Giving Your Students an Appreciation of the Arts
When you set out to become a teacher, it isn’t always enough just to teach a rote set of knowledge. You want to give your students an appreciation for each knowledge area so they not only know things and how to do things, they also understand the history behind the knowledge they have and have an ability to appreciate the nuances of what they have learned. There may be no area of learning that this concept applies to more than art.
By art, we mean the arts which may include music, vocal interpretation, creative writing, and the visual arts. Now in many schools, art programs have gone by the wayside due to budget cuts. This is even more of a reason that if you want to learn to teach the arts to your students, you should come to the task with enthusiasm and some creative thinking so you can take advantage of this time when you can offer lessons in artistic development and appreciation.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of offering art classes as part of the curriculum at the school where you teach is to get kids who may not think they have artistic talent to take the course. In most cases, art classes are not required but you still want to be able to touch as much as the student body as possible with an appreciation of the arts and give everyone a chance to take a stab at making a bit of art themselves.
Much of the work that will go into letting kids know its ok to take art even if they do not feel they have artistic talent comes from the attitude of the teacher. Too often art teachers send the message that they expect every student to show noticeable artistic talent and that their grade may depend on their ability to produce art that can be judged as “good” by the teacher.
This creates huge stress in the students because nobody can just “become artistic.” And sending that message defeats the purpose of offering a program in the arts to the students at your school in the first place. But if you can encourage a spirit of play and exploration so that even students with no artistic talent at all are willing to take the class just to “give it a try”, learning how art is made by making some of their own will be an enriching experience that may instill a love of art in the student that could last a lifetime.
In the movie The Music Man, the professor got two tone-deaf children to sing “I love music mommy” as part of his effort to bring band music to a small town in Iowa. The pride those children and their parents showed more than offset that the song they offered to their portents was pretty unrecognizable as real music. But that scene is instructive in what you want to achieve in your students by giving them a chance to learn to create art with no regard for their talent one way or another. And don’t be surprised if a student takes home a perfectly hideous artwork with pride and that piece of art becoming a precious heirloom for that family not because it is good art but because it is an expression of artistic feeling from a child who wanted to try something new and did it.
Along with giving our students the basic instructions in how to create works of art, don’t miss out on the opportunity to give them a basic education in art history and art appreciation. This may be the greatest gift your art classes can give a child. If they come from your class with an awareness of why Michelangelo is one of the greatest artists of all time, that is a part of our cultural knowledge that will demonstrate that this child has been given a broad and well-rounded education.
Teaching art and art approbation can be one of the most fulfilling forms of teaching that you can offer to the next generation. Not only will the children have a lot of fun discovering the artists inside them, but you will also have a great time showing that side to them as well. And all of that fun will make them better people which, after all, is the goal of being an educator in the first place.
Talking to Students or talking AT them.
There is a phenomenon that all public speakers encounter when they are addressing a crowd that if you thought about it very much, it would get to you. It is a phenomenon that any teacher who is trying to impart knowledge to a room full of students will experience as well. And if you think about it very much, it will get to you too. That phenomenon happens when you are talking along and you look out at those blank faces staring up at you and you realize that a few, some, or maybe all of those minds behind those faces are paying absolutely no attention to you at all.
Whether or not that drives you crazy depends on whether you consider the act of teaching completely when you speak or when the student grasps and understands what you are saying. Very often when you see a teacher speaking you know that this teacher has absolutely no concern for whether the students are getting it or not. They do not consider it their job to make sure the students understand or interact with the material. They are a delivery vehicle and if they enunciate the lecture successfully, they have successfully “taught”.
But just saying words into the air whether or not they are heard or understood really isn’t teaching, is it? Put it in the context of a chef. If you cook a wonderful meal that is delicious, prepare it with the finest of materials and present it with the perfect ambiance, is it still a delightful meal if there is nobody at the table to appreciate it and nobody eats the meal? No, you are only a chef when the patron dines on your food and appreciates every nuance of the flavor and the experience of enjoying what you have done.
That distinction is what drives teachers crazy when they feel students are not listening. To a teacher who has a passion for the real act of teaching, their job is not done until the students grasp the material and interact with it, question it and finally grasp it and make that knowledge their own. A lecture not heard, not understood, not “taught” is not teaching at all, it’s just talking.
Preparing to become a teacher is about more than just knowing how to design a lesson plan and how to organize a classroom and make a bulletin board. Becoming a teacher means you become one of those amazing people who can take students from uninformed to informed and from unenlightened to truly “taught””. When it is your calling to become that kind of teacher to just talk at students with no knowledge of whether they know what you are saying at all is absolutely unacceptable.
This means that you will have to change your teaching style. It means that you won’t be satisfied with just working through a lecture. In fact, it might spell the end of the lecture as a teaching device for you entirely. To really find out if those kids are listening and interacting with the material, you will have to change your approach to an interactive teaching style. You will have to start talking to students or with students and not AT them. But once you do that, the feedback you will get and the quality of your teaching will improve so dramatically, you will never want to go back.
Going to Bat for Your Students
When you set out to become a teacher, you set out to do more than just learn the skill of presenting information to a group of students. A teacher is much more than just someone who hands out information and then gives tests and grades. When you become a teacher, you become an entirely different kind of person. Becoming a teacher changes you or rather it allows that inner teacher to come to dominance and become what you were put here to be in the first place.
So just as being a teacher is a state of mind, teaching is about more than just giving lectures. One of the joys of teaching is the strong bond you develop with your students. When you take a small group of students through an entire school year of material, you become a partner with them for their success. You become a confidant, a protector, and a friend of the students and their families. This is a trusted place in the heart of your students and one that is not given lightly so cherish it and protect it at all costs.
One way that this bond is expressed is in how you will go to bat for a student if the need arises. That is because you can see beyond the outside view of what a kid is. You may have children in your class that has tattoos, earrings, wear gang colors, or demonstrate violent behavior outside of class. But to you, that is a child who deserves to be loved, taught, and cared for. It is not uncommon for this unique bond between teacher and student to turn a kid around and see him turn away from socially undesirable behavior and begin a long slow growth toward a productive lifestyle he learned from you, his teacher.
Going to bat for your student means that when you know a child is gifted, you use your influence with the administration to get that child the special educational opportunities that will develop that blessing in that child. If the gift is not in the area of broad educational excellence but in a specialized skill like music, art, or athletics, you go to bat for that child to get him or her an audition with the coach over that area of school life. Because of the bond, you share with your students, you at first be the only one to be able to see that talent in that child. But when you get her the specialized training she needs and that talent blossoms into a wonderful skill that can bless others and the child’s life as well, you will have given her a gift for life.
Going to bat for your students also means not throwing any children away. When young people are put into your care, that is a serious commitment that you are making to those children. There is not one single child in your care of lesser value than the others. So one way you demonstrate your commitment to being a teacher to every child is when one of your students gets in trouble you go to him or her and find a way to save that child’s educational career.
The last thing you want to see is a child expelled and sent out into the world with the stigma of “not good enough” for school. You have it in your power to get that child into alternative schools, to get him or her tutoring until this rough patch passes, or to get him or she moved into a home school situation so the many years of education for that youngster are not lost over a difficult time in the life of the child.
The place you are granted in the life of your students is one of trust and caring that is a privileged one indeed. Be sure you protect and cherish that gift by going to bat for your students when they need you there. And who knows, down the road, your students may come back and go to bat for you in some way when you really need them too.