It’s the time of year when students get shiny new supplies and are secretly relieved that summer is coming to a close. It’s back to school season, and for teachers like Dana Johnson, it’s one of the happiest times of year.
Dana taught art for 35 years, retiring in 1986. Recently, he was moved to write a poem, not about going back to school, but about the end of the school year and the melancholy it evokes in an instructor who truly loves his work.
“The hallways and galleries are lifeless echo chambers,” it begins. He had just written it when he saw our request for back-to-school reminiscences for the August issue of Community Matters.
Teaching art is more personal than teaching other subjects, Dana said. Instead of big lecture halls, there are usually just a handful of students in a studio with a teacher.
“When you’re working one-on-one with students, you get to know them. You develop a rapport,” he said. “In a way, it’s why I wrote that poem. At the end of school, when they all leave, you’re losing a bunch of kids that you’ve established certain bond with. You miss them at first, but of course you know they’re anxious to get back home.”
Dana started teaching at a small school in northeastern Missouri. Next, he served as a graduate instructor in the department of design at the University of Kansas, then moved on to what is now Southeast Missouri State. Finally, he moved to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where he spent the lion’s share of his career — 20 years.
Today he still sketches a little, but writing has taken over as his main creative pursuit. Dana blocks out time every day to work on short stories. It’s how he keeps his mind nimble, he said — along with the occasional poem. Here is the one he shared with us, calling it “a college instructor’s perspective from 55 years ago.”
The hallways and galleries are lifeless echo chambers,
shrouded in a ghost-laden mist of silence
that eddies around the disorder of studio easels,
tables and chairs where they were left;
three unclaimed pieces of arthang desolately on the unlit display wall,
faint residuals of the chatter,
the easy laughter, the beautiful facesand random energies of youthful moments.
With them gone I have a queer feeling
of no longer being what I was.
— by Dana Johnso