Friday, June 16, 2017

On becoming a good teacher

In my last post I wrote about having had a good spring semester. What contributed to that was having had a course theme that I felt passionate about--activism and societal change. That passion energized and inspired me. I discovered the other day in my painting class, another route to being a better teacher--become a student. It doesn't matter what subject and whether the teacher is great or awful.

When I studied memoir writing in grad school--I learned what kind of teacher not to be--my first writing teacher talked about her life stories--the basis of her numerous memoirs--at least 50% of the time. I didn't have the guts to talk to the program director. Instead I looked across the table at my one friend, we rolled our eyes, and swallowed our disappointment. But I learned a lot-- good and even great writers aren't by default good or great teachers. And, too, I made a mental note to never do that to my own students. It's their class. Their money. Their time.

A few years ago I began studying watercolor painting. I learned from my teacher that patience and practice were the road to talent. She said it over and over (in not those exact words.) I have little patience, no room in my apartment to Practice...or this is the lie I tell myself. And I firmly believe there is no painting talent in me waiting to emerge.  But I brought that philosophy into my English classroom, and I became (at least that day) a better teacher. At least one who understands when a subject doesn't come naturally.

Now, I'm taking an acrylic painting class. My teacher is--I apologize in advance for the word I'm about to use--Awesome! Yes, he is from the school of lemons to lemonade, a thick mess of green on green paint strokes into shadows and light. For two hours a week, I'm immersed in a world where mistakes and messes and screw-ups don't exist. That eye-sore of paint? Necessary in order to layer and develop.

I wanted to take a pad and write all the mantras down. I want to bring them to class in September and tell students-who-fear-English class (which is 90%), "I know and feel your pain." Instead I will bring them a montage of photos--the one I took at 79th and Amsterdam, the painting in process (above right) and still in process (below left).