Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Art of Teaching Art

In my previous life, I was a teacher, probably not surprisingly, an art teacher. Let me tell you, you don't want to be unprepared in a middle school art room. The kids are all hopped up on hormones and there are sharp implements all over the place that can easily be weaponized. My kids were pretty good though, so when my friend Crystal, who worked in the office, offered to come to my classroom to teach my students how to make flowers out of tissue paper, I happily agreed. It was one of my favorite art projects when I was a kid, and it was marginally easy, so I was pretty sure my students would enjoy the project.

I got ready for Crystal’s lesson by preparing cut squares of tissue. I set my student aides to organizing the cut squares in 30 sets of complimenting colors (oh, how I miss having student aides- the closest I come now is having a husband who will go get me a soda or fetch the mail out of the mail box). I set up each “kit” of papers with pipe cleaners so that they could secure the center of their flowers and had them set out on the desks before the period started. My main mistake was that I failed to properly prepare Crystal.

The students were excited coming into the class. I told them we would have a guest so they were on their best behavior while still being 6th graders. I introduced Crystal and asked them all to pay attention while she showed them what to do.

I’d like you to imagine stepping in front of a group of 11 year old kids and then magically pulling a giant paper flower out of midair and telling them “Ok, so… do that!”

As my students sat staring at her like she was out of her mind, she turned to me with a slightly wild-eyed look and whispered behind her hand, “Is there …something wrong with them?”

Trying very hard not to laugh like a maniac, I let her know that there was not a single thing wrong with them, they just seemed to have missed a few of the steps that she performed. Perhaps all of them. Some of them were slightly aware that her flower was made of the same things they had in front of them.

After that, we walked slowly through the directions again, with no magical flower appearances, asking for volunteers for each step, modeling each fold, asking them to recall what came next. And finally, going slowly and stopping for questions, everyone ended up with a tissue flower of their own. Or six, because once they got it, it was almost impossible to get them to stop. It was like the Rose Bowl Parade up in there.

I loved teaching, but throwing Crystal into the lion’s den,  I remembered that it really is something you have to learn to do. It is not magic. No matter how good you are at your subject, it usually isn't a born talent. Teaching is a process that takes patience and education, and quite often, a good sense of humor.

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