Reflections of a grateful artist/teacher

I wrote this essay a year ago, required for my teaching relicensure.
Now, after a challenging year of health-related issues, I am more
grateful than ever for my family, art, students--and Vitamin D!

Teaching Reflection, December 2010
Teaching, mothering, and making art have become tightly woven
threads of who I am, all strengthening and depending upon one another.
Now in my 17th year of teaching, I am thankful for being in this place
of experience, enthusiasm and compassion in the present, and
confidence about the future. More and more I know that the most
important aspects of teaching are to give students the opportunities to
develop their own senses of responsibility and effort, as well as
opportunities for them to think for themselves in new and original

In 1998, before I was a mother, I wrote, “Every once and awhile I slow
down, and sit with a table of students. I really look into their eyes, and
see the wonder and promise. I am touched by the honor of being a part
of their lives and feel the weight of that responsibility.” Now in 2010,
the difference is the additional patience and compassion that
experience and mothering has given me. Students, after all, are human
and have so many concerns outside of school. Showing that I care
about them and their future is essential to being an effective teacher
today. This concern for students’ futures has also taught me the
importance of empathy without coddling. Students need to take
responsibility for their weaknesses and mistakes, without making
excuses or blaming others. Although it is often the most unpleasant
part of teaching, the greatest gifts I can give my students are
opportunities for them to take responsibility for their own actions
before they tackle more of life’s challenges on their own.

Participating in the three-day studio workshop “Of Intuition and Art”
at the Grand Marais Artist Colony in 2009 especially helped with ideas
to challenge myself and my students to think for ourselves in new and
original ways. This workshop was lead by artist and teacher Elizabeth
Erickson. During the workshop we were given time to create our own
artwork, as well as time studying and talking about the work of great
artists that used intuitive approaches to art-making. Elizabeth Erickson
encouraged us to draw inspiration from everything around us: nature,
poetry, other artwork, etc. The greatest lessons I received from this
workshop were ways of trusting and not downplaying our own instincts
and fascinations. The most effective and original artists are driven to
explore their fascinations, and then work through the frustrations to
execute their ideas. Inspiration+Effort. 

Being an active artist and sharing my artwork with my students has
greatly enhanced my teaching and life in general. I have especially
grown as an artist within the last 10 years, exhibiting in the Mid-West
and in New York City. Surprisingly, all of that happened after I became
a mother and continued to teach. When I look back, I am convinced
that becoming a more serious artist happened because of being a
teacher and mother, not despite of it. I have seen too many parents
and teachers that seem resentful and burned out about continually
giving so much of themselves, which in turn makes them much less
effective and less satisfied parents and teachers. Creating my own
work helps me strike the balance I need. When I feel enthusiasm
and generosity waning, it is time to get back into the studio. It is so
important that our youth watch adults responsibly living the lives
they want to live, even as challenges arise.

I want students to be hopeful and confident about the life and
challenges ahead of them. Now in the midst of my 17th year of
teaching, I am thankful to be in this balanced place of experience,
compassion, enthusiasm, and hope.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So beautifully written and a wonderful inspiration to all teachers.