HERRON: What does your typical day at Loper Elementary look like?

SUTTON: I begin my morning at school every day at 7:15 a.m. I supervise the students coming into the building until 7:45 a.m. It's fun greeting them when they first arrive at school and I usually get some high-fives and a couple of hugs. My first class begins at 8:45 a.m., so I have a little time to get prepared for the day. I then teach six classes per day from grades kindergarten through grade five. Each of my classes are 45 minutes long.

The students' school day ends at 2:30 p.m. and then I supervise the students that go home on a van until around 3:00 p.m. When the weather is nice, I take the children to the playground and let them play until the van driver picks them up. The van driver is a sweet lady and she often brings me homemade treats because she appreciates me watching the children until she arrives. Teaching art takes a lot of preparation, organization, and clean up, and the school day doesn't give a lot of time for those tasks, so I do much of my preparation and cleaning after school, staying usually until 5:00 p.m. I also come in a lot on weekends to do projects that I cannot complete during the week. I also have four parent volunteers who help me a great deal, and for that, I am very grateful.

HERRON: You recently received the Golden Apple Award, which honors teachers who go above and beyond for their students. How did you gain such a passionate and empathic outlook on teaching?

SUTTON: When you have talented, caring professors, the outcome can be life changing. I realized the teachers that really made a difference in my life were the teachers that I felt really cared for me or who showed me warmth and compassion. For example, Stanley Burford, my design theory professor at Herron, always treated me with respect, caring, and thoughtfulness. I wanted to be that kind of teacher. Teaching is an art form in itself, so I take the passion that I have for art, and put it into my teaching.

I realize that besides being a parent, teaching is the greatest responsibility adults have in our society. The young people that are in our care depend on us to treat them well, encourage them in positive ways, and steer them into a life-long love of learning. As I grew as a teaching professional, I came to realize that Eleanor Roosevelt is a model figure that I admire greatly because of her kindness and her constant dedication to helping others.

As clichéd as it may sound, Mister Rogers is also someone who embodies the same approach to teaching, and he serves as one of my heroes. I love his creativity with puppets and other techniques to reach children on their level, and to foster their imagination and creativity. His kind and gentle approach is something that I strive for in my own teaching every day.

HERRON: Showing students the power of creativity and self-expression early on can spark a life-long passion for the arts. When did you first know you wanted to pursue an artistic career?

SUTTON: My aunt, Gretchen Peterson Fucio, was an art teacher, and when I was a little boy, she used to draw pictures for me of witches and other things that I loved in my childhood. Her drawings fascinated me and led me to a lifelong passion for the arts. She also introduced me to "The Wizard of Oz" books as a young boy, and I loved the detailed John R. Neill pen-and-ink illustrations in those classic books.

In elementary school, I loved comic books and they were a big influence on my love for art. I started drawing my own comic books in elementary school and sold some of my drawings to the other students for a nickel or a dime a piece. I went on to pursue art seriously in high school and it was my dream to go to Herron School of Art and Design after I graduated. When I was accepted, I was able to begin my dream to study art full-time. My years at Herron as a student were one of the happiest, most fulfilling times of my life, and it has made me the person who I am.

HERRON: What advice would you give to a student looking to get involved in the arts?

SUTTON: It takes desire, hard work, and dedication. It's not enough to be immensely talented; you have to live it and breathe it, and it has to be a passion in your life. It takes focus and commitment. I never wanted to miss a class as a student at Herron because I loved art so much, and I never wanted to miss anything that went on in class. There were a few extremely talented students who didn't make it ultimately because they lacked focus and a driving goal that put their studies as a top priority in their lives.

Something that I have learned over the years is that doing your best work, keeping humanistic values in your professional career, and successful achievement are the things that give meaning to a life. And finally, the arts let you express yourself and convey all kinds of feelings and emotions through creative works that last and make your mark on the world.