As School Begins, a Professor Remembers Teachers of Her Own

Though I hesitate to admit it, I know that on a bad day I sometimes turn into a catty, myopic designer with unbearably rigid standards. After spending more than a decade of my life in this profession, I can testify to how easy it is for monotony to take root, leading to fixations on superficial details rather than measured approaches to creative work. Thankfully, the more recent addition of teaching into my repertoire has meant that I still have the ability to be surprised, inspired and, most importantly, humbled. Teaching might not be for everyone but I’m convinced that everyone should try it at least once, in some capacity. Whether in a traditional classroom setting, a workshop, lab, studio, individual lessons or as a substitute or tutor, being charged with the responsibility of helping others learn gives us a greater appreciation for those who taught us, not to mention how challenging the work is. Regardless of the age group or context, teaching demands time, energy and forbearance.

My brother is a physicist and, I might add--in the most loving way possible, of course--a bit of a know-it-all. So, when I struggled with high school physics, I was not exactly thrilled about going to him for assistance. Much to my surprise, however, he weathered my petulance and fits of frustration with the kind of patience and encouragement that I would never have expected. That experience is cemented in my mind as the first time that I saw him as something apart from just my sibling. I saw him as a teacher. From then on I realized that it takes more than knowing a lot about a subject to be able to successfully impart that knowledge to others. (And it was not until I was teaching two 2-hour-45-minute back-to-back sections of Introduction to 3D Design twice a week in graduate school that I realized what kind of physical stamina is required as well.)

As I’ve stated in previous posts, those who work in creative fields haven’t been magically gifted with artistic talent. Success, in part, depends on training. The proof of this lies in the work of my students who, from semester to semester and then year to year, show increased sensitivity to type, hierarchy and composition, and improvement when it comes to developing concepts, writing and being able to talk about their work. (I have all manner of evaluation forms and grading rubrics to prove that this is not a happy coincidence.) And whatever they produce is inevitably a reflection of how well I am or am not doing my job as their instructor. Such is the nature of the symbiotic relationship between teachers and students.

I’m frequently asked if I enjoy teaching, which I find to be a difficult question to answer. Not because I don’t enjoy it but because the word itself seems woefully inadequate to describe the whole of the experience. Yes, I enjoy working with students but it’s also one of the most intensely challenging and extraordinary opportunities I’ve ever had. As another fall semester gets under way, I am mindful of the long list of mentors and teachers who, like my brother, were able to gracefully usher me through my education whether I was academically and personally at my best or my worst. Many thanks to each and every one of them.