2024 Golden Apple Finalists

Bethany Austin

Bethany Austin of Rockford teaches art at Rockford’s Guilford High School, where she’s been the past 9 of her 23 years of teaching. The student who nominated her said, “Mrs. Austin … is always there to help us make our projects the best they can be.” If you viewed this year’s Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition entries, you saw how she advises one student groups to be the best they can be! On top of undergraduate degrees in art education, she has two master’s degrees including one for which she was selected to complete tuition-free: the Masters in Urban Education at Rockford University. Through this program, she gained a stronger understanding of equality, justice and the difficulties marginalized groups of people have to overcome just to survive each day. This led to her including more restorative practices like class circles into her classes so students can talk about their lives in a safe environment. During the pandemic, Bethany came to embrace technology’s place in her teaching toolbelt. She screencastified videos of her demonstrations, necessary then, but helpful now for students needing to see them more than once. Bethany’s goal is for students to “learn to understand, create, critique and appreciate visual art.” Classroom observers saw how she had taught how to deliver feedback appropriately as students provided insightful and mature opinions. She stays connected with students beyond classroom time. She encourages those who have found artistic careers as designers of video games, fashion, sets, graphics or furniture; glass blowing; or art teachers; and empathizes with others about how therapeutic art or a kind teacher has been. Bethany knows the importance of providing examples from female, minority or obstacle overcoming artists, not just the typical white male artists often covered in art classes such as VanGogh, Monet or Picasso. She also sets high expectations. She says, “when you communicate very clear expectations and you follow through on the consequences of not following those expectations, students will rise to the occasion and shift their focus and that’s when beautiful things can happen”!