Wasn’t it only about two weeks ago that I wrote School’s Out For The Summer? I found myself in a state of disbelief this week when children actually showed up in my classroom hoping I could teach them something. How could I justify my state of denial with all those sweet, smiling faces? There were even hugs! Oh, how great thou ART!
Occasionally I’m in contact with one of my own high school teachers. In May, she wrote a comment on my About Page that told of an unfortunate junior high art experience. She remembers her art teacher telling her that her artwork was the worst art she’d ever seen. This comment put into motion a tidal wave of rejection that resulted in her never taking another art class until after she retired from teaching. We’re talking years later.
Worse yet, I hear stories of this more often than you can imagine. In one of the highest ranking TED talks of all times, Sir Ken Robinson speaks about how schools kill creativity. Although my former teacher’s example is a blatant one, it often happens in more subtle ways. Robinson says,
“Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years time, yet we’re [asked] to educate them for it. Creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. Kids aren’t frightened of being wrong [like adults are]. If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. We’re educating people out of their creative capacities because our culture teaches that being wrong is the worst possible thing.”
Using a master and apprentice type philosophy and methodology, my art department head has fashioned the art program at my school with plenty of room for mistakes. Because mistakes do happen, creative problem solving is always a main ingredient in the creation of student artwork. We not only anticipate that mistakes will likely happen, we also teach our students how to find solutions that will, in the end, make the artwork even more interesting and captivating because of their mistakes. Often mistakes are a blessing. In my article Getting The Job Done, I address the necessary component of art-making called “grit”. We teach our art students perseverance. We also teach our students how to positively critique their own work, as well as others’, in a way that leaves esteem intact.
Teachers are super-heroes and they have all sorts of powers! One of the most important super-powers we possess is that which speaks of Destiny. This super-power is easily accessible to all and is easy to use. It is the power of the positive spoken word. One of the films I show in my 7th grade Architecture Unit is called Sketches of Frank Gehry. Mr. Gehry tells of a time in his childhood that his Hebrew school Rabbi told his mother that he had “golden hands.” This teacher-Rabbi planted a seed, with his words, that this child could grow to become an architect. He spoke it and it came true.
In this heartwarming, 7-minute episode of Leave It To Beaver , Beaver has a heart-to-heart conversation with his teacher, Miss Canfield. At the 3:20 minute mark, Miss Canfield asks him why he assumed what she’d written, in a note to his parents, was something bad. Beaver responds and says, “I don’t know. . . I guess because you’re a teacher.” Holding back a smile, Miss Canfield replies, “ . . .someone once said that a good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others.”
As this school year begins, let’s wipe the slate clean. If you are a teacher, humbly look at yourself and realize your super-power which speaks of Destiny. Imagine a future for your students and point their eyes in that direction. Never give up on them. Challenge yourself to be an inspiration to them; someone they want to be like. Teach from the place that learning is FUN! There’s really no limit to what any of us can learn. And as Danny Kaye said, “Life is a great big canvas. Throw all the paint you can on it.”
Have a great week and a great year!