Art teacher named DCPS 'Teacher of the Year'

School Without Walls teacher James Cunningham has been named DCPS 'Teacher of the Year' (ABC7)

Building confidence in his students is a priority for School Without Walls teacher James Cunningham. For more than 30 years, he's taught art but doesn't consider himself an art teacher.

"I'm an artist educator because I am an artist and an educator but I'm an artist first," he clarified.

The former Eastern High School and Bowie State University student who also graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sees art in everything and teaches his students to do the same.

"I just can attribute most of my artistic growth to him and what he's taught me. Just in value and being able to translate what I see on to paper," Junior Lucas Ferrier explained.

Principal Richard Trogisch added, "He teaches people who have never tried art to be outstanding."

That's a word DCPS uses to describe Cunningham. The school system considers him so outstanding, it recently recognized him as the 2015 Teacher of the Year.

15-year old sophomore Alonzo Beverly described how his art instructor motivates students saying, "He won't let us quit and he makes sure we know that we can do the work."

Senior Ashley Johnson considers Cunningham a mentor. She shared, "There's been times where I can come to him and talk to him about anything. Colleges, school work, just my personal life and he's always been there to talk to me and give me advice."

Drawing and painting are the mediums Cunningham enjoys most but emphasizes that his success comes from those who taught him. He believes in order to become great you have to see greatness in action. He identified the keys to becoming an exceptional teacher as "Passion, stick-to-itiveness, a desire to not only teach but practice the craft."

Cunningham engages in art locally and internationally. Eight years ago he brought the LearnServe International program to his school which has allowed students to travel to Jamaica, Japan, Paraguay and Ethiopia.

The educator stresses the importance of a having a global perspective saying, "Learning is not a classroom it's a world and once you bring that to students, their entire outlook about what they want to be shifts."

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