An artist in the classroom

Dave Morris an example of creativity and learning

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Dave Morris

— Sunlight of a clear December morning illuminates Dave Morris' classroom.

As he bends over a student's piece of writing, critiquing her work, the light glances over Morris' surroundings: Ogle-eyed characters he molded out of clay, a hand-drawn poster that reads, "Real men read books."

Morris is a teacher.

But he's also an artist, a poet and a writer.

Morris considers encouraging creative thinking as much a part of his job as teaching the basics of English.

"If you're going to be successful, you have to have an open mind to creativity and experiences," Morris said. "You've got to be able to think critically and creatively.

"Creativity should be a part of public education," he added. "If kids aren't enjoying (what they're learning), they resist it."

Morris incorporates the arts into his lessons through several means.

He teaches "exploratories" - four-week sessions of cartooning lessons that secretly teach students character and plot development.

"There's so much pressure on teachers to do well on tests, to hit standards," Morris said. "I think that's all good - but it tends to downplay creativity."

And creativity is a part of Morris' life. Morris has been drawing cartoons for "sort of forever" - since age 8 or 9, he said.

"I always drew, even as a little kid," Morris said.

Under the name "Granola Dave" - a response to anti-environmental groups that call themselves "granola haters" - he began drawing political cartoons about environmental issues.

His cartoons aren't limited to the environment. Local politics, the lives of teachers and students and "funny human foibles" also inspire his work, he said.

His creative habit surfaces often - so much so that he sometimes has trouble repressing it.

"I'm always doodling - I can't leave anything alone," he said, pulling out a legal pad covered in whimsical sketches.

Morris' other artistic pursuits often find their way into his classroom.

Occasionally, he'll read passages from a manuscript he wrote as a University of Wyoming graduate student. The novel, based on his experiences working at a carnival one summer, has never been published.

Morris has published books of poetry and photography. Last month, he sent a second book of poetry off to the printer. He expects to get the published version back in February.

He's also written and performed in his own plays - a stage talent he inherited from his father, a tap dancer in the pre-Depression era performances on Vaudeville.

As a student drawn to English and history with an affinity for writing, Morris didn't initially plan to become a teacher.

Instead, he pursued an English degree and didn't give much thought about how to use it until his junior year of college.

"One day you're going to graduate," he recalls telling himself. "What are you going to do?"

A friend suggested he become an English teacher. He took the advice.

Morris has taught at several locations, including a private Catholic school where he completed his student teaching.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he moved west. He started in Wyoming, where he earned his bachelor's in English from the University of Wyoming. Later, he moved to Moffat County so he and his family could be closer to amenities but still experience the "cosmic western country" that Morris grew to love, he said.

He's taught a wide spectrum of age levels, from sixth grade to college freshmen.

Ultimately, he settled on teaching eighth grade - even though he disliked the grade as a student.

Yet, as a teacher, he enjoys helping students through a difficult age, sharing his love for literature and writing.

He continues to teach, occupying the same classroom first assigned to him when he started at Craig Middle School 18 years ago.

Teaching runs strong in the Morris family. Dave's wife, Cindy, is a consumer and family science teacher at Moffat County High School and his eldest son, Drew, 24, is an eighth-grade social studies teacher. Drew teaches in the same building with his father.

Although Dave's other son, Kyle, 21, and his daughter, Kate, 18, have since grown and moved away, he enjoys having his son following in his footsteps.

"I never imagined it," Dave said. "My wife and I are both really happy to have him around."

As Dave watches his son pass through his first year of teaching, he remembers what it was like to be in his place.

"It's scary," he said. "It can be frightening, stressful and overwhelming at first."

Yet after teaching for more than 30 years, Morris said he sees the ways he has impacted his students - watching them "get interested in reading, writing and the arts."

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