New art teacher has a knack for communicating with students |

New art teacher has a knack for communicating with students

by Merrie Leininger

As a new art teacher with Scarselli Elementary School, Michael Callahan tries to help his students expand their world.

Callahan has been teaching art for about four years, but his three months in the Douglas County School District have been his first with elementary children. He said the differences are small, but are there, mostly regarding discipline – but the children of all ages always respond to him.

After only two months at SES, he had a father come up to him and say Callahan’s class was his daughter’s favorite.

He also recently received a letter from a former ceramics student who will be the salutatorian of her Chicago-area high school at graduation. She gets to select the person who introduces her and she asked Callahan if he would be that person.

“I’m floored that out of the 12 years of her education, I was the most influential to her,” he said.

Callahan said he isn’t sure what draws children to him, but others around him know.

“He has a way of communicating with kids that they understand,” said SES head secretary Maria Martin. “He gets them enthused about art and in a fun way. They look forward to going to his classroom and are proud of what they’re learning. And he gets excited about it, too.”

n Masking the life lessons. Callahan said he uses different tools to get the kids to “use the right side of the brain.”

Classical music plays in the background, colorful scraps of paper fill a box in one corner. Callahan uses a Russian accent while he instructs students how to make paper mache masks.

“Some things are learned on our own, but some things you have to be exposed to, like the arts. It’s an opportunity to express themselves,” he said.

n After work. Callahan and his young family moved from the midwest to Gardnerville at Christmastime, after he found the job ad on the Internet.

His wife of 14 years, Dachelle, and their children, Julia, 7, and Brennan, 3-1/2, moved out here in the middle of the school year and knowing it was only a 6-month position, because of the environment outside of work.

“We used to live in Seattle and we kinda fell in love with the mountains,” he said. “Work is only eight hours out of the day.”

This creative soul has lived in many places and worked many jobs in search of a home and a job that would allow him to create.

In the 15 years between high school graduation and graduation from Northern Illinois University, he did mechanical drafting at Boeing and worked as a bartender at a restaurant owned by Tom Selleck in Maui.

“When I went to school, I changed majors a lot. I took photography, computer art and ceramics. Since I had a background in everything, I thought, why don’t I teach art?” he said.

Teaching art has only spurred Callahan on. He is always trying to think of new creative projects for his students.

In Chicago, his students entered a local snow sculpture contest, and on their third try, they won first place. At SES, the students have been doing duck pictures in hopes they will be able to enter a duck stamp contest.

“When the kids get recognition, that makes me feel good,” he said.

n Time off. When the art program ends for the year to make way for six months of music classes, Callahan said he might turn his attention to baking.

Callahan has already won the hearts of his colleagues through the cheesecakes he brings into work.

He said he has always enjoyed cooking, but catering is something others have thrown him into.

When the Callahans lived in Seattle, they went to a coworker’s Thanksgiving dinner and were asked to bring a dessert. That person told another and that person told everyone, “that I made gourmet desserts.” It just snowballed from there until he was making desserts for graduations and banquets for 200 people. Chocolate mint, key lime, almond and Bailey’s Irish Cream are just some of the flavors of cheesecakes he makes.

He said his wife wants him to open his own business, but Callahan said he is wary of anything that will take all his time from other interests.