Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Curriculum Vitae 1: The Story of Mary and Bob

From my curriculum vitae, here is my teaching philosophy: All kids inherently can draw. It’s the first and ultimate form of non-verbal communication. By showing kids shortcuts to success in drawing skills, you open the door to a world of possibilities and expression. My classes are about empowerment, exposing capabilities, and developing potential.

I stand by that statement. My first class of any drawing session, be it a seminar or the full semester art course I did last year at Kiley Middle school, I start off at a blank bulletin board, and tell a story. This is that story:

“How many of you like to draw? How many of you feel like you are good at drawing? (Get one student’s name-let’s say Bob). Let’s ask a different way-who is not good at drawing? (Get a student’s name from this group-let’s say Mary). Why do you think that everyone in the room didn’t raise their hand when I asked who was good at drawing? Maybe we’re just in a class of especially modest geniuses?

“I know why. By virtue of my own personal WayBack machine, I’ve watched each and every one of your life stories from when you were babies, scooting around the floor in dirty diapers. At that time, your parents maybe put you in the corner with the sharp writing instrument of your choice—a crayon—and said go to it.” So you, being the good little genius, crawled over to a blank section of wall, and started working!

(Start scribbling on the paper. It must be scribbles, formless, messy and without reason. And it has to look fun. While doing this say: )

“And you had fun. You were just playing around, making a mess, figuring stuff out. And before you knew it, you started making something.

(Gradually, over the couse of the board, develop the scribbles into a rough loop, then a cleaner loop, and on until you get to a perfect circle.

“And being the great genius you were, you named it. “This is a (students will say “circle,’ but you should say “Mary! This is a Mary! And I’m s proud of my Mary, it will make me world famous and be an amazing thing to share with everyone and anyone who will look!”

“And before you know it, the first dsy of Kindergarten came, and you were prepared. You had your favorite writing implement, and a world of blank paper. And you walked into that class and couldn’t wait to show everyone what genius you had developed. You walked up to the board and drew a perfect Mary! (Draw the circle).

“Suddenly, a hush fell over the classroom. From the back, up came Bob. (whistle the theme from “The Good The Bad and the Ugly”)

“From the back of the class, Bob walked forward, ‘ching, ching, ching…” And he pulled his piece-another crayon. “That’s nice,” he said, “but can you make a Bob?” And right next to your Mary, he drew a Bob." (Draw a near perfect triangle.)

“Mary approached the board with a trembling hand, and tried to act like it was no big deal, “No problem,” she said. And she drew a Bob. (Draw a triangle that is only vaguely so-looks much more like another circle.) And she tried again. And again. And finally she gave up in frustration. She threw her crayon down, and walked away, and never drew again. (mimick each of these actions for effect.) And today, Mary says she can’t draw at all, and Bob considers that he’s a great artist."

“But what did Mary forget? What was she doing way way back, when she first started drawing? (Point to the scribbles. Continue to press for answers until you get someone to say, or you suggest. The answer is “to have fun.”) When she first started, she wasn’t about impressing anyone, or showing what she could do. It was about finding things out, and exploring, and having a good time doing it. And that’s what she forgot."

"But I bet with anything that Mary is good at today, she has not forgotten that. Because anything you become good at you become good at because of the encouragement, and the positive feedback, but also and as importantly, because you enjoy doing it. That’s Mary’s story. And I’ll bet it’s the story with a lot of you."

"Well, that changes today. Because in this class, it’s not about being the best at making a Bob or a Mary or a landscape or a portrait or a figure drawing. It’s about having fun, trying to figure something out, and finding what is easy and maybe not so easy, but enjoying the journey, not the destination. This is going to be about the art of getting there, not about being wherever “there” is. If you do something you like, that’s great, and I’m sure your parents would love to take a look at it if you want to bring it home. But that’s not what this class will be about. This class will be about struggling and playing and failing and starting over, and pushing past mountains and swimming over oceans and being proud of the fact that you can keep going."

“Is there anybody here that thinks they can’t do that?”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

School starts (for some…)

Both my sons are now back in school, my oldest at a new Middle School and my youngest still at Conway Grammar. I meet the new school year with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was really looking forward to returning back-to-school with them, as an Art Teacher (capitalization on purpose). I was enjoying the vocation. I was in a challenging school district—so challenging, in fact that I did not know how to approach blogging about the work all of last year, and consequently didn’t. The silence stretches back to last February. I started writing some ideas longhand, at lunchtime during school, but soon found that time taken up by classroom needs, outside of actually eating my lunch. And after a while, the story I would’ve told felt like it was so far into itself that the recap became unwieldy. And somewhat pointless. And was eventually abandoned.

In the name of a fresh broom sweeping clean, I then made a plan to incorporate blogging about teaching at the start of the school year. And I prepared lesson plans, and solidified methodologies and documented a lot of what I had not, before. And I called myself ready to hit the ground running.

But, sadly, that wasn’t to be. It turns out that I’m not teaching this year, due to budget cuts which, eliminated the Art teacher position from the middle school I was teaching at at the same time as it increased the class size. I feel sad most for the students at that school, as they had a time testing me, and seeing if I would stay or go. My choice and what I proved to them, was that I was going to stay. Until the district changes the game, and made a liar of me.

Okay, that sounds angry, and that’s not my intention. I’m really just a little sad. I have the work at Idea MechaniX to keep me busy in the short term, as I look to move back into publishing full time, keeping teaching open as an afterschool sideline. And, really, I have no regrets, having had a good experience at M. Marcus Kiley Middle School. I feel I made an impression, and left a mark, if only for a year. And I even helped their overall identity by doing a bit of digital design, free of charge, as well. Here is a link to the Vision and Mission statement posters I developed and designed for the school, now posted on their website. So I’m gone, but not forgotten.

And now, on the other hand, I have a bit more time on my hands. With that opportunity to do a bit of catch up, I plan to take the time to explore my own teaching philosophy in a way that I haven’t done, concretely, in a while. And in doing so, I plan to tell some of my success stories in teaching. A lot of the lessons and stories are applicable to any area of teaching. And, since this is my own subjective, personal blog, I can do with it what I will.

For the next several blog entries, I will be exploring some of my fallback introductory lessons, and the ways that I’ve used these stories in teaching. Please feel free to pass them along, and if they work for you, make them your own.

Next: Curriculum Vitae 1: The story of Bob and Mary