This month’s Spotlight on Leadership features Wakefield Art Department Chair, Photography and Arts Teacher Jina Davidson. Spotlight on Leadership highlights APS staff to gather inspiration and ideas for our own career paths. Davidson has been at APS for 26 years, all of which have been spent serving students at Wakefield.
What is your proudest moment within APS?
Oh, there are just so many. I feel proud every time my students get recognition for their artwork. I absolutely love being invited to the School Board meetings and hearing them call my students up to receive awards. My students have won quite a few Arlington Decal competitions, so seeing their photos on cars registered in Arlington makes me smile. My current proud moment is having three of my students earn National Scholastics Medals this year. One of my own proudest moments was being named the 2013 Wakefield Teacher of the Year. But I think my personal proudest moment was receiving a certificate from Stanford University in 2014 for Excellence in Teaching. My former student, who was attending Stanford, had nominated me as the award recipient to his department head and they sent an official certificate to my school! That was crazy!
What is the greatest joy of your job? Biggest challenge?
The greatest joy of my job is teaching a subject I love in a wonderful school. The students at Wakefield are beautiful and diverse with talent that astounds me. My biggest challenge is convincing them of their abilities and how much potential they possess. But when I see a student start to believe in their own ideas and skills, that’s when the artwork starts to take off! There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a student transform into a confident, creative person right in front of your eyes. I also love hearing that I inspired some of my students to pursue a degree in art or better yet, become an art teacher. The world needs more art teachers!
How did you get interested in working with kids/education, etc.?
I came to America in the early 1970’s. The schools that I attended were not diverse. I was the only English as second language learner in my elementary school. I was bullied by students and teachers alike, with one particular teacher advising the other students in class “not to let me get too close to their family pets.” These racial stereotypes persisted into middle school, but in a different form. Suffering from “positive” stereotyping, I was picked on by teachers for not being smart enough. However, when I got to high school, a whole new experience changed my life. My art teacher erased my insecurities by validating my existence. She taught me that my worth was not based on other’s opinions but in what I contribute back to the world. I knew instantly that my contribution would be to become an educator, doing my best to help my students find their own validation. Her views on Art, life and the footprint we leave on this world is why I wanted to teach, especially in an environment where each of my students have complex lives and stories to be told. Art provides the outlet and audience they need.
If you weren’t in your current role, what would be your dream job?
Honestly, my dream job is right here. I’m living my dream job. I’ve been at Wakefield for 26 years. I have only ever taught at Wakefield in my teaching career and I will retire from Wakefield. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wanted to be part of an education system that supported and valued students for who they are and how their life experiences are to be celebrated. At Wakefield, my students are unique and that is what makes them beautiful. Sometimes though, enduring yet another cold, rainy day this year, I think I wouldn’t mind being a travel photographer.
What are you reading now/what’s the best book you’ve read over the past year?
Right now, I am reading Warcross by Marie Lu. I end up reading a lot of YA novels, as my students constantly tell me I have to read this novel or that novel. Plus, I like to keep up on the books that inspire my students. My school has an amazing library staff who are genius at getting authors to visit.
S. King is coming in on April 5, so I read all of her novels in preparation for her visit this year. She has this wonderful, magical-realist way of writing that is original and reflective. Ask the Passengers is probably my favorite book of hers. As for one of my go-to recommendations for a book to read, I highly praise The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I also have to put in a shout out to J.K. Rowling. I’m a big Harry Potter nerd.
What makes APS special/why is your role/department/class so important for students, the school, APS as a whole?
In a students’ world of standardized tests, graduation requirements, college anxiety and general growing pains, I believe the Arts have the extraordinary power to feed their souls. Creativity fosters invention and imagination and makes the world a better, more colorful place to live. And Arlington Public Schools is the best system to work in. APS supports the students and community is so many ways. One major reason APS is special is the massive support we have in the Arts. My students have an abundance of opportunities to showcase their work because the excellent team in the Arts Education department is second to none. At Wakefield, the Arts have a huge impact on the general climate of the school. We have a faculty who admire the art we display, and whose patronage supports our students physically and emotionally. Our annual Art show and sale is a tremendous and anticipated event for both students and staff.
Is there anything else that might surprise your colleagues to know about you? Personal interests, achievements, etc?
I have a black belt in TaeKwonDo, I used to sing in a band when I was much younger and cooler, and I am an excellent parallel parker. Honestly, I can park within two inches of the cars in the front and back of my vehicle anywhere. Another “proud” moment of mine was when a man, waiting for me to give up trying to park my mini van on the streets of Georgetown, actually came out of his Porsche to give me a slow clap after he witnessed my parallel parking skills. I can’t make this stuff up.