Member Spotlight: Cheryl Canterbury

Where were you born?

LaGrange, GA, but have been in WV since I was a toddler. My family tree is planted in our beautiful state. Where did you attend school? I attended Montrose Elementary, South Charleston Junior High and South Charleston High School in Kanawha County. I graduated from Marshall University with a BFA, concentration in Graphic Design, and returned much later for the MAT, Master of Arts in Teaching.

What were your early exposures to art?

My mother is an incredibly creative person. I remember she created this art piece from plexiglass that must have been at least two feet by four feet. She painted it glossy black and then added every imaginable kind and size of container lid painted flat white in contrast, scattered across the surface. It looked like some alien cityscape until you noticed the small dishwashing liquid squirt cap. At the base of the stairs, hung a large, framed, paint-by-number of “The Last Supper” my mother finished before I was born. It was quite big and amazing from a distance. Up close, you could get lost in all those tiny areas painted carefully in different colors. It seems I was always making crafts growing up. I had my own paint-by-number pictures, a LiteBrite, hooked rugs and string art. I learned to crochet, to sew by hand or machine and wanted, but was never allowed, to paint my bedroom ceiling purple. When my own daughter asked to paint her bedroom ceiling purple, I did not hesitate. Of course, later on, it required more than a few coats of paint to return it to white.

In junior high, all students took home economics and shop class in addition to art and music. In home economics as well as shop class, I had the freedom to create my own unique projects. I hand sewed felt Christmas stockings with embroidery designs and remember ordering a stuffed animal kit. What kid makes their own stuffed animals? I remember how special that little dog was. In shop class, I made the standard mail-holding alligator with a clothespin mouth and realized working with saws and hand tools was great fun. I myself cannot imagine running classes of junior high kids with power tools, but I don’t remember any blood being spilled. Mr. Clark said I could make something unique—if I brought in my own wood. I chose a stool with three legs and found a piece of scrap wood at home. He guided me in using the table saw and the wood-turning lathe machine. He showed me how to use a caliper to measure so that all three legs had identical curves and thickness. I watched as he measured, then had to make adjustments to the angle and position of the legs for stability.

When the stool was all finished, there wasn’t a sharp edge or corner on that stool. Every part was soft and rounded from using that giant, powerful lathe machine. Mr. Clark showed the stool off to the class with his deep, loud voice, commenting on how I made all those legs the same. In shop class, we also made isometric drawings at giant tables with t-squares and triangles. I think about how powerful that experience was for developing an ability to see and imagine things spatially. When I became a graphic designer, my first work table was very much like those drawing tables in shop class.

Who did you work for as an artist?

I worked as a graphic designer and later as the art director for ADfluence Advertising in Huntington, WV. After the birth of my daughter, I started a freelance graphic design business out of my home, in Wayne, WV, allowing the best of both worlds.

What type of work did you do?

We designed advertising and corporate materials like brochures, folders, signage, and logos.

What made you decide to switch career paths and become a teacher?

I worked with Wayne United Methodist Church to establish their preschool program, Noah’s Ark Preschool, when my daughter was three years old. Then, when she was in middle school, she brought home some math homework and asked for help. Through that experience, I realized that choosing art and graphic design wasn’t turning away from mathematics, instead, it was combining the two disciplines. Around this same time period, a friend was considering returning to Marshall to become certified through the MAT program. I had no idea that existed and had never considered teaching as a career. Then I received a call asking if I had ever thought of substitute teaching. The field of graphic design was beginning to change at that time and I didn’t know if I wanted to change with it or make a change from it. I thought I might try substitute teaching.

Did this require additional education to become licensed?

I became a RESA certified substitute, stayed very busy with several long-term positions and loved it. To go all in and become certified, I went through the MAT program, which certified me to teach art, but I really wanted to teach math. I hoped to turn the tide of those who think they “aren’t math people.” All people are math people. To do that, I needed more graduate hours for an extra certification.

How does being an artist compare to being a teacher?

As an artist, to survive, you have to develop a thick skin and the courage to put yourself out there. People are going to have opinions and make judgements, sometimes very publicly. Teachers are in a similar position. It can be difficult, especially with all the social media outlets there are, but it is rewarding. Whether people buy and like your artwork or say you are a good teacher, it doesn’t change who you are.

What different roles have you had as a professional educator?

After starting as a substitute teacher, I taught art in grades 6–8 and math in grades 6–7. For the past two years, I have been our secondary math specialist in Wayne County. In stepping out of my own classroom to be a support for other teachers, I have learned so much that will improve my own teaching practice and I am excited to return to teaching math in eighth grade this fall. I can’t wait to dive into the content!

Can you see ways that your art background helps with your teaching?

Art and math are actually very similar. Artists and mathematicians are essentially problem solvers. They are creative thinkers using art or math to understand the world, make statements, and find answers. Our students need to be creative thinkers.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Middle grade students are a lot of fun. Nothing compares to a lightbulb moment of understanding, or when a student realizes math is something they can do, and maybe even enjoy!

Do you still have time to pursue your love of art? If so, what medium do you like to work in now?

Photography and watercolor painting are still part of my life. I am a juried member of Tri-State Artists and Allied Artists and have had work accepted into competitions and shows. I have slowed down considerably in the past few years, as I am considering a shift with my creative spirit.

Is there any advice you give to students who want to become an artist?

Do it for yourself, do what speaks to you, and know that there is not just one way to be an artist.

Is there any advice you give to students who want to become a teacher?

I tell all students the key to choosing their career, or a direction in life, is to figure out what you like to do and find someone to pay you to do that. Then, find someone you admire to be your mentor. Listen more than you speak.

Share your school stories, personal accomplishments, or anything else you think will make a great story. You could be featured in the WVEA TODAY magazine! Visit wvea.org/member-spotlight-stories to share your story.