search  current discussion  categories  teaching 

untrained beginners can be excellent teachers (was: art for students)

updated tue 31 aug 04


Janet Kaiser on sun 29 aug 04

Interesting how everyone turns (to a greater or lesser degree)
into a protectionist when speaking about their own chosen
subject and passing on the necessary laws/knowledge/skills to the
next generation. I was as indignant as many to hear of yet
another slight on what has always been seen as a second class
subject and will always be treated as such... However, it is a
simplistic and purely emotional reaction.

Why do I say that? Well I myself took great pride in teaching
mathematics in a school of 9 to 11 year olds, replacing a teacher
who suffered a nervous breakdown. Being praised by fellow
teachers, the headmaster and parents for the tremendous progress
the children made in the subject was naturally a feather in my
professional cap, but what warmed the cockles of my heart, was
the change in the attitude of those children. From being
browbeaten by a "born mathematician" into a state of terror about
getting it wrong and being stigmatised as stupid, mathematics
became fun and interesting.

Why is this pertinent? Because I was (and remain) mathematically
challenged thanks to several mathematical genius types it had
been my lot to suffer throughout my own school days! Yes, as an
Art major teaching mathematics, I was the equivalent of a Science
major teaching art. It raised eyebrows all around. However, I was
able to understand any and all antipathy towards the subject all
too well. My own professionalism as a teacher made me find ways
of reawakening interest in those young minds which are so like
sponges... And just like natural sponges, they are extremely
sensitive to environment. If you want them to grow healthily they
need the correct succour.

My husband tells me that maths is very similar to art, in that
patterns, tone, tenor and design are the basis of both. Well, I
don't know about that and it sounds more like music than the
visual arts, but I do know that I actually made a far better
maths teacher than art teacher at that time in my career (newly
out of college).

How come? Well, I could not understand the children who hated
art! Whatever had caused that antipathy in them (I have no wish
to follow that up) it was something I could not relate to. I made
precisely the same mistake that the maths teacher had made and
compounded their "natural" disinclination to partake in art at
any level. In retrospect, I believe that it was just a mistake a
young and inexperienced teacher could naturally make.

Although have said it before and will say it again, all I wanted
to say was: ENTHUSIASM AND THAT ALONE (in my humble opinion) is
what young students require of their teachers. The facts and
figures, the quantifiable and qualifiable "knowledge" they are
examined upon, is secondary to the love and enthusiasm they
develop for any/all subject/s as defined by the curriculum. A
good teacher will help them achieve passes and acceptable grades,
but an outstanding teacher will help them develop a lifelong love
affair not only with the learning process but their chosen area/s
of interest which naturally transcend the narrow definitions set
by the school syllabus.

The one extremely important point everyone tends to forget when
discussing "teaching", is that a kindergarten/primary/middle
school teacher does not necessarily need to possess huge amounts
of knowledge and skill themselves to do their job well.
Rudimentary knowledge is quite enough.

And as for that chemistry teacher teaching art somewhere in
deepest USA... I cannot imagine anyone better placed to become a
good, if not excellent potter! Just think of all the technically
challenging stuff "artists" face and struggle to understand.
Starting with weighing and measuring raw materials and ending
with periodic tables there are whole areas which demand the
training of a chemist. And just because they became a chemistry
teacher, who is to say that is only because they also had parents
and teachers who forced them into a "proper profession"? They
could also be a closet artist too you know...


Janet Kaiser
The Chapel of Art : Capel Celfyddyd
8 Marine Crescent : Criccieth : Wales : UK
Home of The International Potters' Path
Tel: ++44 (01766) 523570

************* Virus Protection by AVG *****************