Sandra Truant appreciates rewards of teaching

The Newtonite

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“When you get through to a student and realize that they finally get it, you can see it in their eyes and that’s your reward,” art teacher Sandra Truant said.

by Jacob Schwartz
Sandra Truant, a teacher, a mentor and a leader in this school’s art department, said she enjoys everything about teaching art.
“I’ve always loved the materials, the projects and of course the students. When you get through to a student and realize that they finally get it, you can see it in their eyes and that’s your reward,” she said.
Her years of teaching experience at Warren Junior High School and this school “have just been fun.”
After 36 and a half years of teaching in and running the art department, Truant will retire at the end of this academic year.
According to her husband, former fine arts department head Tom Leonard, Truant “knew how to set appropriate goals for her students. She never settled for kids playing around with art, even when she was teaching very young kids.”
Patience was also an important quality of Truant’s teaching, Leonard said.
“She was very patient but also demanding. She made students not only want to have fun but to achieve at an extremely high level as well.”
Truant said she has been grateful that Newton has been pro-art. “It has always supported the art programs. Recently, times have been tough, but we still have been able to maintain a strong art department.”
Her motivation for art sparked when she attended a class in high school, she said.
“It was taught by Mr. O’Brien, who was my mentor and the reason I went into art. He always would tell me ‘the sky’s the limit,’ and helped me put a portfolio together, and he always believed in me.”
After graduating from New York State University at Potsdam, where she double-majored in print-making/painting and art history and after cross-registering with St. Lawrence University to receive her teaching certificate, Truant went on to be a long term substitute teacher in Pittsford, New York.
From there she returned to the Boston area, where her family was from originally, to substitute the following year “from Waltham to Duxbury, only in art,” she said.
After a year of subbing, she received three job offers and accepted one at Warren Junior High School. Truant taught there from ’76-’83. For the ’82-’83 school year, she also taught at Horace Mann.
The following September, she was offered a position at this school, and she has been here ever since.
In 1990, Truant was asked by principal Marya Levenson to become head of the art department. Truant held the job until 2005 when the position was cut and combined with the music department.
Memorable moments in her career at this school have included traveling to London with the music and art students, she said. Another was when one of her students won a national award at the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Awards, which was presented at Carnegie Hall.
She also took over the art history class, according to Leonard, “making it into one of the most stellar art courses known in Massachusetts. It was an intense AP course, and students came out of it with quite a lot of knowledge.”
Also thanks to Truant, the photography department was revived and became what it is today.
“When I started, we had five old Omega Enlargers, and most of them were broken. When I called the company to ask if they could be fixed, they just laughed.”
According to Leonard, Truant built up the photo program from one class of around 25 to over 100 students.
Photography teacher Ron Morris said his first impression of Truant was that “she knew so much about art and about how to teach it.”
“She has a great overview of the whole school system from working at elementary school, middle school and high school. She really knows how Newton Public Schools operates, which is something I have no idea about,” he said.
While art department head, Truant rehired Morris after his job was eliminated due to budget cuts. Truant also hired art teacher Shannon Slattery, who had been one of Truant’s students at Warren Junior High School.
Although the fine arts and performing arts department head positions have merged into one, Truant is looked up to as a leader among fine arts students and teachers, according to Morris.
Leonard shares similar views on Truant’s leadership in the department.
“Even though we combined the fine art and the performing art departments, she basically continued to be a driving force of the art department, in all capacities,” Leonard said.
Truant’s experience shows through her teaching, Morris said. “There are things she knows through her experience that many others don’t.”
According to Morris, “this experience will be sorely missed.”
Because of her attitude and charisma, students will miss Truant. Senior May Singleton-Kahn, an art major, recalls one time when, “I left art at home for the class, and she actually gave me a ride home to get it.”
When asked if she would do it all over again, Truant said, “Of course I would. I love teaching, and I love my students. I am very lucky to have had a career that I have enjoyed so much.”
If a student hopes to be an admirable teacher in the future, Truant advises that he or she “have dedication, patience and perseverance.”