As an artist, an educator, and someone who cares deeply about the value of an education in the arts, I consistently push myself to become better at pushing the students to become better. In my program, I push my students to not only become better at making their work; I expect them to become better at identifying and pursuing the things that drive them to make that work.
I’ve learned many things about teaching, but one of the most important is that the students are all different. They are driven by different means and to different ends; therefore, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach that will match every student’s needs. An approach for one student may not work for another – even an approach that may work for a student at a beginning level might not work for that same student as he or she matures. In light of this, I strive to learn a range of different pedagogical methods and work to better understand the needs of the students so that I may employ different methods at different times.
Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have access to great teachers and it is through them that I have found guidance in developing my teaching philosophy. The best teachers had at least one thing in common; they always gave students the opportunity and support to reach out and try and accomplish a new goal or achieve something beyond their comfort level. Because of this, I learned one of the most important aspects of successful teaching: of utmost importance in the creative environment is the question. This understanding has led me to realize some of the principles that guide my teaching philosophy: students need to ask questions they are passionate about, they need support and confidence in their pursuit of those questions, and they need a creative environment that fosters a balance approach to learning the skills and concepts needed to search for the answers to their questions.
One of the most important aspects of my classes is that I foster a creative atmosphere where the student is taught the ability to ask questions foremost then given the encouragement to strive to find the answers. Through critiques, we often spend more time investigating the question rather than talking about the answer. This encourages students to further their search and work to push themselves. In order to encourage the drive of my students, I use a number of different approaches, most importantly I always set high expectations on their self direction and self discovery. Consequently, I find that my students emulate my high expectations; the students therefore set high standards for themselves and their peers.
Another principle that structures my teaching philosophy is to always inspire confidence in my students that they are truly free to express themselves through their work. I do this by giving them the guarantee that in my courses, they will always have the opportunity to express themselves and have their ideas heard and respected by everyone within the class. Most students are then grateful to be in a class where the supportive environment allows every student the opportunity to have their ideas heard equally.
Leading by example is paramount to my philosophy and critical to my role as the leader of a class or a program. As I often tell my students, “We are all here together.” This not only means we are all using the same studio and therefore must respect the working environment of it, but also that we are all asking questions and striving for the answers, including myself as an artist and as well as the professor. This helps foster an atmosphere of mutual sharing and development as the students are teaching me as well. I ultimately want the students to feel they are a part of something beyond themselves. When I tell them that this is “our” studio they feel included in a greater cause and therefore respect the group environment of a collective studio.
Technical skill must always be the balancing factor to conceptual knowledge. Without technological knowledge, the student faces barriers to truly be able to execute their ideas. My teaching method is to embed the instruction of the skills they need within an evolving contextual framework. For example, my course assignments are always based in concept. Technique and skills are then taught concurrently, and it is part of the student’s responsibility to employ the techniques that best suit their work. With this method, the students learn the skills they need while at the same time pursuing the answers to the questions they have asked. I have found this helps sustain the excitement the students have with their work while teaching them the fundamental techniques they need to know in order to successfully complete a technical foundation in ceramics.
I work to bring my professional experiences into the classroom, not just as theory, but as the practical knowledge and skills gained through mentorship and professional practice. Having a strong base of knowledge and experiences are a good starting point for my philosophy of teaching, however I feel that a willingness to be flexible and let my philosophy evolve is important. I consider my personal and professional growth to be rooted in explorations into new developments in the field, a continual participation within the art community, and actively exhibiting current artwork. Collaborations with other professors and students combined with a general openness to new ideas and concepts fuels my excitement about the medium and inspires me to give these new ideas back to my students. With this evolving knowledge base I can therefore assure my students they are receiving the best possible education I can offer.