Behind the Mask: art teacher Caitlin Shawaker

Behind the Mask: art teacher Caitlin Shawaker

Ari Collins
eSomethin staff

For the past two years, attending Perrysburg High School has been quite an experience. Becoming acquainted with the community became difficult for some when COVID-19 placed both literal and figurative barriers between students. As school continues amidst a global pandemic, faces of students and teachers remain masked and leave identities in the dark.

This year PHS welcomed many new faces, despite the masks that hide them. Ms. Caitlin Shawaker, who teaches AP art history, darkroom photography and introduction to art, is one of them.

Shawaker grew up nearby. She attended Ottawa Hills for high school, then graduated from Boston University.

“I was a super quiet kid, like incredibly quiet in the classroom. And going to Ottawa Hills, it’s like, it’s such a small school. You kinda find your thing and that’s your thing. That’s what you’re known for,” Shawaker said. “So I was just known as the quiet artsy kid.”

She said she was also very academic. Some even suggested that she become a doctor because of this, but she said that it didn’t exactly feel right. 

“There was one day in the art room,” Shawaker said, recalling a flashbulb memory. “I think it was digital photography or graphic design, and I was just giving advice to my friend about her artwork and the art teacher overheard.” At that moment, her teacher suggested turning it into a career.  

As soon as her teacher gave her this suggestion, the idea of teaching appealed to her. She was accepted into Boston University with an elementary education path, though the idea of being an art teacher was still planted in her mind. “I guess it was the lack of confidence that, you know, maybe everyone feels,” she said.

Despite this lack of confidence, she met with the head of the art department, who saw her work and suggested a different program. After this, Shawaker gained back her confidence and changed her plan immediately.

“You don’t always know what you’re meant to go into, but once there’s that push, and you do get into it, everything falls in line.” 

Caitlin Shawaker

Shawaker taught at St. Ursula, a private high school in Toledo, for several years before coming to Perrysburg High School. So far, she reports the transition has been exciting and positive.

“I feel like I’m still getting to know the school in a lot of ways. I’m still getting lost a little bit because it’s so big. Everyone has been really helpful,” she said.

Transitioning to Perrysburg

Shawaker told eSomethin that although there is one obvious difference between the schools—Perrysburg is co-ed and St. Ursula is an all girls school—the environments are not drastically different. She said that the co-ed versus all girls isn’t as big of a difference as outsiders may think, and that the “dynamics are very similar actually, I mean, teenagers are teenagers. Freshmen are freshmen, seniors are seniors.”

“It’s been exciting though, to get a different group of students in that way,” she said.

She also mentioned that St. Ursula had a different schedule and structure for the day. “We had four class periods a day, teachers teach three, and then now I have double that basically. So, it is a different class timing,” she explained.

“Going from eighty minutes to fifty minutes is quite a shock, so I love enrichment days, if we bring those back, because that feels normal to me.”

Shawaker has thought, reportedly, about working in Perrysburg for a while. After spending time away for college, she “decided to come back home and look for jobs and just see what was available. So I was starting to look then, and then it kinda just popped up at the right time.”

She told eSomethin that she wanted to challenge herself to grow as a teacher. “I got to a point where teaching became very comfortable and I think it is important for everybody, no matter what career path, to really push yourself,” she explains. “I was like, OK, I’m ready. I’m ready for that co-ed experience—that public school experience.”

She was thrilled about the potential to have an impact on more students. To do this, apart from taking the opportunity to teach at Perrysburg, she decided to try teaching different types of classes. Shawaker used to teach a ceramics class, but recently swapped it for darkroom photography. She thinks a ‘refresh’ in terms of process and routine is vital and healthy for the brain.

She also connects this ‘refresh’ to taking art classes. “I think it’s important for everyone to take art classes,” she explains.

The need for art classes

“I think that the Intro to Art class is really necessary, just to dabble and see how things are made. Like, see how to make orange out of paint, something simple. It’s also like a break during the day. Not necessarily like a break because it’s an easier class. A break from other systems of learning and getting something that’s hands-on, in even a messy way, I think is good for the brain.”

Shawaker believes that creating is natural for humans and has psychological benefits. She explains that “in our advanced society we don’t have as much of that, where everything is already premade or pre-bought for us. I think we are hungry for that feeling to make stuff.”

She’s eager to give students a creative experience year round instead of just a semester.

“At St. Ursula we’d have them for a semester which was wonderful because it was eighty minutes a day. So it’s the same timing really, but now that it’s a full year I get to know students through different steps of the year.”

Besides this, Shawaker said she looks forward to incorporating art into our community at PHS and within the Perrysburg community. She mentioned a ‘tiny-door’ project that she did with some previous students. The project challenged students to create tiny versions of businesses in their community, and then display them in front of the actual building. “It was a really fun way for people to get out in the community and those businesses and stores still display them. That makes the students feel so great.”

“Not just display in the school, which is really insular,” she said. “Having that art in the public would be exciting to think about for next year.”

Shawaker has a positive outlook and anticipates great years ahead.

Check out more stories on eSomethin!

Share this Post