There has been a good discussion of the good qualities and dispositions that predict a successful art teacher? This would be a good research project for a graduate student in art education.
What would happen if we would first try to identify the qualities of failed or failing art teachers (as terrible as this sounds)? What would we learn?
These kind of studies have been done in medicine with very insightful results. They zero in on what doctors do wrong, how they deal with what they do wrong, their wrong attitudes, and their wrong insights into their roles as doctors.
You can google "Physical Genius" by Malcolm Gladwell. In this article he describes what was done to decide which doctors would fail to make good brain surgeons (for admission to the specialty). They found that they could boil it down to one question in an interview. "What mistakes have you made?" Those who said, "I have had some bad outcomes, but I have not made mistakes." were the failures who had lower skills and many malpractice claims. Those who said they had made many mistakes turned out to be the best candidates. They were the ones who continue to learn and improve. After each surgery, those who know they make mistakes (the highly skilled and successful brain surgeons) replay in their mind what just happened during the surgery. They realize their mistakes, so they go directly to the lab and practice to avoid repeating the same mistakes. They use rat brains to practice. Those who do not bother to mentally take responsibility will never make the effort to do ext
ra practice to improve their skills and avoid repeated mistakes. They never achieve the intuitive physical genius level of a good surgeon. They are failures.
As art teachers, how often do we replay the day or the assignment with the healthy objective of changing something about our approach to fine tune or reverse it to make it better? How do we make notes of our ideas for improvements or alternative methods to use the next day or the next time we use the assignment? How often do we take a video of our teaching to see what we look like to our students? In our art training we all learned to fine tune or even reverse the course of our painting, and other artwork. How well have we learned to do this with our teaching?
In another study, (recently reported on NPR) it was found that doctors in general who take two minutes more than average to talk to and listen carefully to their patients had many fewer malpractice claims. Even when they made mistakes they did not get sued. Patients do not sue a doctor that they like. Those that did not listen had many more malpractice claims against them.
As art teachers, how often do we make a judgment before we have heard the student's intentions and frame of reference for the work. If I could take back any moments from my teaching, it would be the moments when I said something about a student work before I had tried to find out where the student was coming from.
Here are three art teachers I have known that were failures, each for a different reason.
Reason 1: BAD PERSONALITY. The teacher was good at explaining art and had good learning assignments and projects that were based on good art concepts, but his personality was nasty and abrasive. Children did not like him. Many children were afraid of him. The children from his school avoided taking more art when it was an elective in high school, while the children from other art teachers in the same city took lots of art courses in high school. He had tenure, so the school system tried him at several different levels, but nothing worked. After 15 or 20 years of being hated, he found another job.
Reason 2: NO CONTROL, ORGANIZATION, OR ACCOUNTABILITY. This was a high school art teacher that collected a group of poorly motivated students who took the class as an easy credit. Good students avoided her classes because the free and easy unstructured atmosphere in the class was not conducive to learning anything. I do not know if she was a good artist. She stopped teaching after a few years.
Reason 3: INARTICULATE EXPERT SYNDROM. This teacher was a good artist. He had good intentions, good goals, but his assignments were too vague and for level and sophistication level of most of his students. He wanted creative self-initiated ideas, so he did not wish to show examples; but he did not provide enough and skills practice prior to asking for an end product. He did not lead them through any structured methods of developing their own concepts and ideas. He did not have a strong vocabulary to articulate the approaches he wanted used. Moat students felt lost, however a few students did very well. He lost his teaching job after two years and worked in another art related job.
Other reasons for bad art teaching:
I could list several other bad art teacher types. Some of them are terrible in what they do to children and their minds, but kids like them and some parents like them. They like their jobs. They have the impression that they are good art teachers. They happily teach until retirement.
Who are the art teacher failures you know, and why do they fail? Can they change, or are they predestined to be bad? What are some careers they should have prepared for?
Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171