Philosophy of Teaching
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My Philosophy of Teaching:
Philosophies can be slippery things. They can, in the words of one colleague, be “so vague as to be meaningless.” They can strive to encompass all worlds and eventualities. They can be hedged and broadened so artfully that the erstwhile philosopher seems to be omniscient. My teaching philosophy, by contrast, errs on the side of simplicity and rests of three simple bedrock beliefs:
- Start at the beginning (and understand we all have different beginnings)
- Teach by Example
- Cultivate skills, values and characteristics that can be applied throughout ones life (collaboration, honesty, self-confidence, self-esteem).
First Things First.
I have long believed that, as teachers, we must always start at the beginning. As such, I believe that it is critical to take sufficient time and care to build a strong foundation at the introductory level, thereby establishing a base upon which we may develop a richer, more diverse and advanced curriculum for the later part of our students’ academic careers.
This, of course, seems obvious. But, students with an interest in costume design and construction are rare, and they face unique challenges. Unlike students who arrive at the University to pursue courses of study in History, English, Mathematics or the Sciences, costume design students receive little or no training in the subject at the primary or secondary school levels. In spite of their enthusiasm and interest, they often come to the enterprise with little or no training and find themselves quickly overwhelmed by all they need to know. The risk of losing them is high. I have tried to design a curriculum that nurtures and empowers students at the lower level while building a strong and demanding academic program for those who desire more advanced studies. This should also prepare them for future studies on a graduate level. Much of what these students need to learn how to do are very specific skills that are more often associated with old world craftsmanship, than today’s new digital technology.
I have also taken special care to incorporate in my curriculum ways to teach young designers how to communicate by drawing and painting. This a skill many of them have little to no comfort level with at the start of their academic career. It is, however, vital to a designer’s success that they learn how to communicate visually.
In addition to this, designers must communicate through clear verbal presentations, as well as through sketches they have illustrated. Illustration is often the most intimidating part of the young designer’s education and can scare away a beginning level student. Most students assume that drawing is a skill they either have or do not have. When asked on the first day of class “How many of you can draw?” most reply with a definitive “Not me”. They need to be taught that it is as possible for them to learn how to draw as it is to play the piano or learn another language. This theory is one they are often unfamiliar with.
A large part of my job is to assure students that they need to start somewhere and to remind them that it is my job to teach them what they need to know. This heartfelt conviction has evolved and matured largely in response to what has happened to me in my personal life.
I believe that any student who really wants to learn how to draw or paint is 100% capable of learning how to do that. It will be hard, and they will need to practice and work diligently at it, but if they are willing to apply themselves to it then it is a skill that they can learn.
When a student comes into my classroom and says, "I can't draw”. I challenge them with this question: "Do you walk into your calculus class and say, "Sorry, but I can't do calculus?" Of course you don't! Because you expect to learn how to do calculus...it's the same here in my class, only you don't expect to be able to learn to draw".
Throughout their young lives people have told our students that they either have the ability to draw or they don't. I don't accept that as an answer. I believe that, if they come into to my class and they say "I can't draw" and they accept that as a reality, then my hands are tied as their teacher. I ask them to untie my hands by approaching the process differently.
If they come into my classroom and they say "I can draw, but I don't know how to yet.” then together we can open doors that will affect the way they think for the rest of their lives.
I teach them to know the difference between those statements and to believe in the fact that they CAN do it, and I reassure them that it is my job to teach them. It is their job to come with an open mind and be willing to work hard at it.
Teaching by Example
In December of 1996 I received a devastating gift that simultaneously robbed me of something I loved, while giving me an invaluable gift as an educator. I sustained a stroke that affected the right side of my brain, significantly impairing my ability to create spatial relationships and, as a consequence, my ability to draw. I was horrified to realize that during a diagnostic test, when I was asked to draw the face of a clock, and arrange the hands and numbers to represent 2:30. I had great difficulty in accomplishing the task. When I completed the drawing, I looked upon a lopsided shape that drooped to the right. The numbers had shockingly migrated to the lower right hand corner of the clock’s drooping face. In spite of the fact that I could still use my right hand, I had lost the ability to draw with it. I wept openly.
Then I thought, "Okay teacher, teach yourself". And I set to work at doing just that.
I had to completely relearn a critical skill necessary to my role as a teacher of design. By utilizing the same methods I had used for fifteen years in the classroom, I became both teacher and student and was able to work back to and surpass the level of skill I had before my stroke.
I use this experience in the classroom. On the first day of class, I ask students to draw the face of a clock and set the hands to 2:30. When they do this, I then show them where I started, the kind of clock I drew, and share with them my story. I encourage them to believe that, if I could relearn to draw from that place, they can learn how to draw from where they are beginning. And then we start the adventure.
As the students succeed, I see their self-confidence and self-esteem flourish and grow. They begin to realize that the skills they have learned are skills that they can apply to any other course, to any other challenge. They have learned to draw, yes…but they have also learned to believe in themselves, and that is of infinitely more value.
From Classroom to Life
In spite of the fact that I teach Theatrical Costume Design, I believe the skills that I teach are skills for every day life. These skills have as much to do with building self- confidence and self-esteem as they do drawing or painting. Most of the students that I have experienced in our culture walk into my classroom convinced that they absolutely cannot draw. They believe that there are some students that "have talent" or "the gift", and that the majority of others simply do not. I believe that most of them have been taught this by teachers who in turn have been taught this by their teachers.
I believe that this is, in fact, not true. While I do believe that there are students who draw with greater ease than others, I believe that that sense of ease comes from the fact that they have been doing it longer and with more familial support. Given the right environment, I believe that if a student is deeply committed to the process of drawing, they will in fact learn to draw as well as a student that they believe has “the gift.”
I am passionate about teaching because I believe that through education people begin to understand themselves and each other better. It is only through understanding i.e., truly putting ourselves in each other's position, that we, as human beings, begin to communicate with one another in ways that allow each other to be the best we can be.
I believe that when people are educated they have a greater understanding of each other 's point of view, and when we learn to understand not so much what someone wants, but why they want it, then we begin to have a richer understanding of that individual. That understanding gives us a new paradigm, i.e., a new way of looking at the situation. This allows us to see differing opinions not as a threat, but as a departure point for discussions that will lead not to win/loose confrontations, but to win/win solutions with mutual growth and satisfaction for both parties involved.
I want to teach because, when I am in the classroom and I can see that a student of mine suddenly understands something they were previously unaware of, there is no greater joy for me than seeing them grow into a greater perception of the world around them. When I see the light of understanding in their eyes I know I've gotten through, and, while there is immense satisfaction in seeing that occur, there is even more satisfaction in seeing what a student does with that knowledge when they leave the classroom