Jun 8, 2010

What Makes a Great Art Teacher

Susie goes to class, she is in the 4th grade and she loves to draw. Today she takes her teacher a picture of her summer vacation she had been working one. The teacher takes one look and asks Susie what it is, Susie explains it is a drawing of the campground where her family stayed for their vacation. Her teacher smiles a bit and says she has never seen black trees ……and then she goes on to tell Susie that maybe she should forget about drawing because by looking at the drawing it is evident she has no talent.

Can you imagine how this statement can affect a child? Well I can because I had some students who had this happen more or less. Somehow they got up the courage to come to my class but they had so much baggage with them that I had a hard time convincing them that the horrible teacher who put those crazy notions in their heads were just plain wrong not to mention mean!

Not all people can be teachers, especially art teachers. However, there are some ways that you if you want to be an art teacher you can make sure you’re a good one!

Here are some of the things that I have found over 30 plus years of teaching.

First your studio where you teach needs to be a pleasant supportive, encouraging atmosphere. You need to have high expectations of each and every student. Set goals for them but keep them realistic.

In the beginning you need to tell your students what they will be learning and why it is important to know the material you will be offering.

A good teacher will also know that they need to help the student unlearn erroneous knowledge and bias especially if the student has been self teaching.

She has to know that each student will learn differently, one may learn by listening to your information and another may need to see what you are talking about by actually seeing you do it and another may need to do it to learn.

The best way to teach is to circle the room connecting with each student and spending time helping them with any problems they may be having. She needs to make sure they understand what they are doing and give immediate feedback. If they are struggling she can review what has been taught if needed. For instance if in the last class she pointed out that the colors in the background were to colorful and now notices that the student has repeated this mistake she can say, “remember last week we learned that the background colors were too colorful and today we will use what we learned by graying this area down a little bit.” This is a gentle reminder for the student and it works.

The teacher needs to remember that every student is paying  the same amount for the class, and deserves their full attention when it is their turn, so when you come to them as you circle the room stop, and show them that they are important to you and help them with what they need before moving on to the next student.

Always remember that you need to respect diverse talents and ways of learning, not all students are the same.

By stressing the importance of knowing the basic rules will motivate the student to study and work harder and by balancing instruction so that all learners are challenged, all students will feel special.It is a great idea to hand out lesson sheets that go over some of the things you were teaching in each class.

It is so important that you do not become a “performing” teacher. This is a teacher who just stands up in the front of the class and paints or what I call “performs”, they never even get close to the students. This is not the same as demonstrations which helps the person who needs to “see’ to learn, I am talking about the egotistical teacher that just thinks that all they need to do is do their 'thing" and the students will learn. This could not be further from the truth. I have been in a workshop with a male teacher once and he loved to hear himself talk…he thought he was great and that he did not’t have to teach us, we spent a week in the workshop listening to how wonderful he was and how great his art was. What a waste of money and time. This kind of teacher is only good at making enemies!

A really good teacher needs to be passionate about art, well educated in art, strongly focused and a good communicator. They need to strongly believe that everybody can make art....everybody!
They should promote originality in their students encouraging creativity, it is fine to start out copying but a good teacher will help the student move away from this and into developing their own art. Copying is a good way to learn traditional things, but is not a way to cultivate creativity. Imitation will not teach the student to learn to think and develop an innovative spirit. Copying is limited. Being original is endless. However I need to stress that not all copying is bad. Continual practice is indispensable to learn skills. Practice and copying  can build confidence and make things easier.

Speaking of practice, we as teachers need to adapt and constantly refine our teaching practices through continuous learning and reflection, we need engage in ongoing professional learning and apply it to improve our teaching practices.we need to constantly take stock in the way we are teaching. Are our students improving? Are we seeing them grasp what we are teaching?  If not, why?

We need to set up some guidelines for our class time. I made it known that I did not want negative comments in the class. Compliments or comments from students about other students artwork can only be given when asked for by the artist, and artwork can only be touched by the artist or teacher. There is nothing worse that another student “helping” another student and in doing so make things worse. There can only be one teacher in the classroom!

Another aspect of teaching is taking too many students, a crowded class room is a sure way to fail. If you can’t find time for every student then some will get discouraged, some will incorrectly find fault with themselves believing they have no natural talent and assume painting is just too hard and give up! What a shame!
How sad is that? Art is so important to us, it is a vital part of our communities and our society. It allows us to develop artistic achievements, visual language and self-esteem. It helps us problem solve, and gives us courage to take risks.

Points to remember;

Start with the fundamentals.

Never assume the student already knows anything.

Treat your students as individuals.

Accept that each student will have different weaknesses and strengths.

Never have a “favorite” student or show favoritism.

Never overcrowd your class room.

Remember one-one one instruction is the best way to teach! So give each student your attention.

Be encouraging and supportive.

Never compare one student with another student.

Stress that each student should only compete with themselves.

Never intimidate your student by being overbearing.

Be responsible for how your students interact with each other while in the classroom.

If you have to offer criticism do it gently and offer a solution.

Rather than pointing out what is wrong first, start with something that is good.

Remember that a great teacher will show a student not only that excellence is achievable but it is possible!

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