Thursday, January 13, 2011

There goes the Kiln

I do clay with the 5th-8th graders before winter break and with k-4th and life skills from January till mid May. My kiln is pretty small. It lives in a small closet with the floor waxer and other janitorial supplies. I have to keep the kiln fan, a vent fan and two extra fans running while the kiln runs so that the closet does not get too hot. Buying enough clay for the entire school uses up more than half of my budget for the entire year.

I started clay projects in earnest the first week back after winter break. Already we have made clay fortune cookies inspired by Katie at Adventures of an Art teacher and pinch pot funny face fish for 3rd grade. 6 classes have projects made and ready to fire.
I popped some of the cookies into the kiln on Thursday and ran the kiln as usual (I have to manually change the temp on the kiln and we don't have a pyromeater, its more a guess and watch the clock method ) I rely on the kiln sitter and the slump cone to shut off the kiln.

On Friday morning I went to unload the kiln and as I entered the closet I knew something was very wrong. I opened the door and a wave of heat hit me. Glowing orange in the dark was the kiln and waves of heat shimmed in the closet as I turned on the light and the fans that had turned off when the 12 hour timers were up.

The kiln had not shut off. I quickly unplugged everything and thanked god that I hadn't set the school on fire. By Monday the kin had cooled off enough to open up and found a batch of melted clay fortune cookies. Why didn't the kiln shut down? Apparently the cone had melted but then somehow fused onto the sitter not allowing the shut off bar to fall all the way and release the latch. Further investigation showed a metal tab that holds up the cone had come loose and was hanging down with the fused cone. Well poop. I couldn't use the kiln till I replaced the part. On the plus side the part is only $80 and I know how to replace it. Our kiln is older than me so I expect to do maintenance now and then.

I went to the principal to have him sign the order for the new part and he REFUSED to sign it. He wants someone from the district to come assess and fix the kiln. (I've been told it will take up to two months for them to come look at the kiln!) I whined and begged, pointing out that I have already spend $250 on clay and glaze for the year and 2/3 of it is still unused. He won't budge.

I do worry the kiln is a fire hazard. But I really just want to fix the part, complete the year and wait till summer for any major change. I asked the principal if he would replace the kiln if needed and he said only if we could get a grant to pay for it.

I'm not sure what to do. I have spent so much of our budget to buy the clay and the kids are soooo looking forward to their projects. Beyond that, even if I hold off on any other projects for the rest of the year what am I going to do with the 6 classes of projects waiting to be fired? I've already emailed the art teachers in my cluster and no one is willing to fire my projects for me!!! (jeez thanks fellow teachers) Now I may have to pay out of my own pocket to take the 6 classes of projects to a local ceramic studio who wants $1 per piece to fire but may be willing to go down to .50 a item since we are a school. Even at .50 an item it will cost about $75 to fire the current projects!


  1. Wow!! Hard to believe that other teachers wouldn't help out. That is really disappointing. I don't think that would happen In our district, and if it did I think an administrator would step in and see that folks shared in time of need!!

  2. You may have a great idea there. As much as I hate to force anyone to help me, maybe I should have my principal call the four teachers or their principals and ask them to help. They may have a harder time saying no to him....

  3. Pure craziness. I'm lucky to have an administration and school board that are supportive of the arts and my program. Just heartbreaking to hear how you've been blown off. I don't have a kiln, so I don't have a clue about all this stuff, but if you have other art teachers in the district and can call them I'd think they'd make room for you to fire your pieces. You'd think...

  4. Wow. I can't believe your fellow teachers won't help you out!! That really shocks me. Even at a private school -where I'm not officially affiliated with any other schools- I'd be eager to help a fellow teacher (and have -several times). If the school is spending $$ anyway to run the kiln, I don't mind squeezing in a few extra pieces.

    Is there a local university you could contact? Have you tried contacting your board members in your state art ed association? Or, do you have a union where you are? Have you tried emailing through them for help? I'm sure you've done all this; I just feel for you wish you some aid (if you were here, you could have some use in my kiln for sure).

    On the end of your principal, in my experience, they view kilns as if they were space shuttles! So, even though we all know you know how to fix it, your principal is probably trying to go through the proper channels and get the kiln assessed. In a weird sort of way it protects you from being accused of breaking the kiln as you fix it.

    Have you tried asking your principal to hook you up with a neighboring school to aid in the firing of work? I'm sure some of those teachers might suddenly get helpful if their principal told them they were to aid you.

    Good Luck!

  5. Oh, and I meant to add, you should check into some local grants. I know even here in the South there are some local ones wherein there is low competition (as in so few people apply) that they are easy to win. Nearly everyone I know in the South who is an art teacher and has a kiln had to buy it with grant money they earned.

  6. I feel like I need to explain more about the lack of response/help I've received from my fellow art teachers so far. There are about 85 schools in my district and 47,000 students and we are broken into 5 clusters. I have, of the 15 schools in my cluster, one of 5 functioning kilns. Two of schools with kilns no longer have "real" art teachers (only visiting artists) so a classroom teacher would have to do the firing for me because the kilns have to be manually adjusted during the day. The high school teacher in my cluster is on maternity leave and the sub doesn't know how (is that possible?)/want to run the kiln and that leaves one last teacher who is just being unhelpful. I'm going to email the next cluster over and I've emalied the ceramics department of the nearest community collage hoping they have a large kiln and could knock out the projects in one or two loads.

    I've proposed bringing over a kiln from one of the schools that no longer has an art program but I think the big concern right now is the location of my current kiln. The small closet is not vented well enough and I think is a pretty big fire hazard.

    Really I think you all have hit the nail on the head...I need to have the PRINCIPAL, not me, email the other school's principals asking for them to fire the projects.

  7. This happened to the other kiln in the district. Actually burned the whole outlet. The electrician for the district went and re-wired and purchased a new plug before any else had a say in the matter. Kilns are the thorn in administration's side- so we kinda go to the right people who can get the job done.

  8. I hate to say this, but I probably would have ordered and paid for the part if I knew how to fix it and never mention it. The drawback of course is that I could still end up burning the school down, my conscience would bother me to the point I confessed and then I'd probably be out of a job. I understand your frustration though. In my district they would send five guys out to look at the kiln, scratch their head and say they don't know anything about kilns. Ms. Amy is right. There are a lot of grants out there if you do some searching. Good luck!

  9. The kiln man came on Friday, now I just await his verdict!