I’ve always considered myself a “self-taught” art teacher. Yes, I put myself tens of thousands of dollars into debt to obtain the necessary degrees that were supposed to make me into an art teacher, but the reality of it is, my six years of schooling didn’t teach me anything about how to teach art. Everything I know, I know from personal experience.
As an undergrad, I attended a state school that had a 3:1 Art Education program with a private school. I completed all my gen. eds., my pre-requisites, my studio classes and the necessary basic education classes at the state school. I then took more advanced education classes at the private school where I also completed my student teaching. My studio classes taught me the basics of every art medium (at least the ones that would fit into my schedule), and the education courses taught me about the basics of teaching in a regular classroom. And by regular, I mean a classroom that doesn’t involve a plethora of dirty, messy, dangerous materials that are necessary for the development of creative minds.
I learned how to “work the room” while teaching, which entailed walking up and down the aisles of desks, to ensure that students were on-task. I learned how to maintain an orderly and controlled classroom that required students to always raise their hands and to always remain in their seats. I was instructed on how to identify when your English and Math students needed extra help and various ways to prepare students for a Social Studies test. While my college instructors were all capable and knowledgeable individuals, not one of them had the first inkling of how to teach in an art room. And why should they? These professors weren’t art teachers. They’d never experienced the chaos joys of teaching fourth graders how to paint. They knew how to manage a classroom in which the teacher’s main role was to transfer knowledge to students not mold and encourage creativity and independent work.
My student teaching experience, which occurred in two different art rooms, should have helped me more, and in some aspects it did, but in many, it was lacking. I learned from my K-6 mentor how to manage the classroom through a point system. While I’m not nearly as strict with my “rules” as she was, I still use the 5-point, Art Party system today. In fact, a few of my peers have even started using it in their classrooms. I learned how to write lesson plans that look good on paper, but as any art teacher can tell you, writing a lesson plan and following a lesson plan are two completely different things. One should rarely ever expect to be able to follow a unit or lesson plan to the letter. Too many circumstances arise within an art room to make it feasible. And in my opinion, that’s okay. Not once during my entire student teaching or undergraduate experience did anyone teach me how to teach an eighth grader how to draw the human figure.
My grad school experience was even worse. My Masters of Science in Education degree claims to be in in Visual Arts Education, but the reality of it is, teaching art rarely came up. In our studio classes we were practically forbidden to discuss teaching or how to teach our students the things we were learning. It was appalling to many of us that we were art teachers and yet no one would allow us to converse about how we could transfer what we were learning into our classrooms. The art education courses we took weren’t any better. We were expected to discuss the latest theories in art education and what to teach in our classrooms (the top choices being, but not by me, Multiculturalism, Differentiated Instruction and Cross-Curricular lessons), but were never instructed on how to teach these things. Let me rephrase that, we were never instructed on how to teach the basic art techniques needed to make art. You know, like observational drawing. Apparently we were expected to already know these things. And many of us did, but not because our prior educational experiences had prepared us for it, but because we had already been teaching for a few years.
So, fast forward to a few days ago when I’m in an interview and the interviewer asks me, “How would you teach an auditory learner to draw the human form?” Say what now? My mind went blank. I knew I couldn’t answer, “I don’t know” and have any chance at ever working in this school system. Instead, I pulled some ridiculously lame response out of the air. After wards, all I could think was, “I don’t know how to teach kids anything, I just do it.” When it comes to teaching kids how to make pinch pots or draw the face or use watercolor paints, I just consider the steps that need to take place and then just teach it. I can’t explain to someone how I teach it, but I know that my students learn it because they’re all, for the most part, successful at it. If I see a student struggling, I suggest alternative ways for them to do it or I alter the way I explain how to do it. But this isn’t anything I plan. I’m more of an on-the-spot type of teacher who looks at the immediate problem and comes up with a solution.
I can only anticipate problems up to a certain point because there’s always the human element to every problem. In other words, the student. Every problem you face in an art room is going to be different because the students are different. Don’t ask me how I would teach contour drawing to auditory learners. Ask me how I would teach contour drawing to Johnny, a fourth grade student who is struggling because he didn’t understand the demonstration I just did. I happen to know that Johnny is a race car fan. I’ll use this to explain to Johnny that an outline is like the track around an object. I’ll suggest to him that his pencil is a race car and ask him to draw the track that would take his race car around the object. Being an auditory or visual learner isn’t always an issue, because, in my experience, there’s always a way to explain how to do something that connects with the individual student. And that’s not something you’re necessarily going to learn in college. That’s a lesson you learn in the field when you’re on your own and actually teaching.
And in regards to that interview, did I get the job? Highly unlikely considering I was interviewing with a school system that didn’t have any available positions. Is there a possibility they’ll consider me for any future openings? I hope so. Of course, if their consideration of me as a suitable candidate is based solely on my fumbling responses to their generic questions, maybe not. Sometimes I wish the interview process involved actually teaching a lesson to real, live kids instead of answering a bunch of arbitrary questions about things I’m more capable of doing and showing rather than explaining. After all, I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner. It can safely be assumed that this is the type of teacher I am as well, therefore, couldn’t it also be assumed that a Q & A session isn’t the best way for me to demonstrate my abilities as a teacher? Apparently the concept of adapting to the multiple styles of learners doesn’t extend past the classroom. But that’s an issue for another day.