MCHS art teacher Zimmerman shares wisdom and advice on passion, critique, and pursuing careers in the arts.


Demonstrating her art, Ms. Michele Zimmerman uses motivation and modeling to help her students improve their artistic skills and knowledge.

Leylah Moreno, Staff Writer

A student sits in the art room after class has ended, frustrated, unsure of what’s missing from their artwork. By their side, McHenry Community High School art teacher Ms. Michele Zimmerman stands, cheering them on. This isn’t the first time she’s gone above and beyond for a student, and it definitely won’t be the last. Teachers can pass on valuable wisdom and leave lasting memories on their students, and Zimmerman is no exception. 

Connecting with students can be difficult, but it’s necessary to grab their attention. Zimmerman teaches through her own experiences in order to relate to her young scholars. “When I was a younger ‘Zim’, I was competitive and driven by perfection,” Zimmerman disclosed. “Now that I let myself open up and be more vulnerable, I’m much more in a place of taking risks and not worrying about failure as much. My work is much more expressive. This is what I want students to tap into.” Zimmerman is very insistent on a judgement-free zone to help students develop their own creative style like she did when she was younger.

Her craft bloomed from technical artistry in high school to sentimental artwork from college and onward. Zimmerman advocates for growth and self-improvement because she hopes her students eventually feel comfortable and relaxed being expressive. “It’s being able to honor yourself where you are, in that moment, on that day even, in that hour or minute, and just say: ‘hey, it’s enough.’ And being accepting,” she mentioned. She urges students to learn from her past art skill and be less critical of themselves.

The challenge of changing a young artist’s mindset is no walk in the park, but Zimmerman makes it her mission. She’s had countless students harshly criticize their own skills. “I try to be playful about it. I try to call them out when they do the ‘I can’t’ statements and force them to rephrase,” she explained. Zimmerman hopes manifesting positive thoughts are effective when it comes to helping a student become accepting of their skill. “The minute they start to just say it differently, it already feels different. It feels more possible. Some students have it so deeply ingrained, it takes a lot of work to break down those negative thoughts and patterns, like a constant battle,” she explained. She spends time attempting to uplift any insecure artists.

Zimmerman notes that it’s extremely important to be encouraging towards her beginner artists because they can feel like they aren’t good enough. “It’s more about keeping an open mind. It’s not just about talent, but passion, creativity, and perseverance. Take risks,” she prompted. This advice is crucial for students who want to create art as a career in the future.

She hopes her students can express themselves, be creative, and put their heart into their art. Some of Zimmerman’s students have taken her advice and gone on to seek art as an occupation. A former student of hers, Shaman Goad, was inspired by her teaching skills to pursue several different art forms. When he was at a low point, she showed him how to create. 

That has always stuck with him, after all these years: “I was going through a really hard time in high school, being severely bullied and struggling with who I was, but her kindness opened me up and helped me channel those conflicts into creativity,” Goad recalled. He summons his positive experiences in her class when creating art. “She taught me meaning and concept dissection, which I now channel into my work. She was more than a teacher, really. She was a friend,” he admired. Educators like Zimmerman, who can go the extra mile, tend to leave an endless impression on their pupils.

Teachers have the ability to format the future, and it’s imperative that they have the ability to make their students passionate. Zimmerman has shaped many young artists into who they are, and continues to lead the way for newcomers. Art is one of the most important things to so many kids. It’s more than just a mark on a piece of paper. It’s being able to tell a story and be completely authentic.