Wednesday, February 8, 2012

on teaching art

I have taught art now for quite a long time, to many different ages, not without trepidation and doubt as to whether I was truly inspiring the students to be artists, or merely filling time with ideas or techniques that they weren't ready to integrate into their artistic experience.
I have taught grades 6-12, mostly in middle school, and also kindergarten and 1st graders, while my last few years have focused on teaching and guiding adults through private lessons in painting.
Which of these was the most difficult? It depends- as far as needing a vallium
before I entered the classroom, it would have to be kindergarten and 1st grade-. ( I didn't actually take vallium, just thought about it a lot) This age is spongelike and excited about art, which is absolutely wonderful. The problem is the lack of time you have in this setting, and their limited fine motor skills. You end up teaching a lot of cutting, and clean up with kindergarteners and 1st graders should require a college class.

Middle school is wonderful and completely exhausting mentally. You have the opportunity to grab these kids who are not interested in school at all- but love art. You have the ability to help guide the artists who come to you with some accomplishment already. You have the chance to give students a shot at being proud of their work, and fitting into a group, maybe for the first time, with extracurricular things like art club and art shows.
So the opportunites are there, and ripe. The difficulty is the balancing act, which can be almost impossible at times. The balancing act of disciplining the students who need art the most, the ones you work on "getting on board" every single day. The balancing act of having to deal with the behavior disabled students ,who are sometimes physically and verbally abusive, in your regular classroom because you are an elective. This involves constant vigilance in protecting the other students and making them feel safe, disruptions, verbal abuse , etc. Mainstreaming other special groups works in art. Mentally disabled, hearing impaired, come in and are a perfect fit, but truly there are some gaps in our schoolsystem's method of throwing oppositional defiant, sociopathic and emotionally disturbed students in with the mix and expecting teachers to successfully teach.
Middle school is a precarious act of balancing discipline, organizational systems, teaching technique, allowing freedom of expression, artistic guidance, and inspiration, all the while keeping those artistically inclined but troubled kids afloat while still being able to reach and challenge those serious students of art that need to be stretched to reach all that they can..
What I found is that I was too drained emotionally at the end of the day to do my own art after teaching in the middle grades. But I won't say it isn't a satisfying way to earn a living. It is important work and difficult work if done well, but the rewards of teaching this age group are endless.

Right now I teach adults/teens and absolutely love it. I find it is a way to integrate my passion, my love for art and teaching, with the freedom to do my own work simultaneously. My lessons are private, and each one is completely different. Each student on their own artistic journey, and it is fullfilling and inspiring to help guide, seek, and facilitate their progress in becoming the artist that they were meant to be. It is a joy.

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