Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
I've previously written about the enviable enthusiasm of children and the contagious excitement evident both in their art, and their art making. I believe there is another important lesson embedded in that subject, and it's one that I'm reminded of nearly every single day in my vocation. The scope of this lesson extends beyond my professional boundaries of teaching kids art and often convicts me in my personal life as well. Its significance is also deeply rooted in my firm belief that all educators, regardless age or subject area, must remain candidly self-reflective about everything we do in our role as teachers. And I would submit that perhaps one of our most important tasks is to model the fact that learning is a life long passion. Included in that task is the necessity that we remain constantly open to the opportunity to learn from those we teach. We must humbly adopt the role of the student teacher.
It has been my experience that there are two fundamental attributes a teacher must possess in order to effectively create a successful learning environment at the high school level: Authenticity and Respect. I list authenticity first because it applies to absolutely everything a teacher does in the classroom. Students can spot a fraud almost as fast as they can text message. And if a teacher is not earnestly sincere in what they are doing in the classroom, students will completely disengage. So if I want my students to become not just interested in art, but excited about it, I must be willing to authentically reveal my own excitement about the subject. I must be open, honest, and sometimes even vulnerable about the passion I have for my content. Part of that vulnerability is being willing to admit that as much as I love art, I certainly do not know all there is to know about it. And then try and readily fill in those areas of deficiency as I discover them. This becomes even more significant when a student can highlight one of those deficiencies, and then help me fill it in. I believe nothing strengthens the bond of the teacher-student relationship more then when the teacher eagerly learns from the student.
This also directly correlates to the second attribute of Respect by affirming to the student that the teacher esteems them enough as to benefit from their insight. This is a level of humility that many teachers struggle with in their instructional styles. This is unfortunate because humility can be such a remarkable tool in breaking down the walls so many students have built up around themselves. Authentic humility creates common ground for a teacher and student to relate upon. My wife has a beautifully concise definition for humility that I remind myself of when I feel I'm becoming too proud. "Humility," she says, "is remaining teachable." Need I say more?
For many teachers, there seems to be a fundamental misconception that, in the classroom, knowledge is power. The problem with this view point is that it makes teachers feel threatened when they are exposed for not having an answer. The unfortunate response to this threat is some variety of retaliatory sarcasm directed at the class. This teaching style quickly disintegrates the classroom into an atmosphere of teacher versus student which, not only destroys the learning environment, but can often repel a student away from a subject entirely.
It has long been my belief that tenure breeds apathy. If teachers had to earn and validate their position on any kind of semi-regular basis, I believe our whole educational system would be an entirely different entity. While there is certainly an extensive population in the teaching community that does an exceptional job of pouring their heart and soul into their students and their instructional strategies, there is also an equal portion that teaches purely from repetition. Teachers must be willing to change, adapt, and grow as professionals. Furthermore, we must let the students be the primary catalyst for that change, not the current educational or political trends. Because what it all boils down to is the fact when the bell rings, and the door closes, it is not one teacher and twenty-five students; it is simply one classroom, and the learning, must be reciprocal.