How Teaching Re-Lit My Fire
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge that I can’t remember how many times I’ve attempted writing and maintaining a blog. My relationship with keeping up to date with this activity has been a lot like being a couch potato who’s been sleeping in late, eating fast food, and smoking cigarettes for the last few years and suddenly wants to run a marathon. I start off well enough by maintaining a healthy diet, waking up early to go train, and, dare I say it, getting into a routine. Yet, after a while I start hitting the snooze button more and more, missing workouts, I start forming a habit of running late so to the drive-through I go, and the weight of the reality gets me so jittery that the only thing keeping me from going completely spastic is sneaking in cigarettes of what was supposed to be my last for several more months. Next thing you know, I’m back at square one: being a couch potato. So each time I’ve fallen back, I’ve deleted my account and everything associated with it. Yet I keep coming back to this idea of a blog. Why? It’s certainly not from the lack of things to do. For example, just looking at my schedule for the next two weeks makes me short of breath, forcing myself to ask the question, “Why do I do this to myself?” If I’m being honest, it’s because it feels like unfinished business. It bothers me that after each time I’ve fallen out of routine, I press “delete” and wipe it clean from my hands as if it never happened. It’s not who I am. Just to give you some scope to what I’m like, I’m a perfectionist. Everything I do is done with my absolute best effort because my belief is that if you’re not going to do something well, why do it at all? Therefore, inconsistency (such as maintaining a regular blog posting schedule) is super frustrating and I don’t want to keep doing something if I’m not doing it perfectly. Plus, I’m stubborn, meaning that anything I start, I want to see it through to the end no matter what and quitting equals failure. So, the moment that I begin to fall out of posting regularly, that means inconsistency, and inconsistency is bad and I can’t have that; so I’d delete the blog, but deleting the blog means I’m quitting and quitting means I’m failing, thus feeding into this paranoia that I’m a failure and need to be doing more with my time so I would restart the blog, thus continuing this vicious circle. At least, that’s how it use to be. Now, that’s not saying I’m suddenly not bothered by inconsistency anymore or that I’ve suddenly have mellowed out. It just means that after #adulting for a little over a year and a half now that I’ve come to an understanding that just because I fall out of a routine, doesn’t mean I should scrap everything and that I'm a failure. Just means I need to take a moment to evaluate the situation, take a deep breath, and reset – which brings me to the main topic of my post:
As some know, in addition to trying to jump-start my career as a freelancer, I’ve become a middle school art teacher. I already know what some of you are thinking: You crazy weirdo! You have to be out of your mind. And I must be out of my mind because it’s the best day job EVER. I absolutely love it and I couldn’t think of a better place to be working while still building towards my own goals. Yes, there are some days that “my kids” or more like “life-sucking demons,” but hey, every job has good days and bad days. Fortunately for me, the ratio of good days to bad days is somewhere between 29:1 or 30:1 because I get to teach kids about what I love every single day. How many people can say that they get paid to teach others about something they’re genuinely passionate about?
Just to give some insight into what a typical day in my classroom is like, we start every single day with Bellwork. However, instead of answering some questions or writing some definitions down, there is a drawing prompt on the board. Sometimes it’s related to the content that we’ve studied but most days it’s simply imaginative (for instance, my favorite prompt is ‘draw your favorite cartoon getting into a fight with your least favorite cartoon’; and to this day, my all-time favorite drawing from one of my students has been Rick and Morty fighting the Sesame Street characters). After Bellwork, we’ll jump right into a lesson. For my art newbies, we study the Elements with some art history thrown into the mix. For my experienced students, we study the Principles and explore different careers in the art world ranging from animation to fashion design to creating a project based off of that specific career. And, when the occasional Sketchbook Fri-Yay comes along, I draw along with my students, teaching them the basics of drawing and how to break things down into shapes whether it’s a face, an animal, or an object. On my end, it’s awesome. I get to draw every day! And furthermore, not only do I get to draw every day but I now understand how to draw.
Now hold up. You’re probably thinking did I just read that right? Did she just say she learned how to draw? Let me explain: before becoming a teacher, yes, I knew the mechanics of drawing like using my arm, drawing through my lines, the proportions of the human body, and so on. However, it was not until I became a teacher that I had to explain why – and that required some reflection on my end. Now, instead of thinking I need to rework the perspective, I suddenly had to think how can I explain the steps of setting up perspective to an 11- to 12-year old child? And over the past year, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my own work and the way that I draw because of this sudden change in thinking. I can draw faces from my imagination without reference because I have a system for drawing them in a few simple steps. Creating spaces and environments isn’t as daunting as I remember. Coming up with ideas for new projects seem to be endless. There’s a confidence behind my sketches that hadn’t quite blossomed while I was a student because, day in and day out, I’m going over the basics with my kids, reinforcing the why’s and how’s not only with them but also with myself. And most importantly, I have truly fallen in love with drawing in a way that I had not experienced in all my years and I have teaching to thank for that. I even spoke to one of my past professors (shout out to you, Dove!) about this, and he confirmed it by saying, “It’s a well-kept secret that being a teacher is the BEST way to get better and better at what you do.”
No, it’s not exactly what I thought I would be doing two years after graduating, but it has forced me to develop the drawing habits that my teachers and professors previously tried to instill in me. Furthermore, I am constantly immersed in the subject of art because of my job. It has re-lit my fire, renewed my determination in making it in the freelance world, in achieving that status of an established artist. I have teaching to thank for that. Devoting an evening to research and to know the stories of other artists have also been the ultimate drink of inspiration for me. From Keith Haring to Margaret Keane, Al Black to Mary Ann Carrol, knowing their stories on a deeper level gives me that second wind of energy at night to stay up late yet again just to create because it’s what they themselves would. By telling their stories, I get to present evidence to my students that they can do anything they want in life as long as they put in the countless hours of work to make it happen. How can I preach the message of “hard work leads to better things” when I myself do not actively push myself for better things? I have teaching to thank for that. And while I wish I had more time to myself, I have never been so active in my own work before and the thought of sacrificing my personal time to keep that momentum moving forward is more than worth it. I have teaching to thank for that. Yet, I will not identify as a teacher. Sure, on paper I am but when I introduce myself to others I do not say, “Hi, I’m a teacher.” No. I say that I am an artist who also teaches art. I have waited all my life to feel exactly what I feel right now. I’m truly passionate about something and I’m ready to dedicate my life to it, and I’m going to make it happen.
So, just to make the full circle and tie this all together with the marathon training analogy above, while I know there’s going to be a day when I start to fall out of routine, I’m not going to toss it all away. There are going to be days when I don’t want to sit down and draw. There are going to be moments when I want to push things until the next day. There is going to be a time when the burnout catches up. However, instead of deleting everything and wiping my hands clean of it, I will instead take a deep breath, reset, and try again because it’s going to be so worth it when I finally finish that marathon known as “making it.”