Questions for Educators

I’ve been teaching studio and academic classes for more than seven years now, and I am occasionally asked to write a Teaching Philosophy to explain my thoughts on this work. In my hands, this is often a stiff, miserable document that combines labored self-consciousness of the artist statement with the unctuous professionalism of the cover letter. Those who’ve worked with me know that my teaching philosophy is working in every decision I make. My colleagues have heard me passionately intone Gandhi, Paulo Freire, or Joseph Beuys over questions as simple as, “Do you need a classroom with desks or tables?” My students are compelled to engage in an open dialogue on the nature of justice whenever they ask to submit late work. (If we’re not here to perfect our characters, what’s the point of deadlines?)
Heads will ROLL, people.

photo by Zahra Amiribadi

I’ve had a few opportunities to study from, and work beside truly gifted educators; they are rare. My experiences with them and my time with students have taught me to ask myself the following questions:
  • What if we resolutely loved and respected our students?
  • What if we continually invested trust and autonomy in our students?
  • What if all our efforts were design experiments?
  • What if learning was valued over assessment?
  • What if authority was derived from leadership?
  • What if students and schools were unable to have interests in conflict?
  • What questions are we failing to ask?
This list is probably incomplete and not carefully ordered. You may also notice that is has nothing to do with painting or with art history- or the professional practices of curriculum planning, sequencing, and classroom management. (Any professional can manage these things with enough guidance.)  I feel these questions demand creativity, careful thought, and complete sincerity. I feel they are the reason I still find teaching meaningful in a climate of degradation. I am enormously grateful to the educators who have taught me these things, the students who indulge my experiments, and all the students who suffered through my clumsy, early days in the classroom.
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  1. Pingback: Four Ugly Words I’ve Learned While Teaching | RYAN FINNERTY

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