The following is an interview we conducted with an art teacher at school. The first part of this post is notes from the interview. The second part is our thoughts and reflections on the interview.
Tell me about your experiences in school as a student
- Good, enjoyed school
- Excelled in art and music, enjoyed English
- Other subjects were fine, implied that they were just “there”
- Mentioned he usually had a C average in science classes since 7th grade.
- We asked “Is that a result of the system?” He said that he was really interested in science (especially now), so why did he usually have a C average? Why was science “just there” in school?
- Reminds us of take aways from Tornambe/Behl interview
- Being human implies being a learner
- Good student and good learner are two different things
- Situation was complex
- Mentioned his father was a chemist, science was his thing.
- Wishes he payed more attention in science so he could have shared that with his father.
- Can you only be so good at something you’re not deeply passionate about? Hmmm…a slightly scary thought. Why is this scary? Perhaps because it makes me feel like I could be limited in my learning despite my best efforts.
- Subjects that you’re not so interested in – are they connectors between other passions?
Negative Experiences as a student?
- Yeah, but now that I look back on it, it seems trivial.
- Used words “monotony” and “structure” when referring to what was negative for him in school.
- We were surprised – little unenjoyable experiences can build up
- Later we all talked about how those little things really are important
- Seemed like a realization or breakthrough for him – day in and day out, monotony and structure (or being in an environment that makes you feel unengaged, underconfident, uncomfortable, etc. can really hurt in the long run
- Referred to some of the “trivial” stuff as “I wish I didn’t have to go to English/Math/etc. at this time..”
- Overall, said he had a really good experience in school. Experience was positive.
- Discussed transforming at some point from being kind of indifferent about school to really enjoying school. We asked “What was the catalyst for that transition?”
- He thinks it was when education became more personal to him. There was this one time in ninth grade where he drew a pastel drawing of his family dog. “It was a good drawing. It looked like the dog. But it wasn’t a masterpiece.” His family loved it, his teacher loved it, everyone thought it was great. First time he felt like “wow, I can do this. Maybe I can do this. I really enjoy this.” After this he kept taking art classes.
- This seemed to be a spark, something that made him love school more.
How did you decide to become a teacher?
- If asked what he wanted to do in college – “I just wanna do art”
- He said discovering his passion for art was “the time I found ot what made the time on this Earth worth living”. He said he wanted to offer this same moment to students. He wants to help students find what makes life on this earth worth living for them. He said “When I found out what made me happiest, teaching was a tool to experience that feeling again, but to also inspire something or to inspire someone else to find out what that something is”.
- Majored in art with a focus on painting
- His mom started to become worried about his financial future (as all parents do)
- He was also working at a facility for elderly people at the time.
- Enjoyed it, was told he was good at interacting with residents
- Mom suggested combining the two – maybe art therapy
- Mom suggested “well you also like kids” – was told he was great with interacting with elderly and children
- Art Teacher!
- Then went to college to become a teacher.
- While in college, began to think, “Man, I really don’t think I want to be a teacher”
- He said there were so many hoops to jump through to becoming a teacher.
- At end of college, he was placed in a classroom to help art students. Thought “Oh my god, I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
- Just being in the classroom with kids, talking with them, being in the room is his favorite thing. Makes him feel spoiled as a teacher and simply as a person who has a job
- So many hoops to become a teacher, so much stuff he didn’t enjoy, made him think he didn’t want to be a teacher!
Why were your favorite teachers your favorite teachers?
- “They were human.”
- “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that teachers own jeans and don’t live here”
- Striking, we talked about that as a takeaway from Behl/Tornambe interview
- Teachers are response to system, students are response to teachers
- Teaching is often about efficiency rather than effectiveness. Why?
- Sometimes he feels stressed and bothered by everything being taught for “the test”.
- “Will this be on the test?”, “How can I can an ‘A’ for this?”
- Sometimes his class is deemed unimportant because it is not tested, nor does it include many paper and pencil tests – frustrating
Tell me about your first day of teaching
- During summer before, had 16 interviews
- “Each one, I had to wear a suit, and it was terrible.” “It was really hot.”
- Every interview he felt unprepared, even though he was prepared. Would stutter.
- At the end of his portfolio (which we imagine was different and quite large as it contained artwork in the back), it was just his artwork. Usually when the interviewer would turn to that part of the portfolio, they would say “Oh. Why don’t you just do this? This is beautiful.” He kept saying his response was “corny”. He said that he would always reply “Maybe 20 people would see it in the gallery when it opened, maybe 20 people would come throughout the month, maybe 20 people in total would stop and really look at it. In a month, that’s 40 (a little more or less) people. But when teaching, he has 150 or more students whose lives he gets to impact everyday. This is much more meaningful for him. His art teacher at PV inspired him to pursue art, he wanted to do the same.
- Got job at middle school teaching art
- Got job as office assistant
- Didn’t really have responsibilities
- Would go into office help out with anything that needed assistance, would cover classes that needed to be covered.
- First Job teaching art – first day
- Teacher at an elementary school became sick
- Applied for job – “you’re hired. You start tomorrow.” – they needed someone to fill position
- “Whoah!” All of a sudden in teaching position
- Teaching K-6
- Very, very nervous
- That morning got in a car accident
- Brain fried, emotions frazzled
- 24 years old
- Previous teacher said “do whatever you want, but write it down so I know what you did”
- Had a lot of free reign
- Cool, but scary
- Felt like it was a little awkward
- Felt like it required him to be a little bit of a father but felt like it was not something he was ready to do yet – still young himself
- Was nervous at first, but when he actually got in and was talking with them, he realized that they were six, they saw him as a teacher, viewed him as someone to respect – wasn’t something to super freak out about
Later when he moved up to middle school, felt more comfortable teaching
- Doesn’t have very clear memories of his experiences in middle school art classes
- Did a couple of projects, one was an Eiffel Tower made from something unusual – cans?
- Knows they did other things, but nothing really sticks out
- Teacher wasn’t super inspiring
- He became that person – in sense that he was now a middle school art teacher
- How do you become the profession of the same person who made you feel like maybe you wouldn’t want to do that job?
How have your teaching methods evolved over the years?
- Wants to reach people
- Overall, they haven’t really changed that much
- Wants people to see the world in a different way, wants people to use their art to get other people to see the world in a different way
- He’s had people tell him pretty much word for word that he did that for them
- Pretty cool
- Does change in little ways
- Fine tuning
- You need to be getting better every year
- If you’re not, you’re probably not a good teacher
- Always will think he’s better now than in the past
- At core wants to inspire, give courage, refine
- Wants to inspire, give courage – show someone they have a voice, that they can share it
What is your favorite part of your day?
- Getting to see people get it
- So many things you can do with instructions, physical examples, but when you watch someone get, when they know how it’s done, or a step that makes it easier, he just gets super outwardly excited about that – gets really vocal – he described how he feels when he’s excited – (eyes wide, hands open, jumps up and down slightly, YEEEESSSSS!!)
- Emphasized that he just really loves being in the room with kids, that’s what he loves to do, developing relationships with people
What is your least favorite part of your day?
- Anything outside of being in the classroom with students
- Like Mrs. Behl said, all the extra stuff
- Things not related to the joy of the job
- Talked about administration
- Looked hesitant
- Can we stop this for a moment?
- Going off record
- Constantly being told “no” – “just no”
- Said he understands though
- He’s sure someone above the no sayer said no too
- Have to obey
- Need to control the masses
- Side note: if the masses are always controlled, innovation never happens because risks are never taken
Do you feel like you get to spend most of your day doing your favorite part of your day?
- By far, because it’s being in the classroom
- Get to give advice, work with people, gets to do it all day long
What has held you in this profession?
- For the last five years every summer he feels like maybe he won’t come back
- Sometimes he feels like he’s tried his hardest to make things work and be a good teacher
- At one point felt like his job was “to inspire, to give courage, and to refine”
- Sometimes feels like “wow, I tried my hardest and it still didn’t work”
- “If I tried my hardest and it still isn’t working, maybe I shouldn’t do it”
- All of the extra stuff that gets in the way of the favorite parts gets in the way sometimes – it’s tiring over time
- What holds him in the profession though is those small moments – almost an inverse to the previous question
- Small moments
- Watching someone “get it”
- Watching someone go from foundations to AP art and all of the incredible stuff they do over those 4 years
- Having someone go and tell him “no, you can’t leave” – explaining what he did for them. He showed them how to see the world differently
- He gets teary eyed thinking about it
- Mr. Tornambe comment – one good comment outweighs the bad – so sweet and so energizing
- Started out saying – “this is not really a big reason but…”
- Always has to be “Mr. ” outside of the school in the sense that he must always be careful of what he’s doing and if it is okay to be doing in case a student’s sees him in public
- Must always be a role model
- Sometimes feels like he can’t always just be himself without being slightly cautious
- Not really a problem for him, but it is something
Have your reasons for wanting to be a teacher changed over the years?
- He says something he’s gotten really good at over the years, especially recently, is having the ability to give off the cuff advice. It’s almost second nature, muscle memory in figuring out how to respond to problems people have during a project.
This next part might be part of “What is your least favorite part of your day?”
- Talked about testing
- Had a friend who put something on Facebook about how kids are always trained to jump through hoops in school – tests, grades, etc.
- Kids ask “is this on the test?” they ask because we program them that way.
- Sometimes feels like his class is considered unimportant because it’s not tested by the state – very frustrating
- Goes along with him saying that he sometimes doesn’t want to come back. Dealing with the same problems with the same administration, with the same colleagues, in the same building every year can be disheartening. Feels like he is ineffective, pushing against a wall, not helping anyone.
When do you feel most effective?
- Feels most effective when up and walking around and developing relationships with people
- When developing relationship with people
Despite public education having an environment of testing and efficiency, etc., how do you specifically get kids to take a step back and truly enjoy their learning? Not just be efficient?
- A lot of our (Cali and Mary) high school experience has been learning how to fit within the system, play the game, etc.
- He said he focuses on the process. Instead of focusing on testing, etc. , he focuses on process. Between first day and the test, you can do whatever you want to do. Makes it about discovery. Really encourages students to have courage and take the risk to make personal discoveries, it can create or encourage curiosity in students.
- This makes students more relaxed, focused more on learning and allowing it to be messy rather than focusing on the grade.
Talked about how to enjoy (or at least be more comfortable with) failure
- Developing trust with students – huge
- Need trust to spark interest, developing a human relationship
- Even if it’s just coming into class and if he’s able to make them laugh or compliments their shoes, students might think “Okay, this Libby guy, he’s kinda cool. He seems pretty chill. Maybe I can learn something from him” (At this point he put two fingers up and then wrapped them around each other) He said maybe students will feel like they have something to hold onto once they feel like they can trust the teacher. Basing relationship off of real life things – not just content/curriculum. Essentially, students trust teacher more when they demonstrate their humanity.
- Feel more connected to the material and learning it when it feels meaningful and relevant. Feels more meaningful and relevant when teacher demonstrates their humanity, excitement for subject, etc.
- Why are subjects treated like they’re only relevant to the just the classroom they are in?
- You are the same person when you leave school too.
How do you spark curiosity in class?
- Sometimes difficult to make still lifes exciting or personal to students
- If he can push a person forward in their abilities while working on a still life, then that, in a way makes it personal
- Kind of like when he drew the portrait of his dog
- That was hugely important and exciting – a break through
- Felt like his abilities were pushed forward
- Became personally important
- At one point he picked up a painting by a student
- It was a painting of pancakes and strawberries with syrup running down the pancakes onto the plate
- It was beautiful and so realistic
- He hasn’t told her how amazing it is – one way he pushes students forward is by not telling them how amazing it is – maybe if she was told, she would stop trying. You want reassurance that what you’re doing is done well and you’re doing it right. But if you are reassured to much, might get stuck where you are.
- Tries to contain his enthusiasm in that regard so that people continue to stretch themselves
- Mentioned that going into highschool, you feel pressure of what you are going to do, pressure to categorize yourself instead of exploring. This can inhibit curiosity.
When do you feel like you are being least effective?
- Sometimes you feel like you have off days
- Said he tries really, really hard to not allow any problems he might have outside of the classroom affect what kind of day or experience he is creating for his students in the classroom.
- Days when students are working on still lifes. They come in and are working and there is not much interaction. Occasionally he’ll be working on something and he won’t get up from his desk. He said those are by far the worst days, the days he feels like he is least effective. When he is not up and around and giving advice. He feels like he is not being helpful.
What do you believe your responsibilities are as a teacher?
- 1. Inspire, 2. Give courage, 3. To refine
- He said that he never consciously thought about his responsibilities being these things, but they seemed to continually come up during the interview in different ways
- Unconsciously, these were his responsibilities.
- Always been there, now second nature.
- Have had others tell him he’s a “good teacher” but doesn’t always feel like that
- Feels like in the past two years, especially, he feels like he has grown a lot and gotten a lot better
- Feels like he’s always growing
- Looks back on himself and thinks – ughh, what was I doing, have improved/changed so much since then
Reflections on the Interview
- This teacher said that his overall experience in school was positive. He did mention that he had small, daily experiences that weren’t always positive, but he seemed to discount these small, unenjoyable experiences as “trivial” and seemed a little embarrassed bringing them up because they were such small, everyday experiences. He gave examples such as not wanting to go to a certain class (“Ughhh, I don’t want to go to math…”) or feeling bored doing certain homework assignments. But these small experiences are important. Having negative experiences that might seem trivial – whether its not enjoying going to a class at a certain time, doing a certain activity or homework assignment, etc., can add up and make school feel monotonous or unenjoyable. What if many of those monotonous experiences were replaced with something that sparked a student’s curiosity or introduced them to something new or interesting, even if it was just a new way of learning vocabulary? What would school be like? How would students change as learners?
- He mentioned that he usually had a C average in science classes since 7th grade. He said that he is really curious about science now, but that he became less intrigued or invested in it in 7th grade. We asked him if he thinks this happened in him as a response to the system, or how he was being taught. Considering this , he thinks he became less interested in science because he did not excel in it and learning it in school sometimes extinguished his curiosity for it and his confidence in learning it. He mentioned that his father was a chemist and how he wishes he could have been more interested in science so that he could have shared this passion with his father.
- He said that for him, besides English, Art, and Music, other subjects were just “there”. We’ve experienced this before. Sometimes it can be so difficult to make yourself excited about a subject that doesn’t naturally spark your curiosity. How can curiosity be sparked to make school more than just “there”, but rather an engaging, effective, creative, and curious environment where students feel comfortable pushing themselves to take risks and explore new things, even if it means failure along the way? It can be scary trying something new if you might be punished with a grade if it does not go as planned. How can we change this culture/environment?
- He also discussed transitioning at some point in high school from being more passive and less interested in school to becoming excited by school, or at least by certain subjects. We asked him what he thought the catalyst for this transition was. He shared an experience about when he drew a pastel portrait of his family’s dog in ninth grade. He said “It was a good drawing. It looked like the dog. But it wasn’t a masterpiece.” He explained that his family loved it, his teacher loved it, and that it was really well received by everyone who saw it. He said this made him realize for the first time that maybe he could do what he loved (create art), for a living. This was a revelatory experience because it gave his life and school experience more meaning.
- He mentioned that when he went to college to become a teacher, he began to think that maybe he didn’t want to become a teacher. He said that although he loved art and working with children, “there were so many hoops” he needed to jump through in order to become a teacher. This seemed to bog him down so much that he started to think that he really didn’t want to teach. This all changed when he actually got into a classroom and was able to interact with students. This was surprising. It’s interesting to hear that the steps to becoming a teacher are so boring/frustrating/stressful for some that it might actually discourage a great teacher from becoming a teacher…
- This teacher said that “sometimes it can be easy to forget that teachers wear jeans and don’t live here”. This again touches on the pattern of favorite teachers being human. This statement about forgetting that teachers are human implies that school is an unengaging/weird place that students associate with having to do schoolwork that seems pointless while working under the direction of teachers who live to assign pointless schoolwork (sounds robotic and like a nightmare). Our kindred spirit Anya Smith has blogged about learner centered education in which students and teachers are all learners rather than labeled as “teachers” and “students”. In an educational environment, everyone is learning. Besides the truth of everyone being a “learner” in an educational environment, the exclusive roles of “student” and “teacher” are not forced upon learners. While of course students are still taught and guided by teachers, the term learners acknowledges that all are learning and that learning is not something that just takes place in school. All are learners because all are human and curious.
- We’ve discussed education and our own experiences in school with this teacher a lot throughout our years in high school. He’s often expressed frustration over education often being focused on testing and how teaching for a test trains students to be more focused on achieving high grades on tests at the sacrifice of truly learning and growing in school. It bothers him when students ask “Will this be on the test?”. Having students ask him this makes him feel like students are not truly learning and school is training students to not truly learn. In this interview, this teacher also expressed frustration over how he occasionally feels like his subject (art) is treated as a less important class because it is not taught with a standardized test and is an elective class.
- This reminds me of a really great twitter account I recently stumbled upon. The account is supposed to be tweets by Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer tweets about a myriad of topics usually consisting of beautiful words of wisdom and encouragement and pop culture references. Chaucer tweeted this earlier this month:
I love this tweet. Chaucer always tweets such truth. Anything that brings joy is sustenance. Reflecting on our first teacher interview with Mr. Heidt, we discussed how humans are naturally curious. While school was used for many years to teach people for civic and economic purposes, these purposes alone are not applicable for 21st century learners. As joy is the foundation of learning, things that bring joy (like art) should be valued because they push humans. They make humans explore, change, and grow. If schools do value elective courses (such as art and music classes) less than subjects that are tested with standardized testing, then they are not making choices that are always in the best interest of the growth and learning of their students. I can see this profound growth and change in myself and others. The elective independent study courses we’ve taken this year have been the most fulfilling and some of the most difficult classes we’ve taken. We’ve perhaps grown more in these classes than any other classes we’ve taken in school. I see it when I read blog posts written by students in Mr. Heidt’s classes.
I recently read a blog post reflecting on poetry written by one of Mr. Heidt’s students. Mr. Heidt does a unit on romantic poetry and the concept of Carpe Diem in his tenth grade classes. During this unit, he shows the movie Dead Poets Society to his students. In this student’s reflection on her blog, she says she hated poetry before the unit. She always felt like it was broken down in school and dissected before her eyes, never giving her a chance to appreciate it. But after appreciating poetry in this unit and watching students appreciate poetry in Dead Poets Society, particularly the scene where Mr. Keating says “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion”, she says this on her blog: “By this proclamation Keating taught me that poetry is humanity; it is the essence of being alive. It is love, heartbreak, the passing of time, war, peace, freedom, and humor. Poetry is when a fellow member of the human race pours out a part of their soul, a part of their humanity, in order to further explain the human experience to the rest of us”.
Wow. Have you ever seen a more dramatic and profound example of change and growth in a learner? Giving students the opportunity to dive into a subject and explore (rather than be forced to prepare for standardized exams) and then synthesize their thoughts and feelings in their own creations (such as a blog post) creates an environment where true growth and learning can occur.
Chaucer is right. Poetry, art, music, all of these things are not ornamental – they are sustenance and necessary for life filled with joy and growth. Rather than encouraging regurgitation of information on exams because it is deemed more important than art, for example, schools should allow students to explore and seize this sustenance. Play and exploration should be encouraged because all learners are naturally curious and naturally makers.
- He said his teaching methods haven’t evolved or changed all that much over the years, but that he is always fine tuning his teaching every year. He said he feels like he wouldn’t be a good teacher if he wasn’t changing at all because that would mean he wasn’t learning.
- He mentioned that this also involves him being a practicing artist because he needs to learn from his own work in order to teach and help students master their craft. He said he feels like you shouldn’t trust the advice of an art teacher who’s not a practicing artist because they will continue to do the same work and give the same advice over and over again because they haven’t grown personally.
- This teacher said he feels that something that inhibits him is being told no by administration. Whenever he wants to start a new project and needs permission from administration, he sometimes feels limited. However, he did remark that if he was able to always do what he wanted to do with his classes, school administration would need to allow all other teachers to pursue whatever they would like to pursue. In a way, saying no is a way to control the masses and keep everyone at least content to a certain extent. Although administration may have a difficult job in trying to meet the needs and desires of all teachers, if risks are never taken and teachers are never allowed to pursue those new projects and ideas, innovation never can occur.
- When asked about what held this teacher in his profession, he said that in recent years he was questioning whether he wanted to leave his profession. He said every summer he begins to feel tempted to leave and try something else. The biggest cause of these feelings come from feelings of failure. He said sometimes he feels like he tries so hard, but his visions for what he wants to do don’t work out. After years of experiencing this (at least occasionally) it wears on him. It makes him question whether he really is in the right place and doing what he should be doing. But, he said small, good moments keep him here. Moments where he gets to watch learners “get it”. Small breakthroughs in learning, positive interactions, the incredible growth students go through over time. These things make him feel alive and keep him in his job.
- This teacher says he feels most effective as a teacher when he can walk around while students are working on their art and is able to help students and push them forward by commenting and providing advice for their work. This allows him to push students and help them grow. It also puts him in a position as a learner too. He’s learning right along side his students and helping them grow alongside him.
- When we asked him how he tries to provoke and encourage curiosity in school despite obstacles to curiosity, he said that he tries to focus on the process of learning rather than the end goal of taking tests. He acknowledges that the learning process is messy and makes it about discovery. He encourages students to take risks and have the courage to make their own discoveries. This creates an environment where students feel like they have a space to try new things, fail, and grow. Learning happens when students have an environment where they can make these discoveries and have someone to guide them.
- The last question we always ask – “What do you believe your responsibilities are as a teacher?” – seems to always give the interviewee the opportunity to concisely state what they explained in their interview. Many seem to use it as an opportunity to explain what they try to do as teachers, what they have been doing, what they want to do, and what they think education should be like. It’s essentially like a mini review of their interview. This teacher said that he feels like he has three main responsibilities as a teacher: 1) Inspire 2) Give courage 3) To refine. He said that he realized during this interview that these three responsibilities are what is most important to him as a teacher. He wants to inspire students to create and grow in their work. He wants to give them courage to take risks, try new things and try and make their own discoveries. And finally, he wants to help refine their skills as artists by encourage them, giving advice, and guiding them in their discoveries. These responsibilities and goals teach students beyond curriculum. They make students grow as people. They also model the type of learning that he wants his students to be experiencing. When he can inspire his students to create art and have the courage to try new things and create new work, he models the learning that he wants his students to use. While inspiring and giving his students courage in their work and in life, he is also able to help students grow and refine their work by guiding them in their learning journey along the way. We thought this was a great way to concisely state what he does and what he aspires to do as a teacher. We encourage other educators to put into words concisely what they believe their responsibilities are as a teacher too! Please tweet us or leave a comment on what you believe your responsibilities are as a teacher. It’s like a mini interview in a tweet or a comment!
If you would like to view/purchase any of the artwork in this blogpost, you can find it here: http://www.robertlibbyart.com