As a young mother I had a burning desire to return to finish my college degree. Several days a week I bundled up my two toddlers and off to college we went.
Many young adult students appreciated the child care on our campus. The boys and I enjoyed the trip which involved first taking their daddy to work in one direction, then retracing our steps back past our home in the other direction. It was a fine time to talk, sing, and just enjoy being together.
My grades had fared well and I was looking toward graduating with honors.
Then my son had measles and mumps right in a row and he was down for the count. Almost a month later I resumed my classes.
Most of my professors were simply wonderful and made accommodations to give me an opportunity to catch up. But Art was definitely another story.
Let me first say I had never–in my life–had an art class. So this class scared me even more than advanced Statistics.
My first day back in Art class was more than traumatic. The class was in the middle of a project of constructing towers out of jars and saucers. I still have no idea why!?!
Other students jumped to my aid to explain the assignment, yet they said they were just faking it the best they could since they didn’t really understand what to do. Even with all that help, the whole concept escaped me too. But I valiantly started randomly stacking with no particular artistic insight into the rules of the game.
From across the room we all heard the instructor bellow out, “That’s terrible! That’s no way to do art.”
In my defense, I remind you that I’d been sleep deprived caring for a very sick child, then overworked trying to get caught up on coursework and I just cracked. (Actually, I’m a mild-mannered person, so it was a shock to me too!)
I bellowed back, in the exact tone of voice she had used, “That’s terrible teaching! That’s no way to teach me art!”
The room was more than silent.
Quiet chuckles were barely audible all around me. Someone whispered, “You tell her, girl.” It was well known that this teacher didn’t specialize in manners, so even the students who didn’t know what was going on took my side.
I knew I’d have the piper to pay. I kept busy at the puzzling project till the class was over. As the students left, she called my name.
She led me in her office and shut the door. She looked me over, and then said, “I guess I had that coming.”
For a tiny moment I almost had hope. But next she said she would be obligated to lower my grade. I had been doing well, and was depending on that to complete my graduating with honors goal.
That day, I sacrificed graduation with honors for a tower I’ve yet to understand. I’ve learned to appreciate art, yet still can’t fathom that tragic assignment.
When my named was called at graduation, I had a twinge of sorrow. But mostly I felt I had made a noble offering for the cause of art, or was it common courtesy?
By the way, in my over 40 years as a teacher, sometimes I was called on to teach art in a small private school I ran. I still professed no specialized talent or skills in art. However, I knew this much: Art should:
- Express the artist’s feelings or ideas (ahem, not a teacher’s).
- Involve free expression, even when negative feelings are expressed.
- Be encouraged, not criticized.
- Be a conduit for joy when possible.
- Be fun.
As I look back on my Cum Laude Art experience, I realize that what I learned that day was far more important than graduating with honors. I learned that a teacher must respect the student–even, or especially when that person isn’t meeting the instructor’s expectations. That carried me far in becoming a gentle and caring teacher.
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.