Shortly after I started working at the Community Center, it was suggested that I’d be a good one, because of my art background, to spearhead some art offerings there. It’s true, I have a Master of Fine Arts degree, and have been working as an artist for most of my life. This is something I should have no trouble with. I agreed, and accepted the challenge.
I plotted out a few classes, and dove in. Some have been very successful. We had a good group for “Simple Prints and Card-Making.” Many enthusiastic participants of all ages showed up for “Rock Painting.” “Paper-Making” went over very well. The guest artists that I brought in were always welcome, and a breath of fresh air. It didn’t take long, however, for me to feel that I was in over my head. There is something about the teaching of art that stymies me.
I’ve always loved the idea of being an instructor. Good teachers have been wonderful life-changing influences in my life, all through my life. Sister Marietta was my fourth grade teacher at Bishop Kelley School; she influenced my whole life with her kindness and enthusiasm. I gave my oldest daughter the name Jennifer Marietta, in honor of this dear Sister. Miss Timponi taught 12th grade English; she encouraged my love of reading, and opened my eyes to a world of good books. I had several marvelous and memorable college professors, and I was fortunate enough, as an adult, to observe both Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh excelling at their jobs in their respective classrooms here on Beaver Island. These are the types of inspiring teachers I aspire to be like.
I like to think I could become good at teaching. I did, after all, become an outstanding waitress, though everyone familiar with my clumsiness and timidity (including me!) would have never believed it was possible. I became an excellent and knowledgeable hardware store employee, though I knew little about tools and fasteners until I started working there. And, in both of these occupations, I’ve been in the position of training others various aspects of the job, so I know I’m capable of teaching. I know that I can eventually excel at anything I devote myself to.
There’s something different about the teaching of art, though, from giving lessons in how to take an order, or cut a piece of glass. I suppose the same issues come up when instructing in any creative pursuit. Each person has their own style. I don’t want to get in the way of individuality, while teaching skills. I struggle with breaking down the elements and conveying the means, without eliminating the fun. In fact, the joy of art-making is the most difficult thing to convey. My “teaching style” is a jumbled list of directions: do this…but don’t try to do it just like me; work at it…but don’t forget to enjoy yourself; try hard…but be spontaneous. I have never felt completely comfortable with this style of instruction, and don’t feel that I’m terribly successful at it…but it’s all I’ve got. Surprisingly, folks continue coming. So, I soldier on.