I have been back in the classroom since 2010 — first at Savannah College of Art + Design (SCAD) and now at the United Nations International School (UNIS). It’s been quite a journey back to teaching after what had been a very long hiatus. My time at SCAD was peppered with indelible moments with students whose hearts were consistently in their work. I balanced a brick and mortar load with online classes, mostly working with graduate students on their theses — both written and visual. Every once in a while, I was lucky enough to teach undergrads in classes like ‘vector/raster’ or typography. Each group of students was unique, both in its level of skills but also its humanity. I somehow seem to be blessed with the kinds of students who bring a smile to my face daily — ones who put warmth and love into every interaction. This dynamic has been the hallmark of my return to the classroom.
When I switched to teaching high school, I truly believed (pedagogically speaking) that my classroom experience would be simpler. I actually thought it would be a ‘no-brainer’ to prep classes for teens as opposed to readying myself for graduate students. Oh how wrong I was! It isn’t that the actual material is more challenging. It’s the dynamic of working with slightly younger students whose thoughts and minds are rapidly forming and changing. It’s the daily exchanges in which their own internal feedback loop is propelling them into exciting futures while also undermining their own confidence. It’s the uncertain future awaiting them, the college process, the ‘not knowing,’ the expectations of perfection in every little thing they do … Somehow, college students are more comfortable with imperfections in their work … and they have come to understand that there are iterative stages of a project that help its development. It’s in that process that students find their way forward. In any case, in the matter of just a few years, college juniors have become more resilient and able to master the inner chatter that can cripple creativity. They also can understand that a critique of their creative output is intended for growth … and not a catastrophic interpretation of their very essence and being. sigh.
In high school, that negative voice is just gaining ground … and it needs to be stopped. So, with the change away from higher-ed came what I perceive to be an awesome responsibility — to recognize everyone’s abilities and support them fully and gently. I am not sure I have succeeded. I am definitely trying. And, in return for my efforts, I am rewarded handsomely with each interaction, with the inspiration that comes from the daily moments, the laughs and the myriad of things that I am also learning. (lest anyone forget, I am teaching in NYC. there is much I still need to know!) From the bubble of my academic life, I am witnessing a multitude of cultures and mores, having to check my biases and stay open to perspectives that might challenge mine. In any case, my overall return to the classroom, as exhausting as it is sometimes, has mostly been exhilarating and it is so because of my students. full stop. So, here’s to you all. To your laughter and good natures. To your willingness to try all sorts of creative strategies and to helping me move my own thoughts and ideas forward. I am feeling grateful. Thank you.