Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd
Alice Gerhart, an art teacher in Douglass Township, Pennsylvania, has had a long history of teaching art and design to students of all ages. Now, as she ages, she reflects on her journey from troublesome child to beloved teacher.
When she was a young girl, she got in trouble one time for tying a classmate’s shoestrings together. This prompted a discussion between her teacher and her mother about how to direct her wild demeanor into a more productive action. Her mother decided to enroll her in the local art school, now known as the Yocum Institute for Arts Education in Wyomissing. She went on from this school to complete a degree at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in sculpting.
She moved on in her career from substitute teaching in the 1950s and ‘60s to working for 25 years in the art department at the Boyertown Area Senior High. There, she became a beloved figure for a simple reason: she treated her students like the individuals that they were. “They’re people,” Gerhart said. “You work with them and watch them develop their passion as it blossoms – and some of them are 55 years old now, but they’re still my kids.”
Gerhart’s students reminisce on how she had the uncanny ability to give her students whatever they needed to be successful artists, including complex artistic concepts. A former student of Gerhart’s, Robert Koch, now makes his living as a professional metal sculptor, remembers what it was like to take a college art class on color theory and finding that he had already learned that information long ago in one of Alice Gerhart’s classes.
Now, Gerhart teaches her art classes for the elderly through the Pottstown Area Seinors’ Center, which brings her a lot of joy and love. “My students are all friends of mine, and they’re all friends of each other,” Gerhart said.