Longtime Bloomfield HS art teacher set to retire

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Julie Cortese, a Bloomfield High School art teacher, is retiring this month after 25 years in the district.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Julie Cortese, a Bloomfield High School art teacher, primarily in computer art and photography, will be retiring at the end of this month. In a Friday, June 3, interview at the school, Cortese, who attended Brookdale Elementary, North Junior High and graduated from BHS in 1974, said she began teaching in 1997, somewhat later in her life, splitting her days between the high school and Watsessing Elementary. She did this for her first three years in the district. She tries to teach her students ideas that will set them apart.

Her grandfather was an artist and her mother, who also graduated from BHS, had a teaching degree in English but went into business. Cortese worked as a graphic artist before teaching and received both her Bachelor of Arts in fine arts and a certificate to teach art from Montclair State University. 

“Once I had my kids, the schedule for a graphic artist, with deadlines, conflicted with raising my family,” she said. “I found teaching more conducive to raising a family. And I liked working with kids.

“Over the years, I’ve learned as much or more from students as they’ve learned from me. It was a win-win.”

Perhaps because technology is already a component of what she teaches, Cortese did not say it changed the way she teaches, as many retiring teachers do. Instead, she says it is the students and herself who have changed because of social media. 

“We, as teachers, have to meet the (students) where the students are,” she said. “You just can’t scream at them to get off the phone.”

She also tells her students to avoid instant answers offered by computers and to try to figure out problems. 

“If you use the computer as a tool and not let it take over, it’s a great medium,” she said. “I try to stress the ideas. Art is important because it rounds out the student. It’s a way to express themselves, to investigate a technique while gaining confidence, and connect us to humanity. Art is not an isolated subject.”

According to Cortese, something happens to a young person when they are told that they cannot draw.

“They internalize it,” she said. “I try to break that down. If you have the discipline to keep at it, you’ll surprise yourself.”

For a student to create art, their idea must become visual. 

“It’s metacognition,” she said. “They think about their own thinking, about their own life, and make the connection that this is where my art comes from. Maybe they can use this thinking in other parts of their life. It expands their focus.”

If someone were interested in becoming an art teacher, Cortese said she would tell them to know various techniques and not focus on one medium.

“I know computers, but I can teach drawing or ceramics,” she said. “You have to teach all age groups. So when a job opens up, you can say, ‘Here’s me. I’m the one you want.’”

Knowing a variety of techniques not only makes a teaching candidate more attractive, she said, but it also makes the promising teacher more aware of the problems a student will encounter.

“If you don’t know it as a participant,” she said, “you’re just going to sit back and judge.” 

Cortese said she is retiring now to spend time with her little granddaughters and at her second home in the Berkshires, built by her husband a couple of years ago. She also thinks it is time for someone new to step into her shoes.

“I’m getting tired,” she said. 

She would also like to do her own drawing, painting and computer art.

On the evening of Thursday, May 2, Cortese said, the annual BHS Student Art Show opened.

“A huge show,” she said. “It was a herculean task. It’s a great way to advertise the department.

“The teachers initiate the learning, and the results and the passion are evident. The teachers deserve credit.”