Cline art teacher Audra Byerley was once a student in Friendswood ISD, even attending Cline in kindergarten and first-grade. She described herself as being “awkward” and “quiet” back then, keeping to herself most of the time. But, whenever Byerley was engulfed in art, she did not feel awkward or quiet; she felt happy. Finding it to be an escape for herself, Byerley wanted to pass on that feeling to others. That is when she decided to be an art teacher.
“What really got me into teaching was loving my art classes so much, specifically Mrs. Sundrla’s when I was in high school,” Byerley said. “Mrs. Sundrla and Mary Wise made me feel very happy. They were really supportive. I really enjoyed being in their classes and I wanted to continue that.”
After graduating from Friendswood High School in 2010, Byerley continued her education at San Jacinto College and the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Once she graduated, Byerley taught in Pasadena ISD and Pearland ISD before settling back home in Friendswood.
“This is where I grew up, so I’m so excited to be back,” she said.
Also excited for Byerley’s return was Cline Assistant Principal Julianne McCarty.
“In a short amount of time, she has changed the feel of the campus and the Art Department,” McCarty said. “She has new, good, fresh ideas. She stays connected in the art world and brings those ideas to Cline.”
Among some of the ideas Byerley brought to Cline was a collaborative, campus-wide self-portrait wall – an idea she credits to Cassie Stephens, a teacher from Tennessee who posted the idea online.
“It was a huge undertaking, but to see how much time [Byerley] put into it and how much her heart was invested was amazing,” McCarty said. “Parents love it, kids love it. It’s been up for a while now and kids still stop by it every morning.”
The self-portrait wall is not the only piece Byerley has created that has caught attention. Every year, Cline invites ventriloquist Dennis Lee to come to perform for the students and staff, and everyone loves it. This year, Lee sent over information regarding a coloring competition he was doing with various schools, so naturally, Byerley took on the project.
“[Lee] sent us a blank canvas with all of his characters drawn on there and said there was a coloring contest, so we took that blank canvas and gave it to [Byerley] and asked if she’d make it into a wall display,” McCarty said. “She ended up doing this big installment. Then, [Lee] came last week and told us we won and said the presentation next year would be free because of the art.”
These two projects serve as great examples of the passion Byerley puts into her work. According to her, the projects go beyond being beautiful displays by actually helping students’ self-esteem.
“I was a kid who always really liked art, but never felt very good at it, so I can really empathize with the kids who feel that,” Byerley stated. “Once I learned there were ways to do things and it’s not just that you’re amazing at it, but you could learn to get better, I was intrigued.”
“It took me a long time to feel confident in my skill and I’m still working on it, so I just want to share that with kids,” Byerley stated. “It’s okay to enjoy something and not feel like you have to be the best at it.”
McCarty said Byerley is a great role model for her students.
“She has so many leadership capabilities, and I’m not sure she even knows that yet,” McCarty said. “I know some kids don’t think they’re artists or don’t think they can draw, but she exposes them to a wide variety of things so if they don’t feel success in one thing, they will feel success in another.”
Byerley said she believes in making her students feel successful from the beginning of class to the end. In order to set the tone for the day, Byerley said she likes to do a greeting with them at the beginning of every class.
“I say ‘hello my most amazing artists,’ and they say ‘hello my amazing art teacher.’ I ask, ‘how are you today?’ and they say, ‘ready to create,’” Byerley said with a smile. “I love the little ones. I like the excitement that elementary brings.”
Despite the students being so young, McCarty said Byerley has a gift for relating to them.
“How she relates to kids is what you feel the most,” McCarty said. “She greets them, she gets down on their level while they’re working, she’s in the moment all the time, she’s interested in what they’re doing and she gets to share in their successes.”
Now that she is a mother, Byerley said she feels like she has even more love and understanding for her students.
“Since having [my daughter Emma], I really try to understand what a kid is going through and treat them like I would want my daughter to be treated,” she said. “I try to keep everything positive and uplifting. I don’t want them to feel stressed in here.”
Coming full circle, McCarty has seen how happy the students are to be in Byerley’s class: the same type of happiness Byerley felt when she was a student in art class.
“The students love her,” McCarty said. “She’s a good-natured person, she’s always happy, she’s helpful: she just has a good, positive presence.”
Looking back on her time as a student, Byerley wants to leave her students with some advice.
“Don’t compare where you’re at to where someone else is at. Everyone has their own journey,” she said. “If you have a goal you want to achieve, whether it be art or anything else, all you have to do is practice and you will get better.”