By Jacqueline Liao
“I do not want to be in an office every day. I want to be teaching kids to draw and paint and doing something I am passionate about.” This was the realization that art teacher Mrs. Kathleen Saltoun had many years ago while still working as a recruiter at a law firm.
Art has always had a guiding presence in Mrs. Saltoun’s life. Her mother was an art teacher in Port Washington for 35 years before starting her own after-school program for art classes. Growing up, Mrs. Saltoun was also privately tutored in art by the art director of the Port Washington schools. “I was always surrounded by art. I never envisioned being an art teacher, but I always knew art was going to be in my life,” Mrs. Saltoun said. “I never questioned it; I always just followed an art path because it was my passion. I didn’t know what I aspired to be, but I always knew art and creativity had to be a part of it.”
Mrs. Saltoun attended college at the University of Michigan and received a BFA in painting and drawing. After graduation, however, she worked at a law firm doing recruiting and event planning. It was while she was sitting in a meeting one day that she started drawing on legal pads and realized she wanted to return to her lifelong passion. “That was my ‘aha’ moment to say, ‘I need to teach something I am passionate about, and not sit in an office all day drawing on legal pads,’” Mrs. Saltoun recalled.
In order to achieve her goal, Mrs. Saltoun had to return to school; she attended classes in the evening after working at the law firm during the day. She obtained her Master’s at Teachers College, Columbia University, then student-taught at P.S.89 in Tribeca and Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington. Mrs. Saltoun expressed that teaching at South was “fortunately her first teaching job.”
Mrs. Saltoun particularly enjoys exposing her students to the art museums in New York City, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. “We live so close [to the museums], but so many students have never been,” Mrs. Saltoun said. “I’ve had students come back and just be in awe and say, ‘I didn’t know this existed!’ and be just blown away. I like exposing them to things they don’t normally see.”
While Mrs. Saltoun has taught at South for twelve years, a few memories stand out. One of them occurred last year when she took her students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they saw the Degas Room. A student was so blown away that “ever since [her visit to the Degas Room], her artwork has been influenced by that moment, which is pretty exciting,” Mrs. Saltoun said. Another one of her favorite moments occurred more recently. “A student was working very hard on a piece, and she came in and said ‘I’m so proud of my work.’ I think that, to me, is very special,” Mrs. Saltoun added.
While these specific memories stand out in Mrs. Saltoun’s mind, it is the collection of her experiences that made her realize teaching was the right career path. For her, the most enjoyable part of teaching is allowing students to feel confident when they paint and draw. “When [my students] learn how to draw something they didn’t think they could draw, I am able to [point out their progress] and they have such a proud moment. They can feel successful and great about their art,” Mrs. Saltoun said. “That’s when I feel like I’ve succeeded in the classroom: when I’ve given them the tools to feel like great artists who feel proud of their work.”