| MY RELUCTANT LOVE OF TEACHING |
Last week, Tuesday 8th May was Teacher Appreciation Day 2018. Social media was flooded with gift ideas for favorite school teachers, inspirational memes and even a few company ads exploiting every opportunity possible.
My first reaction was one of contempt; there seems to be a special day for everything now and what it really boils down to is a sales opportunity for gifts, cards, and impulsive spending. Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about how I became a teacher; something if I’m honest I’d never really stopped and pondered about.
Ironically, I always vowed I would never teach…. being an astronaut or a horse whisperer seemed far more interesting. After all, why would I want to teach when l had seen first-hand through my own Mum the stress and personal sacrifices that are involved; not to mention the hard work and emotional investment. So apart from growing just short of the height restriction to be an astronaut, what happened…?
I silently struggled at school, socially and intellectually I muddled through counting down the minutes until the end of the day… I was an undiagnosed dyslexic and dyscalculia (until uni), self-conscious, and didn’t feel that I had any direction. The cool kid’s life, with good science and math grades, was but a far-off dream.
There was, however, a turning point. In secondary school, I found Art and English Literature. As my interest in the subjects grew, so did my confidence. I started to actually enjoy learning for a few hours each week. Weekends and school holidays were filled with playing around with my dad’s camera at the stables (much to his dismay!), painting or drawing and writing stories about horses. The seed was slowing growing.
By college, I found Fine Art, Psychology, and Photography. I still struggled, but I had a passion, a small but strong interest that left me lapping up every piece of information I could get. I started to gain a sense of purpose and personal identity through my work.
The Good and The Bad
Looking back at my educational experience, it’s pretty clear that it’s not just about the subject. You can love a subject, but have that love tainted by the person teaching or associated with it. I think everybody has experienced positive, aversive and even negative teaching. For me, it was a maths teacher who repeatedly asked the same multiplication questions, with the punishment of detention for an incorrect response. He never changed his approach, nor questioned his own teaching. How was I going to learn through punishment in that way? How was that going to build my confidence to keep trying or inspire me to learn? The fact is it wasn’t and the result was a lifetime of self-doubt and negative association towards the subject.
However, it wasn’t all bad. Mr. B, for example, was awesome in his ability to focus your attention on your strengths – in my case my ability to write quickly and effectively, as opposed to my weaknesses in spelling and nerves when presenting to a class. Instead of focussing on what I struggled with, he built my confidence in the areas where I excelled, so that I was able to persevere with the areas that challenged me. He was flexible in his teaching and believed that no two students need the same formula.
We’ve all heard the phrase before “I’m not in it for the money.” The fact is, yes I get paid to teach. But I don’t teach to get paid. No amount of money could have equated to the level of sacrifice my Mum gave to her students over the years. But it’s only since I’ve started teaching myself, that I can appreciate she never did it for the money. She did it because she had to. Because it was her calling, and the immeasurable rewards that she reaped from the relationships and joy through her students made it all worthwhile.
When somebody says to me that they aren’t talented enough, or that they want to give up in their pursuit of photography, it always brings me back to the feeling I experienced with maths. The self-doubt and confusion that bled into my personal life, ruined my self-esteem and affected every area of my being was all consuming, all because I was focusing on my weaknesses and not my strengths. I can’t help but want to give that person time and encouragement. To help them grow as others helped me.
How Do I Teach?
My philosophy and vision are based on my passion for helping people identify and nurture their creative authenticity. We preach about how we are unique in our physical features, our needs, and personal preferences. Yet we forget this when it comes to creativity, and instead, we suffocate our inner artist with rules and negativity. I believe that helping others find their own style and purpose helps relieve competition in the marketplace.
Using a combination of hands-on practical lessons, theory-based discussion, proactive consideration of recent research and viewpoints and creative problem solving I share knowledge, build new skills and expand ambition. I’m not interested in churning out replicas of myself or selling a formula, because what works for me may not suit the purpose that somebody is aiming for. Instead, I want to help people uncover their unique purpose and therefore provide them with the tools to get them there.
I work to three main principles: to inspire, to empower, and to encourage. These are at the core of everything I believe in and whilst they began with my teaching, they have become implemented in every part of my life.
I don’t believe that to be called a teacher means that you are better than your students. You may have more experience you may have more knowledge. Whilst these elements are necessary I don’t personally believe that that is the most important part of teaching.
I’m no better than my students, we can all learn from each others’ strengths and weaknesses. But my passion and enthusiasm for this subject and positive approach is hopefully infectious.
I provide tools to each individual, I don’t provide rules to create the perfect photograph. Art is personal and I’m constantly encouraging my students to have a voice and opinion. I want my students to draw from their own personalities and experiences to use their creativity as a way of communicating to the world something that makes them unique.
I give support, constructive criticism, empathy and patience. As much as you need, for as long as you need. Teaching for me is the start of a relationship, not a limited experience.
During my presentations, I use three exemplary Albert Einstein quotes (because, if you’re going to quote anyone, Einstein may as well be your source!). These quotes stuck with me because they encapsulate exactly what I want to impart as a teacher:
I believe that everybody already has the tools to create amazing art, we all have experiences, emotions, and opinions. With these three tools, the creative conversation is colorful and ever-changing.
I want to give through my teaching in the same way as Mr. B., my mum and so many others gave me opportunities, experiences and life lessons that have stayed with me. Even when you’re teaching the most mundane topic, there is the opportunity for value and self-improvement.
I can set out the basics of photography, I can teach someone the numbers, the names and the definitions. But without confidence, passion and a perseverance, the learning will become stagnant. If you can find your own inner ability and nurture it, you will become an unstoppable vessel for creative influence and hopefully, one day inspire somebody else to change their own life through creativity.
So what has teaching taught me?
Being a teacher has not been without its challenges, but I’ve learned that those challenges are also the joys of the subject itself. Problem-solving, creativity, communication skills, imagination, relationships. Teaching is one of the most incredible things to do in your life, to be able to open up an opportunity to somebody, to help them realize their own potential – it’s not only empowering but incredibly humbling. Every new person I get to know and work with teaches me something, sometimes about myself, sometimes about life, sometimes about art.
So for every good teacher out there, I say thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made, for the time and the energy that you’ve given and for the lessons you’ve taught. Without the Mr. B’s in the world, there wouldn’t be teachers. And thank you to the students who inspire teachers, myself included, to constantly strive to be the best they can be, give as much as they can and help as many as possible.
Turns out going into space wasn’t the most exciting thing after all….!