on teaching


school started a couple weeks ago. there are some things that are consistent. the dilemma of what to wear on the first day [first impressions and all]. the wondering of what this semester will bring in terms of students [will they be engaged? what do they want to learn?]. 

this semester i ran into a colleague on day one who admitted that this was his first time teaching college. i grinned big and asked if he was nervous. or excited. or both. he asked me how long i had been teaching. i quickly calculated in my head. TEN YEARS.

oh my. i am getting old. i am becoming someone who says "kids today" [i can say this because i am interacting with kids today]. i have been doing this for a significant portion of my life. 

a decade. 

i haven't done very much for a decade. i've been an artist, i've been with my husband, i've lived in oakland, tonka has been in my life [other pets have been around for over a decade, but they are no longer with us], we've lived in this house, and that's just about where my short list ends for things i've been at for over a decade. 

i was thinking about if i'm a better teacher now than i was when i started. or if i was better then because i was trying SO hard. what i'm concluding is i can't really know if i'm better or worse [we'll have to ask my former and current students]. but i do know that i'm different.

many things come easier to me now. i've been exposed to so many different kinds of students in all different places in their life/art making that almost nothing throws me for a loop anymore. i'm quicker to come up with suggestions; i suffer fools less; i see thru excuses faster; i don't waste as much time anymore [if a student and i aren't clicking - if they aren't holding up their end of the bargain i don't agonize over what else i could possibly try. i keep trying, but i don't loose sleep over it]; i grade tougher; i push harder - but often in more subtle and more effective ways. 

the standing up in front of class pontificating is easier than it used to be. i have a bigger bag of tricks to pull from. i'm more willing to be completely off the wall and crazy to get a rise out of them. i have more life experience to relate. 

what i LOVE about teaching is that it keeps me on my toes. i have to be current in techniques, materials, artists in order to be a good teacher. the interaction is incredible. i remember when i was a student and the powerful impact that my teachers had on me. how they opened up doors, how they made me think [even if - perhaps particularly - if i disagreed with them]. i am mindful [although never certain] that i could be having that effect on a student. i approach each student as an individual - what do they need at this moment? do they need me to pump up their ego? do they need me to show them that they aren't alone? do they need to be taken down a notch and show them what they doing is good, but it isn't something entirely innovative? do we need to talk about what innovation is in art - is it necessary? is it possible? art making is about problem solving - it's about asking questions. that's one of the things that i love most about it. and i ask A LOT of questions.

teaching ultimately allows me to think of/about my own work. so in some ways it is inherently selfish. i get to research and talk about one of things i love most at my job. i get to watch lightbulbs go off in student's heads. this is perhaps my favorite part. where all of a sudden their world view is changed. forever. how they make work won't be the same. and i am a first hand witness. it just takes ONE of those moments a semester to make it all worth while.

i am grateful for when i have a semester full of those moments. but i know there's no guarantee. i know that i am NOT the best teacher for everyone. and i've come to realize that in the end that is quite OK too. when i think back to my college experience i can glean things that are of importance in influence to me today that did not in fact come from the teachers that i thought were the best, or who i had the most personal relationship with.

what makes a good student/teacher? my brain is simmering ideas - my personal take on john cages rules for students and teachers. maybe i'll actually try to type that out.

happy back to school to you and yours if it applies...


shari said…
you have so much passion for your work, lisa. i love that. you are always so thoughtful in every thing you do. i admire you. xo
Anonymous said…
TEN years is plenty long enough to have gained the wisdom and maturity that your post demonstrates. You seem to have found the right balance between caring deeply about what you do as a teacher while also realizing that you cannot be omnipotent in doing it.

It reminds me of what I loved, and still miss sometimes, about teaching. Especially, the joy of witnessing, sharing in that AHA moment that a student experiences every once in awhile.

Your students are very blessed to have you in the classroom with them!!

I went back and re-read Cage's rules for teaching.....ALWAYS relevant, eh?!?

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