Philosophy of an Art Teacher
By Mesilla Camille Smith
The pursuit of happiness is something all people, I imagine, would like to achieve, especially in the United States. My teaching philosophy reflects almost entirely on this matter. I value all human beings’ rights and believe the most important of those is the pursuit of happiness amongst a democratic society. As a professional artist in the education setting, I want to encompass many various academic subjects in my visual arts class to incorporate constructivist instruction. Constructivist methods allow my students to learn from their experiences. My practice is holistic and pragmatic in providing an outlet of expression for my students. While promoting creative expression and teaching technical skill, I hope to build a strong and reliable curriculum with my students’ needs in mind that will make a lasting impression within my school.
My beliefs and methods are influenced by John Dewey in regards to a democratic education and by the pragmatic care theorists like that of Nel Noddings. A Democratic education and care theory enables students to become active citizens in their communities and learn established social values. Students can be taught by example by creating an atmosphere that makes them feel cared for, in turn promoting caring interactions with others. Communication, curiosity, and creative expression are all important tools that students use to learn about themselves and others. Mutual respect, honesty, justice, and nonviolence can be instilled by giving students the knowledge and freedom required to make interpretations about their experiences with art. A democratic education allows educators to observe a students natural tendencies, which can then be nurtured by giving insight and resources on topics they want to explore. My students will be encouraged to use this freedom in all individual or group projects to provide the practice they need to succeed in a democratic society.
In teaching the visual arts to students, I will support and encourage the students’ potential for reaching their goals of what they truly desire to be. This doesn’t mean they will become successful fine artists in the modern Art World. Becoming a fine artist is not the big picture here; it is all the other factors that come into play in living an independent life in the midst of the community in which one is a member. It’s about my students gaining insight on their true self during a very important period of their development throughout adolescence. At this time, they express themselves more, become more independent, and build a unique identity amongst their peers. I have many goals and I will achieve them one by one in various ways throughout my career as a professional teaching artist.
There are several elements that I will always grant top priority in my teaching practice to achieve my goals. First and foremost, a safe and supporting learning environment must always take precedence over other priorities or concerns. I will have classroom guidelines - not rules - that will support what my students need to feel comfortable in their experiences in my classroom. The classroom will be harmonious, comfortable, clean, and safe, with stimulating and inspiring artwork all around the room, as well as a variety of plants, materials, colors, sounds, textures, objects, and lighting. My personal aesthetic includes that of natural textures, like pine wood, terra cotta, or cotton, which I plan to include in our classroom. Students will be expected to contribute in keeping the classroom and workspaces clean and organized at the end of every class session. The way I learned technical skills like caring for brushes and safely using materials were learned by the strong habits my instructors practiced. It wasn’t until college that I was exposed to the proper ways to take care of our workspaces and tools to prolong their use.
When I was a young student, many classroom desks were dirty and not cleaned often enough. I always somehow got paint on my clothing, from a previous student not cleaning up after themself. In providing this kind of learning environment, I hope they will gain a respect of one another’s workspace, learn how to keep tools clean, practice safe use of tools, help each other in tasks, and gain organization and time management skills. All of this combined with other elements, like providing encouragement and support to my students, will help build self esteem and create an overall safe and supportive environment they can always rely on.
In order to support this inclusive environment among my students, mutual respect of one another’s differences will be guided and encouraged. If a student is acting unreasonable, I will take action in response to ensure that all other students are safe. Bullying or discrimination will not go unnoticed and will not be tolerated in my classroom or in my school. Teaching respect is extremely important and I don’t think many students really gain any insight to this issue as they should, even though there are a multitude of ways all educators could reinforce it. For example, restrictions on the use of personal devices or the internet, cause social media to be neglected and ignored. When in fact, incorporating social media in activities will help them learn from their experiences using it properly outside the classroom. The Media Education Foundation is a resource I plan to help me guide my students' awareness about media they are exposed to. My communication and transparency with my students will prevent negative experiences from the get-go. I will never turn a blind eye to what my students may or may not be doing and I will take disciplinary action in circumstances within reason and only as needed. Even in disciplinary matters, positive reinforcement will always take priority over punishment.
Additional priorities within my classroom include teaching methods derived from a constructivist and democratic education that support and cater to individual needs, as well as the classroom community as a whole. I will provide various teaching methods that include all learning styles such as visual, auditory, and hands-on. In regards to implementing constructivist methods, using students’ prior knowledge and implementing various academic skills will reinforce what they already know in application to assignments. Asking more questions and listening more than lecturing will be used to help my students build self confidence and feel valued. I will give my students the resources they need to become a valuable member of their community, so they in result will value themselves.
The first priority is to be a successful guide in all the ways in which a student might learn and grow in respect to their personal experience and background. I will always strive to be aware of how each individual student learns best. Behavior, abilities, and feedback from my students are important to observe and allow them to communicate in the classroom. Keeping all of these qualities in mind will help me incorporate the appropriate learning styles my students require, therefore allowing me to better understand their perspective. Second, I will always promote their freedom of choice in the ways they wish to express themselves or what they truly desire to learn about. Third, I will always provide my students support and encouragement and I would never invalidate their questions, experience, or beliefs. Lastly, I will give them the access to resources and tools they need to find themselves. These tools include awareness and skills of research, reasoning, logic, and technology. For this to work, I will encompass multiple academic subjects in my visual art classes. My teaching philosophy is holistic and pragmatic by promoting creative expression and teaching technical skill. By guiding my students in this way, I believe they will be able to find their happiness in life by whatever path they choose.
By encompassing a multitude of subject matter and academics in my curriculum, I hope to provide insight on other subjects outside of art that students can learn and apply necessary skills in other subject areas by applying them to manipulating materials and media in creating their projects. For example, by giving the class the option to work in pairs if they like on concepts like designing a color wheel. Students utilize the science of mixing pigments to create colors and geometry to lay out their composition of the wheel. Problem-solving, communication, reading comprehension, history, math, and science can all be utilized in art making. Language and communication also play a very important role in being able to decipher meaning in works of art or history and ways these students might be able to communicate their own ideas and opinions on matters relative to their generation. Content will always be relevant to what they can relate to. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory supports that communication amongst peers comes before individuality. I believe this applies somewhat, as our students are growing into young adults through high school and into college. As young adults, the interactions that come into play are significant in determining who they will desire to become. It will influence what brings them happiness. By implementing the arts, history, and technical skills in my practice, I hope to provide the necessary tools for my students to reach their full desired potential.
Whether it is an artist, an architect, an interior or graphic designer, a city planner, a geographer, a novelist, a musician, a singer, a songwriter, a film maker or actress, you name it, these are all derived from creative expression and form unique identities in adolescents. Even teaching just one art class, one music class, and one drama class, a school can give students the tools they need to find themselves and truly live their best life. Every human being deserves that. Another value that comes into play in regards to the pursuit of happiness and maintaining self esteem is self expression. It is very important to allow one to express themselves completely and wholly by teaching them that they can and they should speak out in a multitude of ways, but mostly help them discover their true self by learning what it means to be creative and how that creativity relates to building their community as long as they are willing to be apart of it.
I am passionate about keeping the tradition and technical skill of the arts alive, because it is an important force within all of human history and development. It is the reason we have civilization today, but I’m even more passionate about sharing ideas and promoting creativity and self expression. It is important for adolescents to identify with their past and present in order to build their own future identity and place in the world. By providing elements of a collective past history and modern concerns in the learning environment of my art classroom, my teaching will be conducive to proactive and prosocial interactions. My students will gain the confidence to stand up for what they believe in, mutually respect social differences amongst their peers, and ultimately build high self esteem to live their best life.