Teaching Philosophy (Individual Students)

It’s all about the student.

I take this mantra to heart. Through my years of teaching, I’ve come to understand that in private instruction focusing on an individual’s interests makes learning more pleasant, fun, and easy. Rather than building upon foundations laid out by a certain curriculum or any standard practices within art education, I ask my students what they want to learn about or make. My role is that of a facilitator for the student’s creativity. It’s easy to get some basic artistic knowledge and skill-building into any creative project. Take for example a student that I’ve been working with for a couple years: initially he only expressed an interest in learning to more accurately draw the human figure. Despite his interest and desire to learn, something felt off-- he seemed aloof and sometimes even bailed on our sessions. In the second year he started telling me about this “super cool project” that he was working on with his siblings. It’s a science fiction narrative, with its own characters, worlds, and stories. And it’s amazing! As he explained his project to me, I saw real passion. I suggested we work on that project instead of bland figure drawing assignments. Even though he already had some ideas about how the narrative should shape up, I had the pleasure of teaching him about the basics of drawing from life, proportion, composition, narrative structures, color theory, knowing when and when not to add details, and anything else relevant to creating his story. He hasn’t missed a session since and seems genuinely into the work we’re doing together.

I want to see students feel the accomplishment and confidence of creating something of their very own from scratch. To that end, when I start working with a student, I like to get to know them a bit-- see if there’s anything they’re struggling with artistically or if there’s anything they’re dreaming of creating. From years of art education and instruction, I have a vast array of ideas, projects, and techniques. I tailor the instruction to the needs of the student (or if the student is too young or indecisive, to the needs of their guardian). I do not carry a curriculum or structured plan for teaching an individual student.

For me, the joy of teaching art comes from the moments when a student has a sense of ownership and personal progress. It doesn’t matter whether this development comes from attaining or honing a skill, completing a simple project, or just thinking of a great idea.

In my view art is an expression of self into the outer world-- an easing of the personal into the shared environment. It’s incredible to see that we can have an immediate and gratifying impact on our environment or communicate a feeling that might have languished on our insides.

Each student has the freedom to express what they want or need to express. That’s all up to them. And as an art teacher, I can give my students the tools, support, and encouragement to express anything they want.

 

Teaching Philosophy (Groups and Classes)

While it is easy to tailor an individual lesson to the needs of an individual, it is impossible to do the same for a whole group of students. At least, not in the same way.

Each group that I’ve ever worked with has its own dynamic. I am sensitive to the changing tides and do my best to take the group’s needs into account. For this reason, group lessons and classes need much more structure and planning. Because the dynamic can change when just one student is having a rough day, the class needs to remain consistent and engaging. I rely heavily on reiterating procedures and behavioral guidelines.

In my classes and group instruction sessions, if a plan needs to be altered or amended I frequently utilize my favorite democratic device: we take a vote. This works great for projects with multiple parts that occur over many class sessions. It also works well to make initial decisions. I try to provide multiple options on each project I bring to a group so that no one feels bored or alienated.

Ultimately, however, the goal is the same as with individual lessons: I want the students to feel that they are expressing something of their very own, something interesting to them, and something that gives them a sense of agency in their environment. And my role remains that of facilitator: I will give my students whatever tools, support, and encouragement they need.