Saturday Teacher Feature: Katherine

Today I am bringing back the much-neglected Saturday Teacher Feature for a most worthy candidate: Katherine, a close friend of the family and a second mother to me for much of my childhood.  She is an art teacher.  Not the type who wears gaudy floor-length necklaces and gesticulates vaguely while describing obscure concepts.  Not this type, either.  Just an amazingly creative and dynamic woman whose accomplishments speak for themselves.

What do you teach, and how long have you been teaching it?

Currently, I’m the director of Art Education at the university, which means I only teach a few classes.  I have two undergraduate methods classes and a graduate class called Art Forms, which integrates music, theater, dance and visual arts with academics.  I also volunteer at an inner-city school program, teaching art to middle schoolers.

[Editor’s Note: “Miss K” also taught a variety of art techniques to her Sunday School and Bible School classes.  I remember lots of wearable art – tie-dying, of course, but also a really lovely technique involving oil-based dyes that we used to marbleize scarves.  She always tied this in with a Scripture verse or concept we’d been learning about in school, so it was relevant as well as fun!]

Who or what inspired you to teach?

I’ve always loved children. Even when I was a little kid, I liked littler kids, and I still prefer young people to my own age group.  I find them refreshing.  The great thing about children is that they’re sponges.  They absorb everything.  Adult learners aren’t good sponges; they just want to share everything they know.  I would prefer someone who would listen to everything *I* know and repeat it back to me.

What's the toughest thing about teaching?

When you have a discipline problem, a student who honestly doesn’t care – who has become hardened to adults or to respecting others.  That’s very difficult; having one really difficult student can ruin an entire teaching experience.  It just discourages the whole rest of the class.  The kids who want to learn became afraid of the negative force.

When do you have the most fun while teaching?

When there’s the element of “Wow!” or the element of surprise in a lesson – an experience where the kids can’t figure out how you did that, or you have something new to give them.  Even better is when a student will “Wow!” you with a response to something you’ve taught.  I also love when a student will come and share something meaningful and personal to them.  It shows me that they trust me, and that’s when I know it’s all worth it.  I’m benefiting from the experience as much as they are.

What one thing do you try to teach all of your students -- the one thing that would enable you to say, "I was a good teacher"?

Respect.  I work with inner-city children, and I start by saying, “I have great respect for you, and I’m going to show respect for you: when you’re talking to me, when you’re doing your artwork.  In return, my expectation is that you’re going to show respect for me.”  I think if you establish that at the beginning of class – that you’ll respect each other no matter what, even if you disagree – you’ll really be able to learn.  Sometimes I’ll have to stop the class and say, “I can see that we’ve got some people who aren’t remembering to respect one another, so I think we’ll just have to put away the materials and sit here.  I’m sorry.”

Another important thing is resilience – to keep going back, no matter what, keep at it – and this applies to everything in life, not just art.

Any final thoughts?

I want my students to think deeply and be intentional about their artwork, so it has true meaning for them.  Usually artwork does have meaning, which is what I love about it.  It’s like an elegant problem that has more than one correct answer – in math or grammar, there may be a “right” answer, but in art, you can give a problem or question and have a multitude of correct answers.