Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Teaching Gig

A newly harvested gourd has skin that is smooth and even or textured with a regular rhythm. Fresh and vibrant color provides evidence of the life energy of its growth cycle.

In the fall of 1996 I was invited to teach secondary-level art for a semester at Kingswood School-Cranbrook. My high school mentor/advisor/art teacher called on me as someone who had taken her entire curriculum and who, she thought at the time, could teach it.

I taught three sections of beginning drawing, three sections of painting, two sections of photography, and one advanced drawing class.

At lunchtime, I would lay down behind my desk and take a nap.

One of the first things I did for my classes was to set up a large and elaborate still life of gourds and other autumnal vegetation. The arrangement spanned the length of three or four drafting tables in the center of the room, and was the focus of our studies for a week or two.

Sixteen years later, I find that the three largest gourds from the study have been enduring in the garage at my parents' house all this time. Seeds and other debris rattle around inside the dried husks, punctured in places and scarred with mildew and other growths. The surfaces are worn, with lots of color, texture and character.

It is very difficult to toss them into the compost, but seems like an opportune time to usher in a new era.

One thing that has remained consistent throughout my teaching career is the satisfaction I derive from positively impacting young artists. Without this, I would have left the profession a long time ago. It is hard to feel like I am doing something useful with so many disparaging opinions of not only post-secondary teaching and the state of arts education, but also of the general value of art to society.

Many outside of the academic system look upon it as bloated and broken, while those inside either struggle against giant bureaucracies to change things for the better, get good at playing politics, or just give up.

Like every one of my teaching peers, I learned how to teach by teaching. There was little-to-no training. Everything I figured out came through a combination of my own experience of being a student, anything I could get my hands on to read, and trial-and-error. After sixteen years (give or take one here or there), I can definitely say that I am now a good teacher. But it didn't come easy.

Yesterday, I walked the grounds at Cranbrook for the first time in many years. Memories emerged of learning the concepts of basic design and how to make a perfectly exposed photograph, then came a feeling of connection to place and lineage both, and a sense of carrying on and expanding the tradition of something greater than myself. It was somehow reassuring. But such a tiny moment amidst giant tides of uncertainty.