My teaching philosophy is based in both discipline and exploration. Students are encouraged to try new things and push their expectations, but with a sense of purpose, direction and accountability.
As an educator, I try to focus first on the class community, challenging students to make meaningful work and find success beyond school. I promote exploration and experimentation, but I also demand discipline and a hard work ethic, making responsibility and accountability as much of a learned skill as any taught in my class. Technical proficiency and concept are often seen as separate entities, each taught in their own time, but I believe that these must be taught simultaneously, and so even at the earliest stages of technical learning, students are pressed to engage with ideas, stay abreast of current events and seek out subjects that inspire them, all while practicing techniques so that the use of them becomes transparent. For me, it’s not just about creating artists; it’s about creating artists who can be leaders, and to that end, my students emerge from my classes prepared to question meaning, execute with surety, and thanks to a healthy critical dialogue, talk plainly and confidently as contemporary artists about their work and the work of others.
I communicate with my students, and I expect them to communicate with me. Each of them brings new knowledge and varied ways of learning. Some are visual, some aural; some learn through study, others by doing. I create an environment where all of my students can get the information and experience necessary to be successful. Each class begins with a visual and spoken rundown of what will be covered; students are provided handouts and oral descriptions of expectations and projects; lectures and demonstrations are supplemented with readings and workshops; and student needs are taken into account at every step of the art making process. It is important that I provide a room free of confusion and doubt. This frees them to focus not on what must be done, but instead on how to successfully and thoughtfully create the work. Students return that communication through both classroom discussions and project development. I truly believe in lively debates on art, culture, history, literature—anything that will get the mind moving—and all opinions are explored. And at every stage of a project’s development, students talk though ideas with myself and with each other. That kind of in-process feedback is essential.
The final stage of communication development comes in the form of critiques. I consider it crucial that an artist be able to write and speak about his/her work, as well as offer insight and suggestions regarding the work of others. I expect students to talk through their work, even in its developmental stages. Each project has a written component in the form of an artist statement that addresses technical and conceptual choices. When work is presented, students should be able to answer questions on their intentions and influences. It is important that students learn early in their development to discuss their work and field questions from others, resulting in thoughtful artists and more considered work. Whether it is the 30-second elevator speech or the 30-minute presentation, my students will be able to talk about their work clearly and thoughtfully.
While projects provide students with an established framework, they are given free reign to push, challenge and even subvert that framework. Through sketches and planning, they develop a work ethic and discipline, learning to build a blueprint from which the work will grow, but that blueprint is not inerrant, and the “final product” is only the first iteration. Through experimentation and risk—challenging them to cross that line of what they consider “correct” and “incorrect”—they move past that first idea into realms of thinking they hadn’t dared to consider.
Though I deal primarily in digital craft, students are encouraged to bring their personal art-making processes into the classroom. Painting, sculpture, fabrics—all are welcome. We live in an age of multimedia, and the line between disciplines has been grayed into obscurity. Many of my projects demand this cross-discipline exploration with elements of hands-on crafts, scanning, printing, installation, projection and performance.
We live in the age of the Internet, and so I am a staunch supporter of online education. Our students are well-versed in multiple forms of communication—sharing through video, photos, Twitter and Facebook—so they thirst for more ways of learning and engaging. As both a former online student and current online course professor, I have seen how and when eLearning works and ways to improve it. Even during face-to-face, brick-and-mortar courses, I offer students the online experience by incorporating it into the curriculum: writing assignments, research, critiques, portfolio development, helping and advising students through live chat and screen sharing using programs such as Moodle, Blackboard and Angel. The education landscape is growing, and we must learn to grow with it and use the tools they offer.
My career as an educator did not begin at a college or university, but in the U.S. Army. As a unit supervisor, a noncommissioned officer must also conduct training for Soldiers, so whether it’s teaching to serve with distinction or operate a camera in pursuit of self-expression, I take my role as an educator very seriously. And because of that experience, I know first-hand what our veterans can bring to any institution, and I actively encourage and support extending our efforts to bring more veterans to college campuses across the country. And this is no small group. More than 2.5 million veterans served in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the millions more who have served around the world. These men and women of varied socio-economic, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds have already demonstrated a work ethic and motivation few can claim—not to mention a degree of maturity that would elevate any classroom environment—and with real-world experiences and a unique understanding of the times in which we live, any art program would benefit greatly by helping them learn to express themselves.
Finally, my enthusiasm never waivers, and frankly, I believe this to be the most important aspect of my classroom. A desire to teach craft and concept, communicate and connect, mean nothing if an educator becomes apathetic and disinterested. I have a deep and abiding passion for bringing out the very best in my students, and my singular goal is to get them to exceed even their own expectations. I bring that energy into my classroom every day in the hopes that some of it may be imparted to them, even in the smallest ways.