Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Art. Teaching. Nature. Nurture.

Back in the old days, we used to argue, my costume design colleagues and I. Can you teach creativity? Can you teach some one to be artistic? We were learning all sorts of skills in grad school--draping, millinery, drawing, conducting fittings, sweet-talking actors; but it seemed some talents that makes one a Master of Fine Arts were to be picked up by osmosis--taste, a sense of proportion, successful color combining, communicating character through clothing.

Some of us "got it" (or, maybe we already had it) and some of us didn't, but I'm not sure the fault was with our education. Maybe there are some things that can't be taught...

I wonder if this isn't the same thing with teaching, itself. I often think of the teachers that have most inspired me and the qualities they possess--it seems to boil down to their "energy," whatever that is. Are they engaged with their students? In the present moment? Not married to the lesson plan? Can roll with the energy of the room? Passionate? Funny?

Of course you can learn subject matter and classroom management. You can learn how to structure class time and explain the important information. But can you learn how to convey a sense of calm authority and compassion, of dedication and deep interest? Some of it just comes with experience but, I think, some of it is innate. Either you have it or you don't.

Presumably, most people who go into teaching do it because they love it (it certainly can't be for the money). Of course, it's a way to support a more esoteric area of interest--probably the case with a lot of college professors and artists--but, to stick with it, you have to find something compelling about the profession.

So, if some one thinks, "I want to teach," is that enough? Can they really learn to be effective? Affective? To inspire students? To transcend the subject matter? What qualities do you need to truly wear the mantle of "teacher" and can some one else give you that information? Or are you born with it...

I have my opinions, but I'd love to hear yours--all you teachers and students out there.


Bob Weisenberg said...

This happens to be my wife Jane's profession. She develops teachers for a living. She is famous for getting great results with ordinary teachers. Sure, some teachers are born, but those who aren't naturals can be made excellent by training and technique. Jane proves this everyday with her workshops, in-class coaching, and consulting with administrators.

Interestingly enough, teacher often believe this "gotta be born with it" idea when Jane first encounters them. They will say, sure, you're an award winning teacher, but we don't have your natural dynamic personality.

So Jane will take over their unruly class and show them a new technique that works wonders.

Then they say, that technique would never work if we did it because we don't have your personality.

Jane says, just try it.

And it works for them, too, and they become believers in themselves and it reignites their passion for teaching.

(If you are a teacher and want to know more, see Jane's website)

Bob W.

Brenda P. said...

Ah Bob, this is great to hear. I am at the beginning of my next (career) path and am just getting an idea of the "way things are" (or aren't).

I have great hope that a lot of what ails schools these days could be remedied by working closely with in-service teachers, rather than throwing up a bunch of charter schools and letting the public schools flounder. I'm so glad Jane is working on this.

Thanks for letting me know about it.

Carol Horton said...

When I got my Ph.D., I was thoroughly socialized to believe that research and writing were everything, and teaching nothing. But then I got a job at a liberal arts college where teaching was highly valued, with good students and small classes. I found not only that I loved teaching, but that it was something that I could learn to do better and better each semester.

I agree that certain talents are innate, but you learn to be a good teacher by teaching - ideally in an environment where you have engaged students and good external support.

In my experience (and I'd include yoga teaching here as well) you can't decide how much you like teaching or how good you are at it without simply doing it for awhile.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Brenda, let me know if you ever want to explore this further. Since you are local it would be easy for you to see Jane in action. And I can put the two of you in touch if it would be helpful in any way. She loves talking to anyone about how to improve the schools (= improve teachers and principals).

Bob W.

Anonymous said...

"I want to teach" isn't enough, but "I want to help people learn" probably is, and those can be very different things.
-Bob Bobson.

Brenda P. said...

@Carol, I think you're absolutely right. And this is why it's so important that new yoga teachers have opportunities to hone their craft upon graduating (as per the conversation in Toronto).

My first classroom experience was TA-ing Art History, during my second semester as a grad student. I had all kinds of books smarts, but no idea how to lead a roomful of students just 2-3 yr.s younger than me. Somehow, it eventually came together, but I blush at some of my goofy choices...

@Bob B.-What a wonderful clarification. Maybe that's the crux of the whole discussion...more than the innate talent to teach, you need to have the desire to facilitate learning. That's great.

Brian said...

I enjoy the peace of mind yoga brings. My anxiety has calmed drastically after constantly doing yoga.

Anyone else have this experience?

Kulae Yoga Mats