(Another plate caught and laid down gently on the table, another set gently turning)
When things were stressful and unacknowledged and unappreciated, I stamped my feet, said I wasn’t going to teach again, because I was an artist now. Sod bloody teaching, sod bloody school! It was an accidental career (that I stuck with for 25 years?) anyway! Teaching was a cruel bastard. I wanted nothing to do with it.
(This blog contains the commentary in the demise of my school based teaching career at the beginning of 2014…. If you are interested, and can bear it.)
But I acknowledge now, all by myself, that I have probably always been a teacher, and always will. And here’s why… I shall attempt to explain, as it is good for me. Self-knowledge and all that:
This week has been exhausting, even though for quite a lot of it I’ve been sat in a chair.
For the last academic year I have led the Artist Teacher Scheme to cover maternity leave. (For the next academic year I have the good fortune to continue) I had done the occasional guest spot in previous years, since being a student on it myself. As a student I found it brain changing… Leading me to completely change my life. On paper, or screen this course looks like a small thing. It isn’t. It can be, depending on the student, life changing.
So having done it myself I have been evangelical about this course that sits meekly and mostly unnoticed on the BCU website.
It has an unusual structure in that the first stage intense four day summer school overlaps with the previous cohort’s final intense exhibition installation week. The students just starting see where they are headed, while the students just finishing are reminded of their start.
My job is to get them from one end to the other. We have no real criteria or measurement of success. These are decided by the artists/students themselves. What I do is plan activities and encounters with people and materials and experiences that prompt thought. If we have selected the right students, the rest is up to them. They don’t really know what they want, they are generally dissatisfied, so are searching, open… Those are our only entry criteria. No qualifications required…. Just that they have/want/need an arts practice and that they have/want/need some sort of education setting in which they work.
Among a beleaguered arts education system, this unassuming one year part time course is a beacon of hope. It has the power to be transformative, and I get to watch.
Watching people potentially change their lives is a heady thing. I have been given gifts, hugs, kisses and thanks for being a teacher, but I find it hard to pin down what it is that I have done, other than observe a set of circumstances that I have had a hand in arranging. It is gradual, cumulative, personal growth that I bear witness to, empathise with, comfort, encourage, and occasionally poke with a stick or feed with something new if it gets stuck.
I get paid to do this! Proper serious money. But it is also paid in such a feeling of privilege, I can’t tell you how proud I am of these people that undergo such phenomenal personal change. It’s emotional.
My art concerns the effect one person can have on another. How can I deny teaching? These students affect me as much as the experiences affect them. I walked up the stairs at the New Art Gallery Walsall, pushed open the door to the gallery corridor on the first floor and a wave of that admiration and pride hit me…. Look at what they had done! The work is stunning visually, and deeply personal. They gave birth to it, were terrified by it, and did it anyway. The exhibition shows pieces of individual strength but also holds together as a good group show does.
I think I probably do give a lot of myself to these students, but this year, this year that I have felt they were all mine, I have been given so much in return.
I no longer deny the teacher. Art and teaching are like moons and planets held in orbit around each other. They both communicate, they both love, they both give, they both look to each other, they are both at their best when they look from the internal to the external and loop constantly between…
I now see this small island of teaching throughout my year as a part of my art practice. It reminds me of why I’m here, why I do what I do. It reminds me that human interaction is everything. My meaning of life.
Thank you Karen, Melanie, Chris, Lisa and Lucie… And not just for the flowers…