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March 29, 2013

Teacher Finds Artful Way to Inspire Students

by June Soh

Teacher Ryan Martinez knows how to encourage his students.

"If there is silence, there is an opportunity for music," he says. "If there is a white surface, then there is an opportunity for color."

Martinez teaches French at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, where his classroom is decorated with colorful ceiling tiles.

"As a teacher, you want to make your classroom space one that reflects your own approach to teaching," he says. "And when you make that an inviting, stimulating type of atmosphere, it makes it a more pleasurable learning experience."

It all started with one tile a year ago.

"I brought it home. I just had some blue paint and sort of just covered it, and I installed it," Martinez says. "The students noticed that. I mean, immediately, it jumped out because, in an otherwise white ceiling, all of a sudden you have some color."

​​Martinez paints at home for 10 hours each weekend and brings the tiles back to school. He has expanded the project to other areas in the school, including teacher Maggie Mesorly's math class.

"Students often think that math is boring, but they come and see this art and they think, maybe math isn’t going to be so boring," she says. "It can inspire their creativity in their problem solving."

Students are encouraged to participate in the painting during their lunch breaks.

"This is a new experience for me," says student Diego Rubey, "I think it is fantastic, and I can’t wait until it is done."

His fellow student, Emma Schuettler, also joins in the painting. "I've felt that, if I paint ceiling tiles and so have people react to it in the classroom, that it will probably boost my confidence a little bit about my drawing."

Martinez believes the students' participation helps them feel, in a sense, that they own the classroom.

He has expanded his project outside the school. Now, he regularly goes to Inwood House, a residential community for adults with disabilities.

"First it brightened up the room, and then it brightened up everyone’s feelings," says Meg Marshall, the community's manager. "And they see their own artwork up on the ceiling, it's a very awesome feeling."

Many of the residents have never painted before.

"What I would tell them was just, 'Do until you think it is done,' because that is what the most important thing is," Martinez says. "When you can get people to build that confidence in themselves, it is something that they can then apply in other facets of life as well."

Martinez hopes his project will catch on in schools and beyond and bring more color to the world.