A student once told me that my excitement for education is infectious. Teaching, like life, is the active pursuit and sharing of knowledge. The important word is active and interactive; without the student, there is no teacher. I am passionately excited to prepare my students for engagement with processes and thoughts that they may have never considered. I believe creativity is an essential human condition; I find endless joy and satisfaction in watching a student realize this quality within themselves. This is not always easy, as many students have a closed mindset about their “artistic abilities.” Many people think of creativity as separate from the rest of life and the students at Northland College are no exception. Every semester I have been at the college, I have had to discuss the similarities between art and lab experiments, art and math, art and sports, etc. I want to instill in the students that the arts are about practice, critical thinking, problem solving, and exploration, not talent.
One essential function of my job as a teacher is to help my students to see new pathways to learning and making, often times this includes reframing their beliefs about what they are capable of and what the limits are on their creativity. I have high expectations for every person who walks into one of my classes. I work with them to have an open mindset about their capacity as a student and artist. Through hard work and commitment many of them discover and create things they would have never thought of at the beginning. It is not to say everyone succeeds all of the time. In my studio classes specifically, the students experience a lot of failures; I often find that the students learn more from these failures than from their successes. Of course, some students have a hard time embracing failure as part of the creative process. With this in mind, another essential function of my job as a teacher is to help them see possibilities where they see road blocks. One student in my Intro to Ceramics course at Indiana University had more technical building problems than most. The final project was to be a concept of interest to the student, but the only thing she could feel was her frustration with the material. I suggested making a piece about her frustration, and it seems she only needed permission. She worked very hard, asked many questions, and in the end, created a fantastic piece of which she was proud. More importantly, she saw it as a representation of the frustration she felt with the assignment. She met the ultimate goal: communicate a core thought or belief through art.
Sometimes students need permission to ask questions and to challenge conventions. I also welcome challenges to my own way of thinking. Whenever I give an assignment, I set guidelines, but if the student’s concept takes them outside of those boundaries I most often allow them to pursue it. I encourage my students to try new things, and to approach questions from different angles. I believe in an “any means necessary” approach. I rarely say no, but I do explain the potential hazards and discuss likely outcomes of any given path. I am very proud when my students achieve more then they thought they could, and even prouder when they prove me wrong.
In any class I teach, whether lecture or studio, I emphasize the three C’s: critique, concept, and context. Technical skill and regurgitation of facts is not enough; students must think, analyze, and understand on whose shoulders they stand. This is a process that takes a lifetime, but they have to start somewhere, so I push them out of their comfort zones little by little, sometimes in great leaps. By probing and asking questions, I help them to think about the why, not the just the how and what.
I teach because I know that every student has a great deal to offer. I believe in creating as equitable a classroom as I can. Differences in background and life experience are what make us who we are; equity means acknowledging these differences, understanding how they affect learning, and with this in mind, helping every student to achieve their best. At its most basic, learning requires interest and an open mindset. With the right cultivation, this can then grow into passion. As a teacher, my job is to foster passion, knowledge, and exploration within my students, while holding them to a high standard and expecting great things.