By Peg McRoy
Mrs. Jonee Sutton, Beech Grove Middle School’s art teacher, has been chosen as one of the top 10 finalists in the prestigious Indiana Teacher of the Year selection process.
“This is so weird for me because there are so many great teachers,” said Sutton. “I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and I didn’t get here alone. It is a culmination of things I have learned from other teachers, including my mom and dad who were both teachers.”
Sutton didn’t start out in her career wanting to be a teacher. In fact, she definitely knew that she didn’t want to be a teacher after witnessing the heart, soul and work her parents put into teaching.
She grew up in Marion, Ind. After graduating from high school, she fell into step with general and parental expectations by attending college. It didn’t take her long to admit to herself and her parents that she just didn’t like college.
Being naturally creative, Sutton decided then that the best place to put her talents and to let her artsy side shine through was by doing hair. During the next six years as she worked in the hair cutting and styling industry, Sutton came to the realization that creativity in that field wasn’t exactly the best place to express her inner artist.
“I went back as an adult to college and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University,” said Sutton. “I didn’t start teaching art until 2004 (well into adulthood) so I was a late bloomer for the teaching profession. It just goes to show that you can’t run away from your destiny.”
As far back as she can remember she loved art. Her dad, a teacher by profession, always loved to draw during his down time. Her mom was a kindergarten teacher so she would help her color posters for her classroom and help get things ready for display. She was consistently involved in some sort of art project with her parents.
Inspired by music
In first grade she won her first art contest.
“I distinctly remember winning Symphony in Color, a yearly art contest, when I was in the first grade,” said Sutton. “Symphony in Color is where they would send you a piece of classical music and you were to draw what you felt as you were listening to the music. I drew an ice-cream cone. I don’t know why. But I do know that the music played with imagery in my brain. It was really cool and gave me confidence. I have been making art ever since.”
Her passion for art easily transmits into the classroom. One of her top strategies in reaching her students is to focus art lessons based on what interests kids today. She is also adamant about changing her lesson plan from year to year.
“I try not to repeat lessons and don’t do the same thing every year,” said Sutton. “We paint every year, but we paint different things by focusing on current pop. I try to focus on what interests and relates to middle school kids. I try to give them the knowledge that they need but do it in such a way that is fun for them.”
As many educators know, working with middle schoolers is an art form within itself. Sutton has obviously found a niche when it comes to teaching art to these young minds. Yet, Sutton’s teaching skills and passion for art do not remain confined to her Beech Grove Middle School classroom.
Creativity through community
“For four years I took brave girl retreats with middle school girls to Brown County where we would talk about self-esteem,” said Sutton. “Those retreats later turned into adult retreats for women. I have since gone on to do 13 retreats for women all over the nation called ‘Create Joy: Art + Soul Retreats.’ It is just a matter of trying to get women to be creative and to build community.”
Those art retreats for women led to Florence, Rome and Pompeii trips. They are eyeing a trip to Japan for next year.
The Indiana Teacher of the Year for 2024 will be announced sometime this fall. Regardless of the talented and gifted teacher that is named to the top spot, Sutton already shines in her destiny.
The forever winners in Sutton’s world are the many students and adults who have learned, grown and created under her tutelage.
What it takes and the process for being named Indiana Teacher of the Year by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE)
What does it take to be named Indiana Teacher of the Year?
- The teacher must be an expert in their field who advances students from all backgrounds and abilities.
- The teacher must collaborate with colleagues, students and families.
- The teacher must connect the classroom with the community.
- The teacher must be a life-long learner and teacher leader.
- The teacher must express themselves in an engaging and clear way, conveying the classroom experience to a variety of audiences.
What is the process?
- The teacher is nominated by colleagues and then chosen by their district’s selection committee after a series of interviews. Two teachers are chosen by their district, one elementary and one secondary, to represent their district in the state process.
- A screening committee composed of IDOE staff and former Indiana teachers of the year narrows the field down to 25 teachers based on all eligible applications.
- Then a selection committee reviews those 25 applications and narrows the field down to the “Top 10” teachers. Beech Grove Middle School art teacher Jonee Sutton was named one of these top 10.
- The “Top 10” are personally interviewed by the selection committee.
- The Indiana Teacher of the Year is announced in the fall for the coming year, i.e. the teacher of the year for 2024 is announced in the fall of 2023.
To get a good cross section view of the art created in the Beech Grove City School District, attend:
The District-wide Art Show
Hornet Community Center
Admission is Free