Mr. Spencer: A Legend and His Legacy


Ceramics teacher Alan Spencer helps Senior Liam Johnson on the wheel.

Daniela Coutinho

Thomas Worthington is saying goodbye to one of the most beloved art teachers. Alan Spencer has been teaching art in Worthington Schools for over twenty years. He is well known for his calm personality and passion for art and many will miss him when he retires at the end of the year. According to one of his students, Draven Burdock, “he is selfless and really loves what he does.”

In 2002 Spencer began teaching part-time at Kilbourne High School, and later part-time at both Kilbourne and Thomas Worthington. Three years later, he began teaching ceramics, general art, and craft, full-time at Thomas. Now he teaches ceramics 1, 2, 3, AP, and advanced studio 3D design.

Spencer first began exploring ceramics in third grade. His parents were going to throw out a record player that still worked so he asked if he could use it. “I made a batt for it and I put it on the fastest speed and made little pots on it.”

In sixth grade, Spencer had a little more experience with ceramics because his teacher had a potter’s wheel and kiln at home. “I would make things at his house and he would fire them.” Then he went to a private high school and lost touch with his artistic side. “I decided at that point I was going to be a geologist.”

Spencer majored in geology, and during his freshman year of college, he needed an extra class. His roommate convinced him to take ceramics “so I took the class and fell in love with it again, and then I minored in studio art.”

Spencer graduated and worked as a geologist for five years. “Then I decided to start my own art studio in Delaware” He worked with ceramics, stained glass, and blown glass for seventeen years before going back to school to get a master’s in art education. “Shortly after, I got my degree and started teaching in Worthington.”

Spencer has enjoyed his experience teaching in high schools. His favorite part of working with students is seeing all the creative things that they come up with based on their interests. “I just kind of help support them, help them figure out how to do things they are not sure how to do, and let their creativity run wild.” Spencer strongly believes that art “is not so much about what the teacher wants the students to make, but what the students want to create and trying to facilitate that so that they can make these amazing pieces.”

The part that Spencer will miss the most is working with the students and teachers on a daily basis. He enjoyed having a social connection to a larger group and personal connections with coworkers. “Once I retire, then I’m not going to have that contact with the kids and teachers that I have had in the last twenty years.”

Spencer appreciates the whole process of making ceramic pieces but his favorite part is taking the pieces out of the kiln after the glaze has been fired. “If you apply the glaze correctly, sometimes you get some really awesome pieces.” He enjoys it because “It’s kinda like Christmas morning when you open up the kiln and you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to get.”

Retirement is not all bad news in Spencer’s view. He is anxious to retire because over the years he has developed numerous hobbies. “I like to do woodworking, I build furniture, I do stained glass windows, and right now I’m building a sugar shack to do maple syrup in the wintertime.”
He does most of the cooking at home and enjoys making pizza in the pizza oven that he built last year.

Spencer also has a passion for hiking. “I’ve done about 500 miles of the Appalachian trail.” He typically hikes about 150 miles each summer and he still has “1700 miles to go.” He plans to do a lot of biking and mountain climbing as well. “I hope to climb mount Kilimanjaro someday.”

Students at Thomas find Spencer’s many hobbies fascinating and it is often a topic of conversation when he builds relationships with his students. Lina Guerra, a senior who has taken several ceramics classes, says “he is so experienced and has so much knowledge. He’s built canoes, he was a lifeguard, he used to ride horses, he’s just done literally everything.”

Raku is a method of firing that is time-consuming and complex. Lina has made several raku pieces and Spencer has always been very supportive of anyone who wants to explore different methods. “Every time he goes out there and does it with me and doesn’t annoyed that I want to do this harder method of firing.”

Spencer has been a vital part of Thomas for many years and this school will not be the same without him. According to seniors Leila Boussedra and Lina Guerra, “he is the best ceramics teacher ever” and we will all miss him dearly.