Achieving Your Dreams: Middle School Art Teacher Brandie Pettus
What’s your spark? This profile is part of a summer series on dreamers and leaders in New Hampshire.
Brandie Pettus always wanted to be an art teacher. After 13 years at home with her four children, she decided to make her dream a reality.
The spark, she says, came from a beloved teacher.
“When I was in elementary school, I had a wonderful art teacher named Marcia Congdon,” Pettus says. “She was always so friendly and encouraging, and her room was full of light. She let us use toothbrushes to splatter paint. That’s when I began thinking that art was fun, and I wanted to be an art teacher, and hang out with kids all day making art.”
At the age of 40, with four children, Pettus decided to apply for graduate school. She said she experienced personal doubt and felt overwhelmed.
“I was so anxious. I was sure someone was going to notice me and think that I didn’t belong.”
However, Pettus pushed through those inner fears and feelings by focusing on her goals. She said pursuing her education made her learn to take things one step at a time.
“It wasn’t easy to get here,” she says. “I made countless phone calls to colleges and universities asking tons of questions. I kept calling and asking questions, and I was able to make it work with a graduate assistantship, and I had lots of babysitting help from my mom and sister.”
Now, Pettus teaches art in Amherst.
“I’m just finishing my fifth year at Amherst Middle School,” she says. “I always thought I would teach elementary art – middle school students scared me. That was, until I had my own. Middle school is the perfect combination of age levels. The fifth graders are so wide-eyed and enthusiastic, and the eighth graders are ready to start thinking about the real world and their place in it.”
Pettus says every day is an adventure, and as an art teacher, she enjoys being right in the middle of all of it.
“I love dressing up for spirit week, working with my amazing students and seeing their creativity blossom,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve begun to incorporate more student choice into projects, and I love seeing the students’ personal voices shine through in their art.”
Pettus said the most important lessons she has learned is the value of relationships and making connections.
“Getting to know the students is key,” she says. “When the students know that you are interested in them and their ideas, they are more willing to take risks and be creative. When students are invested in their learning, they go above and beyond expectations.”
According to Pettus, gratitude and knowing what makes you happy are important.
“While it is nice to think about stability, you need to think about your happiness, too. No matter what role I was in throughout my life, I was always teaching and helping others. I just kept returning to it. If you really believe that you want to do something, try it. Every day I am thankful that I made the choice to become an art teacher. I am so lucky that every day I get to do my dream job. The lessons from this difficult year have made my hard work so much more rewarding. My job gives me such personal happiness because I love what I do.”
Pettus was born in New Hampshire, and she says the beauty of the area continues to inspire her.
“Even though I’ve traveled, New Hampshire feels like home around every turn,” she says. “When I walk along the streets I did as a child, I can see my past and it keeps those memories alive. New Hampshire has everything so close by – the ocean, the mountains, lakes, cities, villages and more. No matter what I want to do, New Hampshire has it. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’m still exploring.”
The White Mountains is her favorite part of the state: “My parents used to take my sister and I up to the attractions like Santa’s Village and Storyland, and I have 19 years of memories with my own children, hiking, tubing, canoeing, and camping. My children also love Santa’s Village. Two years ago, we went back for a visit and recreated a family photo of us all sitting with Frosty – we just love the magic.”