INSIDE Chico State
0 April 13, 2000
Volume 30 Number 17
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




Conversations on Diversity


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1999-2000 Outstanding Teacher Welcomes the World to her Door

Cris Guenter, Outstanding Teacher (Photo Jeff Teeter)
Cris Guenter
, Outstanding Teacher (Photo Jeff Teeter)

Art educator Cris Guenter was teaching her arts methods class when she heard a knock at the door. A student opened the door, and three quarters of her department and the dean of the college crowded into the room. At first she thought they were going to sing "Happy Birthday," but then President Esteban came in and announced that Guenter had been chosen by the Faculty Recognition and Support Committee as the 1999 - 2000 Outstanding Teacher.

"I am speechless," said Guenter.

"There's a first!" someone said, and everyone in the room laughed.

Mike Kotar, chair of the Department of Education, presented her with flowers. Her colleagues had been waiting and watching for the president and dean to come.

"I was deeply touched and surprised, as much by the way the message was delivered as the message itself, and by the support of my colleagues and students," Guenter said. "But that's how we are here. We've been working so hard over the last decade as a team. We've redone the whole teacher-training program -- revitalized it with such programs as FLEX and CLAD. So, I accepted the award for all of my colleagues. As we all know, you do not teach alone. This is a collaborative effort."

Guenter means it. She uses a rock climbing analogy to describe her teaching: Teaching is like rock climbing and rappelling. There is joy and excitement in reaching the top, but the thrilling drop down the mountainside adds more to the adventure and sets the tone for future climbs. The rappel is based on trust and the ability to risk -- on stepping back and letting others move into the lead position. You must rely on them to assist you, and you must be mindful and alert when helping them. You do not rock climb or rappel alone.

Guenter speaks of the different aspects of her work as a tapestry: the teacher training exchange with Irish students (Guenter has worked with Irish student teachers and visited Ireland to give workshops), the development of her Web-based classes, her role as Web manager for her department, and now her collaboration with ArtsEdge at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Each piece was a thread that connected to others until there was a fabric of people, Internet connections, and accomplishments.

The most recent piece of the tapestry started four years ago when Guenter was the Web manager for the Education Department's Web page, and she began thinking of the possibility of placing lesson plans that her students had been producing on the Web.

The lesson plans were in line with state frameworks, as Guenter had chaired the statewide framework revision committee and saw that requiring her students to develop plans aligned with the guidelines assured they'd be used. Her students wanted to see the work of students before them. Putting them on-line made them available to everyone and involved her students in the creative process of Web site creation. They developed a database of over seventy lesson plans and add more each semester.

In May 1999, the Kennedy Center came across CSU, Chico's Web site, and two things interested them: K-arts (using art with kindergartners) and the arts lesson plans, including plans for dance, drama, music, and visual arts, that Guenter had posted on the Web.

The representatives from the center asked Guenter about her work, and she told them about her teaching, including K-arts, a required class, and the Ireland exchange program.

They asked her if she would be willing to work with ArtsEdge, one of the divisions of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, in providing on-line educational resources for teachers nationwide. Their request was a huge compliment for CSU, Chico.

ArtsEdge wanted to develop a 100 percent on-line integration course for teachers. Their Web site was getting hundreds of hits per day from arts educators, and many were staying on for half an hour, which spoke to the need for such a program. They were also interested in collaborating with a pre-service program. Since Guenter and the education program had already done some of what they wanted to do -- a credential course 100 percent on-line, a FLEX plan for working people trying to earn a credential -- it seemed like a natural fit.

The Kennedy Center provided $3,500 to buy some of Guenter's time. Their immediate support delighted Guenter, who has never received release time for any of her work. Guenter has also received a Summer Scholar award and will travel in mid-June to Washington, D.C., to make a presentation to the Teaching Advisory Board at the Kennedy Center. She will speak about arts integration and interdisciplinary education.

In support of her nomination, Kotar wrote: "No one better fits the title of Outstanding Teacher. Cris Guenter is committed to instruction of the highest quality. She constantly innovates, applying new teaching strategies and methods to better meet students' educational needs."

Her students describe her as enthusiastic and energetic, and as having an infectious love of teaching and learning. One credential student expressed the kind of influence she has on future teachers: "Before Dr. Guenter's Arts Methods course, I saw art as simply an opportunity for students to play with paints. She has taught me that fine arts can be a universal language, one that I will surely use to teach all students."

Guenter's teaching and professional contributions have brought her other professional awards, including CSU, Chico Master Teacher, California's Outstanding Higher Education Art Educator, and the Douc Langor Award for teaching,

Her publications include eight art/technology lessons for ArtTalk, a high school art textbook published by Glencoe McGraw-Hill; "Interdisciplinary Education: A Teaching Model," in Science and Children, Vol 35, No. 5, February 1998; Portfolio Assessment, Glencoe McGraw Hill, 1998; "Become the Adventure," Open Mic: Journal of the California Subject Matter Projects, Vol. 3, No. 3, fall 1996. -- KM


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