Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
My slightly askew and easily distractible mind often compares the process of teaching kids art to swimming against the current of a rapidly churning river. The implications of this analogy might suggest that I feel some kind of affinity with salmon and the determined effort they make swimming up stream each mating season. The fact is, I do not. The salmon perseveres so that they can eventually spawn, whereas I would simply like a teenager to be able to tell the difference between an abstract painting and a non-objective one. But before I get myself hopelessly off topic, allow me to try and illustrate my point. Teaching kids art, or any subject for that matter, is similar to paddling across the current in that it requires an exorbitant amount of effort. Often there is a distinct impression that, despite all the kicking and flailing, no real progress is being made. This can lead to an overwhelming temptation to resist fighting the current altogether and, instead, be intentionally swept away with it. In my experience, there is one catalyst that has proven to be remarkably effective at promoting the level of determination it takes to keep your head above water in the teaching business, and that, is change. Change is an absolute necessity.
I must clarify though that change, in and of itself, is of no real benefit without the right attitude. There must be a conscious mindset in place that allows the positive benefits of change to take root in the mind of its recipient. Even in my limited years of experience, I have seen countless teachers overwhelmed by the weight of change. Embittered, they expend their energy grumbling and groaning about why nothing stays the same. Like the Ghost of Christmas Past, these educational apparitions roam the halls shaking their chains and lamenting the good ol__™ days. This is unacceptable, the stakes are too high and public schools have no room for educators without the stomach for change. Our modern world, and thus our children, are changing at an exponential rate. We must face this fact head-on and force ourselves to adapt if we genuinely hope to engage this, and future generations.
However, it is not enough to simply tolerate change, it must be encouraged, nurtured, and celebrated. One of my professional credos is that I never teach a class the same way twice. With each new semester something in my syllabus is modified, adjusted, rearranged, or completely thrown out. Projects are tweaked, new media is explored, ideas are borrowed and adapted. It is my hope that each new subsequent version of the class is an improvement that makes the overall course more worthwhile for the students. And students do frequently give me one of the nicer compliments a teacher can receive, albeit they do it unknowingly. This occurs when a former student discovers that the same class they just took from me is doing something they didn__™t get to do. And they express their dissatisfaction with a level of sensitivity and tact known only to the teenaged. That is to say they stomp their feet and whine about why they didn__™t get to do anything cool like this. But that begrudged comment is invaluable feedback to me as it provides evidence that the changes are having an effect. I won__™t, however, even attempt to suggest that I am consistently successful in those efforts, but that doesn__™t stop me from tinkering. Besides that, I__™m safeguarded by a back-up philosophy for when things go wrong
And that leads me to another important clarification about change, the fact that all change is not inherently good. But I do know this, the attitude with which we approach any change, be it good or bad, is the single greatest factor in determining how that change will ultimately effect us. Change has the remarkable ability to alter our perspective and allow us to see ourselves and our surroundings in a new light. As we fight our way up the stream of life, we need the scenery along the shore to slowly change in order to know that we___re getting somewhere. Without that scrolling landscape in the background, we are simply beating the water in vain, wearing ourselves out, and tempting stagnation. More often than not, the most disgruntled and frustrated teachers are the ones who have been teaching the same exact way for the vast majority of their tenure. Frustration is inevitable when kids with iPods are taught with the same methodologies as were their predecessors with transistor radios.
The rejuvenating properties of change can be surprising when they are approached with a positive outlook. This point has become exceeding clear to me during this present school year; a year that has been privy to a great many changes. Building modifications, new classroom assignments, and new administrative teams begin the list. Followed by an increase in my course load, whereas I used to teach two classes in a six period day, I now teach four. Two of those classes I__™ve never taught and I__™m assisting in a complete rewrite of their curriculum. And finally we__™ve added a new teacher in our department as our long time art department chair retired last year. (If you__™ve ever known an art teacher, we can sometimes be a sensitive and socially awkward group, and new personalities in such close proximity can sometimes be a bit overwhelming for us.)
At the end of this past summer, as I stood on the precipice that overlooked a new school year overflowing with so much change, I was certainly not without my worries. But I gave them to God and threw myself into the mix. I have, without question, been busier than I have ever been as a teacher. And as exhausting as it__™s been, it__™s also been frantically exciting. The new classes are a blast and the new staff member has been a dream come true. Brad LeDuc has not only become a quick friend, but is also an exceptional teacher with a wealth of ideas and a vast source of inspiration for me personally; I__™m honored to be teaching with him. And I__™m elated to report that this year has been the most exciting semester of my professional career, and it__™s only half way through. And as this semester draws to a close, I find myself eagerly anticipating the next one. My brain is already cooking up some new ideas, the art department as a whole is bouncing around several others, and I__™m very much looking forward to seeing what else will change.