Rich in Rewards – Why Teaching Artists Teach
Why do some artists decide to teach? For many, the attraction is a desire to connect students to a creative process and to the larger arts community. For others, teaching fuels their work as artists. The South Carolina Arts Commission’s Roster of Approved Artists includes more than 900 artists who have been approved to conduct residencies and performances in schools. Many have been teaching for as long as they’ve been artists. We wanted to know more, so we asked four Roster artists about their experiences.
The artists, the number of years they’ve been teaching, plus a brief description of their work with students:
Bob Doster, Lancaster, S.C., 40-plus years. Students design and create functional and decorative steel sculptures.
Patz Fowle, Hartsville, S.C., 19 years. Students create hand-built ceramics, traditional pottery in indigenous clay, and mixed media sculptures
Francee Levin, Columbia, S.C., 15 years. Students produce poems, short stories, scripts and mini plays.
Glenis Redmond, Greenville, S.C., 20 years. Students write and perform poetry, and schools create poetry clubs.
MH: What appeals to you about working with students?
BD: I enjoy giving students the opportunity to design and create something that on Monday wasn't even an idea and on Thursday is a finished 12-foot sculpture installed in front of their school – art they can show to future generations. I also like to point out that this is a real-world project, and it has to be done in time and on budget. We can't wait until next week to finish a drawing or the cutting because you are not ready. The students always rise to the higher bar.
PF: Teaching is nothing short of exhilarating, I am working with the artists of tomorrow! I remind myself of the importance of art and teaching each time I think of famous artists who were once students. There’s a beautiful discovery in my travels when I get to work with some of the best art educators and students in South Carolina.
FL: I absolutely love being in the classroom. The students get so excited when they realize it's something they can not only succeed in but actually enjoy. The "a ha" moments come continually. I'm proud of the fact that I've never failed to get a student to write. There is always a creative solution, and I love finding it and feeling like I’m truly making a difference.
GR: I get to see the poetry lights come on in a young person. When I began writing poetry as a student, my world expanded. I had a place to put all my angst-ridden feelings. Our youth sometimes do not even know that they need a creative vehicle. I also enjoy the collaboration of creative expression between young and mature writers that occurs in Peace Voices, a poetry program I founded at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts.
MH: Describe a rewarding experience when you knew you were reaching students.
BD: When students come up to me 20 years after I taught them and tell me they still have the clay sculpture they made in third grade, or when former students who are now teachers ask me to provide the same experience for their students. Or the time I told a student who was doing drugs what his life would be like if he continued down that path. I told him it was his life, but I just wanted to make sure he knew what he was getting into. Five years later he looked me up to thank me.
PF: I have had so many rewarding experiences as a teaching artist. It’s always great when a student or teacher enthusiastically proclaims, “this has been one of the best weeks of my life!” It’s wonderful when former students invite me to their classrooms, and they are teaching students how to work in clay using my methods.
FL: There have been so many, it's hard to choose. One was a third grader who had refused to participate in anything all year. We were creating a story quilt with each student making a square. I made that student my project and used acting techniques to pull a story out of him. When we finished, he was so excited that he began encouraging everyone else. Another special experience was writing Mother’s Day poems with students with severe disabilities. Although one boy had great difficulty speaking, he was able to sign and create his poem. When I thought of this boy's mother, my eyes filled with tears of joy.
GR: Watching a student from Woodmont High School (my alma mater) grow as a poet. He wrote me a long letter about his love for poetry, and I invited him to read at a poetry reading at the Peace Center. It wasn’t until later that I found out that he is autistic. He has gone on to write poems about autism.
For these four artists, the reward of teaching is inspiring their students to learn and create through the arts. Have you had a similar experience as an artist or as a student of a teaching artist?