Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A letter to all my students past, present, and future:

It’s 1985. Picture a teenage girl with wild, dark, curly hair wearing a hideous pink and purple catholic school uniform.  That’s me, a senior in a strict, traditional, Catholic High School. The AP Lit teacher, Dr. Sharon Meltzer, is asking us what we think about Socrates and his theory of the Chariot. There is a chariot, led by the dark horse of passion and the light horse of reason. She challenged us to understand ourselves, and whether we were driven by passion or reason. I couldn’t believe it. Dr. Meltzer asked us what we THINK. We sat in class and debated our ideas, a full out discussion that was more than just regurgitating information. In that moment, I fell in love with being in that class. I’d never really liked school, but I didn’t want THAT class to end.

It’s 1987, and I’m standing in a sunny Art Institute painting studio. My favorite painting teacher is yelling at a boy who was distracting me while I should have been painting. He then whirled around to me and told me angrily to stop goofing around, to focus because I had talent and he expected a lot from me. I was shocked that he cared so much. In later years, he proved how much not only by being demanding, but also nurturing. He’d take a group of students out for beers and pizza at Exchecquer and we talked for hours about painting concepts, philosophy, science, and literature. On many occasions, he walked into class, handed me a book and simply said, “you should read this”. It was always complicated, brilliant, and EXACTLY what I needed to read for this or that painting I was working on. His name was Paul Hinchliffe, and my second daughter, also an artist, is named for him. Zoe Paula.

It’s 1989, and I’m close to graduating with a BFA degree from art school. My old photo teacher asked me to be her assistant in the art classes she was teaching for pre-school kids. Colleen Conley had been my teacher since I was 12 and I already knew that I loved art, loved photography, and loved learning from her. But, she had one more thing to teach me. Each day of class, she’d quietly give me more responsibilities. Eventually she casually said, “I think you should teach this lesson. Plan an interesting lesson.” I did, even though I thought it was a bit odd. At then end of the lesson, after all the happy kids went home with their art, she turned to me and said, “Do you know what you are? Do you see what you just did?” I looked at her quizzically. She looked me right in the eye and stated emphatically, “You are a teacher.”

I realize that teaching is very much about love. These amazing teachers loved me and taught me to love them. More importantly, they gave me the love of thinking, exploring, and creating. They inspired me to be the artist I am today. They inspired me to be the teacher I am today. I have taken a bit of that love from them, and internalized it. These teachers are with us today through me, talking to you right now. The connection continues on because as a teacher, I hand these ideals to you, and you begin to think and create. You begin connecting to each other, to the world, to me. We will learn together in this classroom. When others view your art, they will know you. When you leave here, you will carry this with you and connect with others. Someday, you will be making art, or raising children, or perhaps even teaching. You will affect THOSE people around you and continue to build this connection.

Someone once told me about a teacher she had that used to sing a love song to his class every day. I thought that was an amazing way to connect. Here is my love song to you. Listen to the words, because I mean them with all my heart.

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful post full of the possibility of what an art education can be. To situate your own experiences with influential art teachers within who you are as a teacher now is critical for thinking about how you want practice. I love the specificity of each incident. You can imagine that some one down the line will write about you in this way. I am also thinking that we are composite images with layers of experiences within us and so when we teach, we are pulling forward the teachers from our past - the good, the bad and the ugly. To have these vivid images of specific incidents and teachers is very productive for a practice going forward.