Teacher to Graphic Designer and Back Again

Teacher to Graphic Designer and Back Again

by PYP/MYP Art teacher, Hannah Hendrickson

Three years ago, I decided to embark on an exciting and unknown journey: I resigned from my job as an elementary art teacher in Angola and decided to pursue my passion of graphic design. Having grown up as a third-culture kid living around the world and then becoming an international school teacher, I had no idea what the world of design had in store for me. Ultimately, this journey led me right back to where I am today, working as an art teacher. However, I am different. I have a new appreciation for international communities, I have developed design skills that I utilize in the classroom, and I have more creativity than ever before. In trying to find my passion, I ended up finding that it was right in front of me.

Though I was born in Michigan, my parents decided to become international school teachers and we left when I was four years old. I grew up attending international schools in Saudi Arabia, Peru, and Poland. Growing up as a third-culture kid, I was accustomed to and invigorated by the feeling of moving to a place that was vastly different than my own country and different than the last. Yet, I had a deep sense of belonging in an international school community knowing that most people shared this feeling. 

I am a graduate of the IB Diploma Program (DP) and enjoyed visual art class, which is what led me to study graphic design in university. Luckily, due to the extensive nature of the IB DP, I came into university with a year and a half worth of college credits and was able to add an additional art education major. I remember my first day of student-teaching vividly, I found the day both fulfilling and exhausting; feelings that most educators share. 

Before graduating, I found a job teaching at an international school in Beijing. Though I thought of myself as a graphic designer, I couldn’t decline an opportunity to live abroad again and so I decided to put my passion on hold. Two years of teaching in Beijing led to two more years of teaching in Angola. I enjoyed sharing my love of art with students and learning about them through their art. Mostly, I loved how students could creatively express themselves without worrying about being “right” or “wrong”.

Despite enjoying teaching, I felt a burning desire to explore graphic design full time. I felt as though I had a huge responsibility as a teacher to be fully committed to my job and so I decided not to renew my contract. Finding a job as a designer in the USA was quite challenging; it turns out that the international teaching market is a lot less saturated than the graphic design market. Eventually, I found a job in Chicago working in the creative department of a public relation company, FleishmanHillard. 

Reese's chocolate ad campaign poster - Chinese-style house with gobular orange reese lanterns

Mock-up created for Reese’s Lovers Olympic campaign


digital art of the Great Wall of China surrounded by trees and digitized red mountains

I create digital artwork in Photoshop by layering student artwork and personal pictures I take from around the world.

My first few weeks in the office were enlightening; people were not as warm or welcoming as I thought they would be. It felt as though everyone looked, dressed, and acted alike. I felt like an outcast in my own country, as though I was experiencing reverse culture shock. Nonetheless, I immersed myself into learning and working as a designer Although I tried my best to enjoy it, I quickly realized that I was not fulfilled by a job of working in front of three monitors designing and redesigning the same flyer using a specific set of branding guidelines. Although I was learning new skills, I felt like my creative energy was being drained from me. 

After a year working in the design field, I found a maternity cover teaching position at United Nations International School of Hanoi. I left my job and did what I do best: packed up and moved across the world in record time. Through teaching high school design and middle school visual art, I began to feel my creative energy returning. Being surrounded by students and faculty with cultures from around the world felt refreshing and comforting. Without any lingering reservations, I accepted my position here at YIS as a PYP/ MYP visual art teacher.

T-shirt design with maroon circle and city map in the circle

Self-designed T-shirt for IB DP students' CAS project to supply hand sanitizer and masks to communities in Angola.  

Bus stop poster for children's education showing coloured girl and white boy studying

School campaign bus stop poster in Chicago, IL

Though I left my design job feeling a lack of fulfillment, I quickly realized that the skills I developed and the new ways of design-thinking have only made me a better and more creative teacher. I can speak to students in an authentic way about the world of design and I can help prepare them better for their future. I use a design process in my art classroom, modelled after the MYP art cycle, and I recently led an elementary workshop for staff with the goal of creating a YIS ES design process that can be used across grade levels and subject areas. I create cross-curricular units with real-life experiences such as an upcoming fifth grade unit where students will find a design-related problem and solve it using the design process. At the end of the year, students will curate an art exhibition where they will create collaborative artwork to be auctioned and they will decide what to do with the proceeds. My goal is for students to understand the impact of art and design, to use their skills to express themselves or to communicate a message, and for students to take action through art.

I feel as though I am a part of a diverse international community that I learn from every day. I still feel the great sense of responsibility to my students and on some days this can still feel draining. But, the look on my students faces when they create something they are proud of and passionate about is what fills my bucket. As it turns out, teaching is what drives my creativity and passion the most.