To teach or not to teach….

la-imageSeptember 2016

This year I’ve been offered some teaching (cue delighted, excited laugh with an unmissable shrill of frenetic nervousness). Forget FOMO (fear of missing out), it’s more a case of FOFU (fear of fu**ing up).  Could I do it?  Would I be prepared enough?  What if my students fail? These fears stem from my increasingly anally retentive nature, whereby I want to micro-manage everything and the usual musings of insecurity.  But, it appears, I was not worried enough to say no and was soon immersed in teachings about teaching.

In preparation, I put together a teaching CV and was pleasantly surprised by my experience. It’s not until you write everything down, in black and white, that you acknowledge and indeed appreciate the skills you have. For me, this is a combination of:

  • living at 90 miles per hour and not reflecting enough on what I’ve done and
  • achievement blindness, a self-depreciating tendency that rears its head now and again (I’ve perfected this to a fine art: Colleague: ‘I like your skirt’, Me: ‘this old thing? I got it on sale and it’s not even real leather’. Why, oh why, can I not just say thank you and shut up?

Anyway, writing the CV was a bit of an ‘oh yeh’ moment, where  recounted experiences become legitimate touch-points in the journey that is your education/career/life. My teaching background is a mix of academic, corporate and community teaching, each experience providing a new perspective on both teaching and learning.

I’ve delivered intermittent community workshops in art and design for the past fourteen years, working in drawing, printmaking, knit and weave (and to be honest anything else design-y I’m briefed to deliver).  I’ve been artist-in-residence in schools and villages, created a programme of art workshops for babies and toddlers and had a blink and you’d miss it feature on Blue Peter (sadly, never did get a badge). Looking back, the reason I love community workshops so much is the making. Being immersed in a creative environment, absorbed in the practice of making and encouraging other people to become as engaged. It’s this connection with participants, the reciprocal exchange, that I love the most. I become less teacher and more participant.   At the end of a workshop, I’ve usually learned something new myself.

In a traditional teaching context, I’ve delivered at FE and HE level, across NC and Degree courses as well as delivering seminars for new PhD students. My first HE teaching experience was a twenty-hour contract over four weeks; the contact time required for achieving a teaching qualification I did alongside my PhD. The class was first-year textiles, delivered in the same room where I was a first-year design student and by the same tutors. The teaching itself was studio contact rather than the delivery of lectures and my inital  experience was a mix of disbelief and disappointment.

Not with the students. The students I met were enthusiastic, keen, open to feedback and willing to learn. They were great to teach.  But as I rotated around the class, what nurtured my discontent were the students who didn’t turn up. Or worse, those students who turned up without their portfolio of work. Seriously, students turned up to the studio empty-handed.  So frustrating!  Venting to my studio mentor about the indifference and apathy I observed, she reminded me that the students, in their first term of their first year are still adapting to a monumental life-shift. They are typically in their late teens, have moved away from home for the first time, have to learn and demonstrate critical skills of survival (finding food, preparing food, paying bills and finding their own way home from the pub). They’ve left a structured system of education, inherently hierarchical, and have been thrust into a model whereby they themselves are responsible (in the large part) for their own learning. They are just beginning to realise and shape what this means to them, identifying their own interpretations of value in the university experience.  Although annoyed that I got to the end of the contract without ever meeting fifteen of the thirty students I was supposed to be teaching, my eyes were opened to the challenges of re-adjustment experienced by new students, as well as the subsequent impact (and challenges) this has on teaching. And I’m aware that I need to manage my own expectations better when working with new students.

In all honestly, during those few weeks of frustration, I attempted to revisit my own first year of art school. Was I the same distracted, unorganised first-year student?  Tellingly, I could only remember being in the pub….

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