to break down this … complex idea of drawing into something more simple.”
At the beginning of every class, Kuper posts the steps on her wall and refers to them frequently. The steps remind her students how to look at an image as shapes and correctly transfer those shapes to paper.
Even though she can’t teach her students how to draw everything, she teaches them steps that can be applied to any art project.
“I always tell them it’s more than just about drawing or painting,” Kuper said.
Kuper said she knew that she wanted to be a teacher when she was a little girl. She chose art as her subject matter because she had a natural propensity for drawing and wanted to keep getting better at it. She has been teaching for 16 years and has spent eight of those at Salem Church Middle School.
Kuper is a two-time “teacher of the year” award winner. Last year her peers at Salem Church Middle selected her for the honor. She previously won the award while working at Crenshaw Elementary, where she was named the 2016 Central Virginia Art Education Association’s Middle School teacher of the year. She also won the Virginia Lottery Super Teacher Award in 2013.
Kuper is a member of the clinical faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University art education department, which involves working with student teachers. She has a passion for new teachers and those just getting their education, she said.
Kuper said she tries to be approachable and make everyone feel comfortable. She tries to put herself in students’ shoes and think about what kind of day they’re having.
“I try to think what kind of teacher … I [needed] when I was in school and be [like] that,” she said. “I have to be true to my personality [while reaching] as many kids as I can.”
To avoid boring her students, Kuper mixes up her lessons with different art mediums. A good day for her is when a student makes something after thinking they wouldn’t be able to.
“[When] you … have a moment with a student who just gives you this smile after they make something, or they hang it up and they didn’t think they could do it, it just makes you proud. It makes you happy you could be a part of that,” she said.