I always wanted to pursue a career in art. As a seventh and eighth grade student I took more art classes when I had elective choices than anything else. My parents required that I take band and it was not until high school that I was able to pull together a decent enough argument to switch to choir, then jazz choir. Those classes led to drama, school radio, and a small – unread – underground newspaper. Looking at this transcript you might say – duh – artist!
All through this time I never felt I was very skillful in my pursuit of the arts. My manual dexterity has never been great – my sketches always look childish, my singing could inspire earplugs, and my performances – well – those were pretty good but I am pretty sure I would be waiting tables if I had run with that career. I still enjoy all these activities but do not think they are shining points in my secret repertoire. Then there is teaching.
Apparently I am pretty good at directing people – adults and kids- towards their strengths and helping them mitigate their challenges. When confronted with a person who wants or needs something I somehow hit my stride, my hand steadies, my voice stays in tune, and the people I am with accelerate their learning. Not that this is magical. Just like a sketch artist uses a thousand techniques to get a portrait just right, I employ educational theory, practice, and grunt work to the task of sharing a learning experience.
The magic is in how this all comes together. I get in a zone. I feel like a composer, immersed in my work. The music hits and I am transported to a place where learning happens, each moment a precious gift of possibilities and each setback simply a coda where we get to hear the music again but different for having heard it the first time. Or perhaps this is what Van Gogh felt as he painted “Starry Night.” This painting, of all his work, holds the highest level of imagination for me. All that is part of teaching too.
If I were to distill the teacher as an artist to three categories I think I would list them as follows:
- An artist reflections their work and the work of others – a good teacher is always learning; from themselves and others.
- Artists explore their and other’s imaginations – a good teacher must be empathic enough to seek to understand their students’ needs and how they might supplement these needs.
- Artists create and allow others to create – a good teacher allows their students the independence to explore and learn on their own.
I am not sure this is an exhaustive list or even a complete thought at this moment. This post is by far the most meta I have put up on this blog so far. Forgive me if I have become too philosophical. I will return to your regularly scheduled posts soon.