Teacher Stories: Jill Alexander, Art Teacher, Wall High School
I got my Masters of Creative Arts at the School for Visual Arts in New York City. I had actually gotten my Business Degree before that, but I had this creative itch and I couldn’t get rid of it. I have had my art exhibited in Asbury Park before the pandemic, and I just finished illustrating a children’s book that will be published at Christmastime. I try to be an example for my students that there are real world opportunities for artists.
I really owe it to my mother. We didn’t have the funds for all the schooling I did, but she told me she wanted me to be happy in life. There was a lack of support from the rest of my family on my father’s side. They always thought art was ‘weird,’ and would ask me why I would want to pursue art, and it hurt really badly, because art meant so much to me. My dad comes from a very large family, and I just never felt like I belonged. It was really tough, they just couldn’t see the joy it brought me, and how it actually, in a way, defined who I was. But I needed to follow my dream with art.
My mom always believed in me. She would go out of her way to do art with me when I was growing up, and get me supplies, and she was always so incredibly proud of me, all the way to a few months ago. I think in some ways she inspired me to strive for excellence because I wanted to make her proud. I wanted her to see all of the sacrifices she made so that I could be happy were worth it. It is why I am where I am now. She passed away recently, and I miss her so much. But even now what I do is so she can be proud of me. I am so thankful I had her as my mother.
I hand down her values to my own students, and I also think that is why I tell my kids at school to follow their dreams, and do what makes them happy. Every year we enter the Congressional Art Competition, a nationwide competition. Our Congressman, Chris Smith is such a strong supporter of the arts, and does such a great job with us. He actually puts on a gallery showing our work, with a reception, and professional judges judge the work, and the winners go on to the national competition. It is a very magical night and the kids look forward to it all year. It is like Christmas for us. We have had seven “Best in Shows” from our school; those are selected to hang in the Capitol building for a year, and over a million people see the art. Congressman Smith wanted to honor me because of how active I am with the competitions, and he got together with the mayor of Wall Township, and he presented me with a flag that flew over the Capitol Building. It was really wonderful.
- Interview by Gregory Andrus