Saturday, December 13, 2008

Non-teaching teachers

Just in case my last blog entry sounded too warm and fuzzy, I wanted to add that as well as providing an environment that's conducive to creativity, I feel it is also my obligation as a teacher to give my students precise technical guidance.

I have heard many distressing tales from students about past teachers who presented them with a detailed and expensive supply list, only to offer the advice to "paint whatever you want" and leave the class to fend completely for themselves, with no demonstration on how to use the materials! This seems grossly unfair to me.

I even had one student who told me that the members of her former class would surreptitiously read "how to" books under their desks, fearful of offending their non-teaching teacher, but desperate for SOME guidance!

I have certainly had my share of teachers like these. One particular teacher whom I had at the Art Institute of Boston (now retired) never did anything but stand in the back of the classroom and read the newspaper. Many years later, I found a coffee-table book of his paintings at the library, and realized that this talented and apparently famous painter had been my teacher. I was heartsick to think of how much he could have taught me (and how much he was being paid to teach me), yet he never offered one word of advice, to me or anyone else in the class.

As art teachers, I don't believe we should present one technique or style as The Only Way (like the brush-twirling demonstrators on TV), but at a minimum, a clearly presented curriculum of basic techniques shouldn't be too much to ask.

Frankly, I feel sorry for non-teaching teachers, maybe more so than for their students. They are denying themselves that feeling of satisfaction that comes from watching students take what you have taught them and venture forth into their own world of creativity. It's like a parent teaching a child to take its first steps. You get them started and your gift is to watch them move forward on their own, knowing you had a hand in helping them. What could be more rewarding?

The painting above was created by Amber Wenger, also a student in the watercolor professional development class I taught during the Fall 2008 semester at the Danforth Museum School.

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