- Associated Press - Sunday, July 13, 2014

WAYNE, N.J. (AP) - MaryAnn DiMaria stood before a blank canvas, holding a pencil in one hand and a small magazine photo of a young Bob Dylan in the other.

“I’m floundering. I’m going by my gut,” DiMaria said with a rueful smile. “I have no idea what I’m doing, but that helps to understand what the children are going through.”

DiMaria was one of 42 New Jersey teachers who participated in the Artist?/?Teacher Institute at William Paterson University in Wayne last week. A music teacher at a Paterson elementary school, DiMaria took a five-day, 9-to-5 workshop on oil painting in preparation for a class combining music and painting that she will team-teach this fall.

“In music we speak of tone, shape, form and color,” DiMaria, a Lodi resident, told The Star-Ledger (http://bit.ly/U2bHqE). “We speak of feelings - does this make you feel sad or happy or excited? These are the same terms we use in painting.”

DiMaria and the other teachers at the Artist?/?Teacher Institute are among thousands who will attend workshops and seminars this summer that challenge them to master new skills, develop new lessons, or simply spark their own creativity and curiosity. They also earn credits toward their annual requirement of 20 hours of professional development.

“Education is the learning profession. We need to continue to learn and grow, and teachers model that for their students,” said Cathy Pine, director of professional development at the Department of Education.

State officials revised the regulations last year to require 20 hours a year instead of 100 hours over five years. In addition, teachers now create professional growth plans with their supervisors at the end of the school year that relate to topics or issues from the teacher’s evaluation. The activities are varied, and can range from curriculum development to cross-curricular projects to the hands-on learning that happened in Wayne.

“We want the activities to move them forward, to be more planful than just collecting hours,” Pine said.

The ATI, run by Arts Horizons and funded in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, offered intensive workshops in poetry, ceramics, printmaking, book arts and music technology last week, and will offer sessions on graphic design, photography, creative writing and glass painting at Stockton College in Galloway on July 27.

“It definitely makes me a better teacher,” Denise Vulpone, an art teacher at Ridge Street School in Newark, said.” It’s self-discovery. I have the need to learn, to search for more, to think beyond my own little box.”

Hundreds of teachers attend seminars and workshops throughout the summer in preparation for the next school year, said Michael Cohan, director of professional development and instructional issues at the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

On Tuesday, more than 135 teachers were at an NJEA-sponsored event on the Common Core State Standards, the guidelines for language arts and mathematics that have been adopted by dozens of states. Cohan said the NJEA expects 300 teachers at sessions focused on reading across the curriculum, and problem-based learning, and a TechStock (an all-day event at Stockton on Wednesday) seminar has registered dozens more. There are 135,000 NJEA members with licenses.

“Teachers don’t think ‘I have to do this,’?” Cohan said. “It’s something they need to stay in the game.”

Some of the learning opportunities are directly connected to the classroom. Jennifer DiZefalo of Neptune, who teaches art at Bradley Beach Elementary School, enrolled in DeBorah Goletz’s ceramics workshop to find to try projects for a ceramics class she will teach in the fall.

“She had images, lessons,” DiZefalo said. “You want to make the projects, troubleshoot them to see what the challenges are, and also see where the students can individualize them. You start to see the possibilities as you’re making the piece.”

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