Darryl Alello teaches planning, execution and problem-solving as they fall under the umbrella of art. His 14th year of teaching has brought both the greatest challenges and greatest accolades. Amid coronavirus obstacles, Alello has been named the Louisiana Art Teacher of the Year and is actively vying for the national honor.
The 2020 school year is full of unprecedented pitfalls, but Alello’s approach and philosophy have stayed the same. Life, for him and his students, has learned to imitate art. “Every single project that kids do in here is critical thinking — everything they do,” he said. “They make a mistake and they ask me, ‘How can I fix this?’ and I'm like, OK, you need to stop and think about it for a minute. What can you do to make this mistake look like you intended to do this?”
Renowned artist and teacher Bob Ross became famous for capitalizing on “happy little accidents,” and Alello also encourages his art students to see the change in plans (mistakes) as an opportunity to take creative license and make a new path. “I don't give them easy solutions,” he said. “I make them kind of think about it for a minute to come up with their own solution. I feel that a lot of people are so accustomed to being given the answer all the time instead of finding out for yourself.”
The educator has had to take a page from the “old school art playbook” in the classroom. First, the classroom is not the classroom in the traditional sense. In the course of the pandemic, Alello has taught distance learning, online instruction, hybrid learning, and face-to-face art instruction. For each grade, he made a list of projects and deliverables and developed a plan to get both instruction and materials to his students.
“That included making hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of copies, gathering poster board, and making sure they had enough drawing paper and sketch paper and construction paper and everything that they would possibly need,” he said. “The second step was to take all those lessons that I would normally teach in class and then put them online to where they could learn from that aspect.”
The art classroom grew and included Moodle pages and online modules, PowerPoint presentations, video demonstrations and voice-over recordings. Art instruction is very visual and practical so Alello has to put himself in the lesson as much as possible. “I don't want them to feel because they're at home, that they're being abandoned,” he said. “I want them to feel as much as they're a part of this class as I possibly can. That's why I do it that way.”
Alello, a Baton Rouge native and graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, was an accomplished artist and design professional before his art education career started 14 years ago. He worked for an engineering firm doing piping design and drafting. When he was in the middle of a career transition, a friend suggested substitute teaching while on the job hunt. His first assignment was in a Livingston Parish first grade classroom, and it opened his eyes to the challenge and rewards of teaching. “I came to the realization that I was unaware of what teachers had to deal with day in and day out,” he said. “It gave me a whole new appreciation for teachers and what they did in a classroom every day. That's when I decided that I was going to go back to school and get an art education degree. What better way to develop professional artists?”
When Alello began to “mesh those two things together,” he was the only elementary art teacher in the newly-created Zachary school district. He moved between schools before more art teachers were put in place. He now teaches the higher elementary grades at Copper Mill Elementary.
His students are blank canvases, so the basics are important to the experience. Alello uses a wide variety of styles and mediums, but the primary skill of drawing is his favorite to teach and use. “I love drawing,” he said. “I feel in order to do all the other things, you've got to have that basic knowledge of how to do that, and that, that is how I start my fifth graders. They begin to learn the fundamentals, and they start to build on those fundamentals.”
Alello said he knows many artists will basically stick with one particular medium like watercolor, oils or acrylic, but his teaching needs influences his art ambitions and explorations. “I feel as an artist and an art educator, that in order for me to make a positive impact on these kids, I must let them experience as many different mediums that I can because one may be awesome in drawing, and not in painting,” he said. “One may be able to do sculpture and not draw well.
“So, in order for me to teach all of these different things, then I have to have the knowledge of how to use them, and how to teach them,” Alello said.
Alello has won many awards and distinction in the art world, including a 2013 Fund for Teachers grant for his “Italia Rivisitato” exhibit. The fellowship grant allowed him to travel to Italy and study the Renaissance artists.
The resulting body of work was part of an exhibit once housed at the Elizabethan Art Gallery in Baton Rouge.
Alello is a member of the National Art Education Association and the Louisiana Art Education Association. He will be honored at a virtual conference of the Louisiana group in October. The National Art Teacher of the Year will be announced in March at the national conference currently scheduled to meet in Chicago.