Wednesday, January 3, 2018

that new semester smell

"spring 2018"

That's what the little blue folder says on my computer.  It's a very exciting folder.

I taught my first university level class 15.5 years ago.  The class was "3D Design 1" and was an intro class to three dimensional materials and composition.  I was teaching adjunct at Winthrop University and finishing up my final year of grad school.  Oh man, that class was so much teach.  I know it was not fun to take, but I really loved teaching it.  

I remember how totally clueless I felt preparing for the class.  I took advice from anyone who would give it.  I thought a lot about my most influential professors and even a couple of teachers from high school and how they made an impact on me.  I tried to sift through and figure out what had made them stand out.  Each one had a different style and a different personality.  Mr. Smith taught me to love poetry in 12th grade English class with a wry sense of humor.  Mr. Martyka taught me the power of fear and craftsmanship.  Shaun taught me the importance of a well timed, very loud scolding.  (He also taught me the importance of taking chances and having fun in the studio)  And Tom...I never even had Tom as a professor in a class but he was on my graduate committee and he showed me how to have true passion for what you do and how to be gut wrenchingly honest in your work.  

I started with those bits and pieces and over the course of a few years, I sewed together my very own approach to teaching.  I watched other young teachers try to be their mentors.  Some tried so hard to teach in a personality that was not their own.  I always thought that was kind of comical.  But from them I learned that while it was important to use the things I'd learned from other teachers, I had to be myself in the classroom.  Students can see through insincerity.  

A decade and a half later, I'm looking at this blue folder on my computer.  I started full time at Lander University 7.5 years ago and once each year I still get to teach that same 3D Design class.  I still love teaching it and I still get excited about the start of a new semester.  The "spring 2018" folder has a couple of upper level sculpture classes in it and it has 3 sections of 3D Design.  One of the joys of my job here is that I get to meet incoming freshmen in their first year with us in 3D Design.  I get all of them and then I get to teach all of them again in Sculpture 1.  Many of them come back for more sculpture classes and I get to teach those too.  I get to watch every student progress from year 1 to year 4.  It's pretty awesome.  

I love teaching.  I've written here in the past explaining how I see the act of teaching as very closely related to showing love.  A good teacher gives pieces of himself or herself to each of their students.  It's not just information we share.  Google can give you that.  We share experience, passion, expertise and we model the behavior of a researcher, a person not afraid to keep asking questions.  We even demonstrate what questions to ask.  

There are students who are not at all interested in receiving teaching.  They only want information.  They want their degree that they insist they're paying good money to get.  These are the ones not interested in asking questions.  At least not the questions that matter.  These students frustrate a good teacher and perhaps over the years provide opportunity for a good teacher to become calloused.  

But those other students.
It's the other students who keep me excited.  The ones who came in cynical and disinterested and you get to watch them change and become curious.  The ones who understand that they are in college to learn and they take advice and instruction and they succeed.  The ones who leave the 3 hour studio class and walk over to you and quietly say "thank you".  Even the ones who resisted every step of the way and you feel like you mentally wrestled with them for 4 long years and a couple of years after graduation they send you a note of appreciation.  Those are the students that give the energy back to you.  They accept what you pour out and their excitement and joy and success pours back into you.  And they cancel out all the bad ones.  

On Monday a whole new group of freshmen will enter my classroom.  They will laugh, cry and suffer together through a serious of dastardly projects designed to test their will as well as their ability.  Some will hate me.  Some will tolerate me.  Some will laugh with me.  It's going to be so much fun.  Years from now they'll still be talking about the plaster project or the paper project.  They'll tell their kids about it.  

Sometimes Sandy and I will see an old, grumpy professor from a different department and we'll comment on how we hope we never get to a point where we are that unhappy teaching.  I'm getting old and we all know she's way older than me, but I hope I never stop being excited about the start of the new semester.  

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