As an individual, I find myself thinking about and trying to define my identity quite often. Psychology has always held an interest for me, and I’ve used my studies in this field to help better understand myself, my work as an artist, and the world around me. Upon entering the field of education, even only as a student, I’ve noticed a substantial struggle within myself. One not exclusively marked, but certainly highly influenced, by my struggle to obtain a comfortable sense of identity.
As a teacher, I load a tremendous amount of responsibility on my shoulders to do and be the absolutely best I can for my students. Our program at FSU emphasizes the value of a meaningful arts education program. For us, it isn’t enough to simply regurgitate lessons that emphasize art history or the elements and principles of design. Rather, we ask what we truly want our students to learn and take away from our instruction, knowing that the vast majority of our students won’t go on to be artists.
What does this look like? For many of us, myself included, our curriculum is centered around big ideas; concepts we want our students to understand. These concepts are furthered and fulfilled through an art making practice, with the student at the heart guiding the process, making key decisions, and ultimately creating an original work they can take creative ownership of.
Needless to say, this isn’t an easy curriculum to design or lead. Unlike the Discipline-Based Art Education of the past (DBAE), which focused on art history, art criticism, art studio practice, and aesthetic appreciation as the main modes of instruction (Greer, 1984), a rather cookie-cutter technique that made art curriculum almost formulaic, this big-idea curriculum model involves a massive amount of creative thinking, problem-solving, and time on the part of the art teacher.
Now that I’ve bored you with the logistics… why on earth am I going through all pedagogy mumbo jumbo on a blog ? Well… we had a reading this week by Hatfield, Montana, and Deffenbaugh (2006) that got me thinking. I have been struggling, significantly… honestly more than I’d comfortably care to admit, with (for the sake of clarity of thought) let’s call it my teaching identity. I’ve wanted to teach for years now, I’ve worked my (insert preferable adjective here) off for around six years now trying to get to this point: graduation. All with the intent of having a classroom of my own and inspiring generations to come. Well, it’s almost here, only three short months away, and frankly… I’m not really ok.
As I’ve said, I’ve been struggling. So much so that I find myself questioning quite frequently why I’m doing this. I don’t feel like I’m going to be “good enough,” I feel as though my students deserve better, or that I ultimately won’t find happiness in this career. As candid as all this sounds over text, this is something I’ve had an incredibly difficult time coming to terms with, and it’s resulted in quite a few anxious, sleepless nights.
Teaching. Is. Not. Easy.
If you’ve never been in the field before, I want you to forget everything you think you know about what it is teachers do or experience. We cry, a lot. We are exhausted…. yet we persevere. We keep coming back. Why?
Because at the end of the day it’s the only thing that truly fulfills us.
I hate, quite thoroughly, how difficult this entire process has been for me. I hate how much I doubt myself and how often I constantly question the decisions I’ve been making. But every single time I walk into a classroom, every single time I think about the lessons I want to do with my kids, the things we’ll be able to explore together, I have to recognize somewhere in myself that this is why I do it. I have come to the verge of giving up and walking away so many times, but I’m still here. I’m still going to walk across that stage on May fourth (May the fourth be with you…) with some of the most talented and inspiring young women I have had the privilege of working with these past two years, with the support of a faculty I can’t even begin to imagine trying to struggle through all of this without… and we will make history.
If I am confident in one thing, it is in our belief structures and missions for our classrooms. In reading Hatfield, Montana, and Deffenbaugh this past week, I had to step back for a moment and admit that much of this struggle I’ve been facing is self-imposed. I isolate and I hold myself back because it’s easier than admitting that something’s wrong. It’s easier than admitting that I don’t know all the answers and that I’m afraid. However, there’s freedom in letting that go. And this extends to the classroom as well. I’m going to be incredibly new at this when I enter my classroom next year and my students will see it all over my acne ridden face. As a human being I have the right to look at my students and admit, “Hey guys, I thought this was a great idea, but clearly this isn’t working. What can we do to fix it?” I can admit that I don’t know everything and that I too mess up. I too learn through failure… and we can learn, even through my failures, together.
As scared as I may be, I do feel prepared. I know I have many mentors and peers who stand behind me and with me and are there if I need them. All it takes is admitting, even if only to yourself, that you need help… and there’s no shame in that. Teaching, for me, is about formulating a community; we don’t exist in a vacuum. If I’m going to make a difference, if I’m going to be a cog in the great machine that changes our world, I have to be willing to acknowledge that I can’t do it alone. So to all of you reading this from the sidelines, with the utmost sincerity… thank you.
Greer, W.D. (1984). Discipline-based art education: Approaching art as a subject of study. Studies in Arts Education, 25(4), 212-18. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1320414
Hatfield, C., Montana, V., and Deffenbaugh, C. (2006). Artist/Art Educator: Making Sense of Identity Issues. Art Education, 59(3), 42-47. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27696146