Mister Nolli – A Visual Art Educator in the Making

Hi there! I’m Mister Nolli, a visual art educator beginning my first year as a teacher in 2022. For your reading entertainment, I share my journey from higher education to a middle school art classroom and all the joys and pitfalls in between.

Mister Nolli - Visual Art Educator in the Making.

New Career, Who ‘Dis?

In 2017, following the loss of my grandmother, Brenda Pietrosante, my marriage to Manuel Rubio (which is now taboo again thanks to Gov. DeSantis et al), and my newly obtained BAS degree in Graphic Design and Visual Communication, I was convinced by my nephew and niece that teaching secondary art should be my next career step.

While it took me 12 years to get that 4-year bachelor degree, I had been simultaneously working in the field at Indian River State College as a Marketing Manager for the River Shop. I gained experience, energy, and passion that grew each time I worked with others to help them realize their vision. After 10 years in the same position, it was time for a change in my life. As fate and hiring managers would have it, multiple attempts to switch to departments where I could use my design knowledge and skills all failed. I had been forcibly resigned to the bookstore.

As I began to exit the College, I was pulled in one last time, asked to fill a vacant Bookstore Operations Manager position overseeing the department. Despite my reservations, I agreed to the position because above all else, I am loyal to a cause – the bookstore affects thousands of students and hundreds of classes across the institution – and leaving it under the circumstances at the time would have been crippling to the College. I co-managed the store with my assistant, Wendi Lenhard – the hardest working college employee I know to this day, and for three years we struggled with one crisis after another.

The Famous School of the Arts

In 2017 my exit from the College began as applying for a teaching certification from the FL Department of Education right after my graduation; thereafter applying for a position at Ft. Pierce Magnet School of the Arts – truly a dream job. Soon after applying, I was called into an interview with the principle who relayed to me her vision of the future. FP Magnet would be renamed Creative Arts Academy of St. Lucie (CAST). Eventually, they would expand from being a K-8 to a K-12 school, dedicated to integrating the arts throughout all curriculum. She shared visions of students practicing theatre during lunch and music playing throughout the hallways between classes. It reminded me of the 1980s movie FAME. I was ready… but I didn’t have my letter of eligibility yet from the state, so I was denied the opportunity.

In fact, for 6-months I struggled reaching the Department of Education as I sought my letter. It wasn’t until May 2018 that I finally received it with an apology from a representative claiming that a new system introduced in December of 2017 caused many records to be lost, mine among them.

I missed out on CAST, but I interviewed at my alma mater, Lincoln Park Academy, with my letter in hand and was offered a position teaching high school digital media! But, you already know how the story goes. Our leadership left, leaving the department at a loss, and I was given a difficult choice – stay for the College or go for my own sake.

One Small Step Towards Mister Nolli

I chose to put my future first in May 2021, resigning three years later from my Bookstore Operations role. It came as a leap of faith and a necessary end for me to continue advancing as an artist, a designer, and an educator. During my last year at the College, I completed the Educator Preparation Institute, a necessary program to prepare me for my new role and for completing a 5-year teaching certification. My experiences in the EPI are best left for another blog, but I did detail one experience – my teacher internship.

As I completed the program and closed an era of my life at the College. I reflected and created a video to say goodbye to IRSC. Many college employees held this against me while others rooted for my message and its meaning about working together and transparency. If you don’t know me, know that I am transparent and I stand behind what I believe is in the greatest interest of everyone involved.

It was incredibly difficult to leave everything I knew and trusted, the loss of which I akin to a break up from a relationship. We were heading down two separate paths, and needed some time to find ourselves again. The College is an incredible asset to the Treasure Coast, as I was to the College; sometimes we took each other for granted and eventually that deteriorates us.

To anyone out there that didn’t get the message – you might want to try opening your ears, your eyes, and your heart instead of worrying about protecting a thing that means nothing without people to believe in it.

Teacher Job Fair

St. Lucie Public Schools Career Fair, June 14, 2022.

I attended a job fair for St. Lucie Public Schools on June 14. Unfortunately, I arrived rather late due to a mini-crisis at home that took place that morning. Since leaving the College, my great-grandmother, Mary Black, has suffered one health complication after another. On this day, it was no different. After assisting her, I made it though, and as soon as I entered the room and surveyed the mass of schools, staff, and potential teachers scurrying around I noticed a hand waving me down. I shuffled over and the woman presented me with a clipboard that she ran her fingers over from top to bottom.

“These are our open positions”, she said to me. “Which are you?”, she asked.

“I’m an art teacher, actually”, I replied to her with a little confidence in my voice. It was the first time I had said it outside of my head.

Her eyes widened as she started to tell me something but stumbled on her words. She grabbed my hand and told me, “Come with me! They need you!”. She lead me to a table with a green table cloth that read, Dan McCarty Middle School. She introduced me to the Assistant Principal, Mr. Rivera. “You need an art teacher”, she asked as she pointed to me with both hands, “I brought you one!”. Mr. Rivera began asking me questions and asked to see my resume. No sooner than it became visible did he become excited and want me to meet the principle. He called over another Assistant Principal, Mr. Barriner. Within moments of speaking, he too became excited and wanted me to meet with the Principal, Mrs. Stubbs.

Their excitement and energy was refreshing and intoxicating.

Dan McCarty Middle School – Underdog of the Year

I met with Mrs. Stubbs at an interview table, unsure of what to expect, but she quickly gave me the rundown.

“Ok, so here’s the truth. Dan McCarty is an F-School, we don’t have a lot of support and people don’t believe that the school can get better, but we are hiring educators and staff that are full of passion and energy and want to prove everyone out there wrong because our kids are every bit as deserving as those at any other school to be celebrated.”

Then, she said those magic words. “We’re the underdog.” Like magic, those words win my heart over every time. I can’t lie, I had my reservations. First of all, this was the first school I sat with and I was already being offered a position. Secondly, the job fair was ending and I hadn’t achieved much – and yet I achieved exactly what I came for. A part of me was worried, like… am I a sucker? A school with no formal art program just hired a first-year teacher coming from a digital media background to develop it. Then I thought… nah, I’m not a sucker…

After the fear and realization sat in, I began to strategize my plan. But first, I had to understand everything that was discussed in our conversation. There was mention of a grant, and I needed to know what the grant was for. It turns out that Dan McCarty was granted $50K to create a STEM lab, which was expected to take over the art studio under the last administration. Ugh. STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics… not STEAM, which integrates art.

So, here we are – a freelance graphic designer turned first-year middle school art teacher assigned to develop a curriculum that incorporates grant-funded STEM resources and materials at a school that is trying to prove itself against all the odds.

Florida, I’m Ashamed

Oh wait, and to top it all off, I’m a gay, multi-racial male attempting this in the state of Florida just as the “Stop WOKE” act and “Don’t Say Gay” Bill have passed, making my personal experiences with racial discrimination in the workplace and respect for the learned history of all the erased queer people before me a legal issue.

Someone help me write the screenplay, please.

I tried to keep my personal feelings and fears about entering education under the current conditions out of it, but it’s all very personal. Policy and practice, much like theory and practice, are often misaligned with reality, aren’t they? People removed from the day-to-day actions have no idea. Period.

Anyway, enough of that.

Middle School Art, Am I Right?

I imagined what a program at a middle school would need to be like to prepare students for high school or even small gigs outside of school. What I remembered from middle school art was that it wasn’t taken very serious. There were those of us that REALLY wanted to learn and then there were those of us that were just there and sometimes made something cool and inspired that we could be more than we already were.

Through working with my nephew from 6th-8th grade at CAST on various projects (cosplay, NINJA!, etc.) I learned a lot. For one, middle schoolers were far more capable than I expected them to be, if given sufficient guidance and time to develop their thoughts. Equally important was the motivation to do it. Working one-on-one is easy though. Motivation is encouragement and involvement from an admired adult. What about for a group? How will I manage keeping them motivated and engaged?

That’s still to be determined, but what I do know is that I work great with kids and I love doing it.

Featuring my cousin, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and husband.

inVADE | Studio – Mister Nolli 100% Approved

Mister Nolli 100% Approved Stamp for inVADE projects.

The program I imagined would show students that art isn’t just about expression, and that it’s also not just about making money. It’s more than all those things. It’s whatever they make of it or need it to be. They needed an introduction to visual art, a hands-on learning experience that allowed them to briefly get their hands dirty and ready for high school and college experiences.

But the STEM component meant that they also needed some design process integration, or design experiences. There it was, plain as day – Introduction to Visual Art & Design Experiences, AKA inVADE. Much like STEM invaded my art room, I decided to own it and invade students’ minds with new ideas and approaches to life through visual art. I don’t know if Principal Stubbs is going to agree with my choice of an acronym, but ever the rebel that I am – it exists.

Mister Nolli Starting Soon…

So, it’s official. July 25th is my first day of training at Dan McCarty Middle School and the district. Following training, I will get to organize and decorate my classroom, complete the program wireframe, and meet my future students at an open house August 5.

As I develop the program and create my unique classroom experience, I’ll update my blog with posts about my progress; let’s see how my first year goes.

Thanks for reading!

1 Comment

  1. Karyn Mu says:

    Congratulations on your New Job you are will do Great you have a great personality and always smiling. Keep moving forward. Great things are coming to you.😃😀😀.Kids are like little sponges 😃

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: