15 Jul 2011

more stew than chicken soup

Me exploring an installation by former student, Christopher Jaurique. Photo by Adriana Clark-Ruiz

Me exploring an installation by former student, Christopher Jaurique. Photo by Adriana Clark-Ruiz

As mentioned here before, I am the recipient of Otis College of Art and Design’s 2011 Full-time Teaching Excellence Award. One of three teaching awards Otis presents each year.

Today, the Assistant Provost asked me two questions; my answers will be shared with all the teachers at Otis’ Convocation in August. My first thought was, “Sheesh! What do I know?” However, in writing my answers I discovered I have confidence in my opinions about what makes a good teacher and clarity about the level excellence I hope to some day achieve. Nonetheless, sharing these thoughts with colleagues I respect, and who have years more experience than me in the classroom, is intimidating.

How do I answer these questions concisely—in just a sentence or two—yet with a depth to avoid flippancy and express my gratitude for being asked my point of view?

How do I create answers that read less like platitudes and more like one half of a conversation? After all, I am not writing content for a fortune cookie or a new edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Can my answer acknowledge I’m somewhere in the middle of this process of becoming excellent at what I do?

And most worrisome, what if someone disagrees with what I write?

But then there’s the heart of being an academic. Someone will always disagree with me. All sides of an issue can and should be argued. And we teachers have the responsibility to lead those conversations and foster a dialogue that allows for different points of view so our students can learn to develop their own opinions rather than parrot ours. That being said, I’m not convinced I’ve answered either of these questions in a controversial manner, but welcome any thoughts via email to share here later.

2011 Teaching Excellence Award Questions

What do you most value about teaching?
Being a teacher is fun! Every day students challenge me to be a more enthusiastic maker, supportive mentor and effective communicator. I enjoy seeing students develop their voice, come to realize there is thinking in making, and expand their understanding of themselves and their work.

What do you consider the most valuable attribute of a great teacher?
The teachers I admire—and find the most effective—combine a passion for their subject with an open source philosophy about sharing knowledge and an intense curiosity about the world-at-large. A great teacher models the collaborative, hard-working and courageous behavior we ask of our students.