Sunday, August 14, 2011

Teaching by Getting Out of the Way

I once had a career as a teacher that spanned the better part of the decade of the 1990s.  I left teaching to pursue the arts, and thought I'd never want to go back.

Creative students at play: Ezra, Julia, and Natalie
Gradually, as I learned more about myself and began to come into my own skin as an artist, and as I put 11 more years on the birthday cake, the idea of teaching crept back into my vision for my future.  I didn't want to teach English, like I had before, and I wanted to teach art, but not in a regular school setting.  I don't have an art degree, so being hired by any institution seemed unlikely anyway.  So, with the unflagging support of Kimberly and Randy, two friends who run the Peace & Justice Academy, a private middle and high school in Pasadena, I started my own classes, and called it the school's Summer Arts Program.

FUI Students create an image of the theme of "poverty"
I also was invited back to lead workshops for the Fresno Urban Institute interns, who are college students seeking to participate in the Reign of God in the impoverished neighborhoods of Fresno.  Such summer programs are emotionally charged and spiritually intense (I did a similar program the summer I graduated), and the workshops were designed to give them a chance to process their experiences in non-verbal, or creatively verbal ways.

As I led these classes and workshops, I found myself in a much different place pedagogically than I had been before, much less concerned about the outcome and much more engaged in the process.  I discovered that my main role was to show up and provide the stimulus for the creative act (materials, a project idea, writing prompts, theater games), and then all I had to do was allow things to happen.  What did happen far exceeded my expectations, and gave me joy that will fuel me for a very long time.

Josh's Subject Delta
 All of the Summer Arts Program students were fantastic to work with, but Josh in particular never ceased to amaze me.  Once he got an idea, there wasn't much I could do to stop him. At one point, when he was making a small scuptural rendering of "Subject Delta" from the video game BioShock, he was doing some technique I wasn't sure would work.  When I started to question it, he said "Trust me.  I've done this before."  And sure enough, he knew what he was doing, much better than I did.  Click here to see a picture of the original character.)

Back view of Subject Delta

And even when students haven't done something before, I still need to trust them, their own individual processes, their opinions and ideas.  Now that I'm smack dab in the middle of my 40s, I am able to appreciate and learn from these people decades younger than I.  They are energetic and honest, they don't have the baggage carried by we who are older in years; they are kind, compassionate, and funny as all get out.
Three cool guys: Ethan, Jacob, and Joshua

      I was allowed to see all of this because I stayed out of the way.