Friday, November 03, 2006

Good teaching is apocalyptic talking.
-Edward Dahlberg, 9-2-64


I never wanted to see myself as some sort of agent of an ersatz Cultural Revolution. Then again, the above quote is one from a "disappointment artist", as author Jonathan Lethem calls Dahlberg. Reading Lethem's essay on Dahlberg, by way of his aunt's experience of Dahlberg as a (non) teacher, I am reminded of one of the teacher stories that went around at my art school. The storied instructor seemed to take such nasty glee in belittling the work of others, going so far as to destroy a student's work to prove a point. It wasn't unusual for him to walk up to work he thought was crap and take a lighter to it as it hung on the wall for critical perusal. Once the initial shock wore off, the students began to vie for whose work could be the worst just to provoke a reaction - since everyone passed the man's courses anyway, why not have some fun?
Let him rip some stuff off the wall and stomp on it; nothing like good entertainment, right?

Then again, I have to wonder if the kindergarten-first grade art group I began teaching last week falls into the category of those students. Or if I'm just green as green can be in the kid discipline department. Well, I know the latter wondering is true. But in a class of ten kids, how do you handle three to four problem ones without shortchanging the rest who are doing well?

First off, I didn't understand the discipline system that was set up at the school where I teach twice a week. The second mistake I made was leaving the classroom door open - for both my older class (second-third graders) and my younger one. The open door was especially detrimental to my authority as teacher (or, as Edie says, as alpha dog), since it unfortunately established to the homeroom teachers of the younger group that things were not as they should be. Major strikes against me in the eyes of these teachers.

I'm starting to get het up as I write this. I feel like such a failure.

The older group likes the marionette project I am giving them, and they are really getting into it, despite some snarky comments from one kid or another. The younger group was doing well with the papier-mache hand puppets we were making, but then I gave then a tracing and coloring project (based on this man's illustration of Robinson the Cat. Check out the gallery of prints on the site for the Robinson book cover.) to do in big sections when they were done with the primary major task at hand (which was, at the time, the puppets), and all hell broke loose. One kid would act up and need to be settled down, then another would start up. It was like trying to put out brush fires with a thimblefull of water and my feet. And I know the art period is the one time when the homeroom teachers can get an hour's break, and I let them down.

I know one kid is really, consistently trouble, but I felt like I there had been a minor breakthrough with him yesterday, because he was all ready to blow off the tracing project, until he looked around at some of what the other kids were doing with theirs and decided to retrace it better than he had done. I let him know I was very proud of him when he retraced it (and did very well), but then he got distracted again and sucked in to his antics a little girl who had been doing her work well before then. Off he went to his homeroom class.

I need to lay down the law somehow and combine it with projects that are interesting enough to hold these kids' interest and what is proving to be a very short attention span, but I worry about stomping on them too much, too. The previous art teacher would give all the kids, older and younger groups, short, easy projects and then let them play on computers, play board games, mess around with stuffed animals, or do puzzles until class was over. Am I wrong in thinking this is art class and that they are there for instruction? Or is an hour really too long?

I can't help but think that they can make it through most of the day in a classroom on a regular basis - why should one more hour be a big problem? Hence, the problem must be me.

Ouch, again.

I want to teach these kids how great art is, especially, in the early stages, the process of it. The older kids are at the dawn of getting it through some of the projects I've been doing with them. I think some of them were definitely ready for a full hour of art. The younger ones probably need more of an indoctrination...the Jonathan Edwards-ish "fire and brimstone" way. Which probably means the equivalent of chaining them to their seats and sitting on them to really finish something - and then letting them go a little.

I really hate certain aspects of this job. But I guess it'll have to be done somehow or else I'll be hounded out on my rear by the teachers of the younger group. And it'll have to be done deftly or else I'll be hounded out by the parents of the younger group. Oh, joy.

And now, the apocalypse...

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