Career switching leads to Layton teacher's life's work

Mar 22 2014 - 7:06pm

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LAYTON -- It took Michelle Montierth, 48, three different careers before landing in the field she feels is her calling in life. Montierth is now being recognized for her efforts as the 2014 Pacific Region Art Educator of the Year. 

After pursuing a career as a real estate agent, working in a hospital emergency room, and then as a photographer, Montierth, of Layton, decided to go back to school to get a degree in education and planned on teaching math, but every time she had to decide what classes to take, Montierth only wanted to take art classes. 

"I was good at math, but it didn't give me any thrill," said Montierth, who finally gave in to her love and got a master's degree of Integrated Fine Arts in Education, and began teaching at Fremont High School in Weber County, where she has been for the last 14 years. 

"I finally figured out this is where I'm supposed to be; not that it hasn't had its hard moments, but it just felt right from the minute I started teaching art," said Montierth. 

It may be something she loves, but to the art world, Montierth's teaching has influenced enough students that she will now be presented with the prestigious award at the National Art Education Association National Convention at the end of March in San Diego, Calif. 

The NAEA President, Dennis Inhulsen, said in a news release, "This award is being given to recognize excellence in professional accomplishment and service by a dedicated art educator. Michelle Montierth exemplifies the highly qualified art educators active in education today ... who give their best to their students and the profession."

Montierth was shocked when she heard the news, "mostly because there are a lot of amazing art teachers out there. I think the award is partly because I've been proactive and done some things above and beyond just everyday stuff." 

One of those things has been the summer art camp she started for students during the summer with guest artists and workshops. 

Students in Montierth's art classes weren't surprised to hear of the award. Eleventh-grader Cheyanne Drysdale has been taking art classes from Montierth for two years, and unlike other art teachers she's had, she says Montierth gives students confidence to keep going. 

"There have been so many students that come into her class only because they need the art credit, or feel like they want to do it, but don't feel like they're very good, but she lets them see how good they are doing and encourages them to keep going to improve," said Drysdale. "She is always looking for anything she can compliment, and anything she thinks is beautiful, she lets you know."

Tenth-grader Brennan Smith said his art skills have improved since Montierth encourages her students to critique one another. "We help each other with our art pieces, seeing what needs improving, what we did a great job on, and getting opinions from our classmates to help us improve," said Smith. 

Montierth believes anyone can learn how to be an artist if they really have the desire. "Yes, over the 14 years I've been teaching, no matter what, some students can't see lights and darks, or can't make things look like they have dimensions, but they can be fabulous designers, so you find out what they can do and push them toward their strengths," said Montierth. 

Making sure students learn about art is critical, Montierth says. "Honestly, I think art is fundamental, right up there with reading, writing and math because it's everywhere. You can't go anywhere and not be surrounded by art, and we need to have some sort of knowledge and appreciation for it, which you won't get any other way than by taking art classes," said Montierth.

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