I’ve been teaching in some capacity for almost 20 years now. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to not only evaluate my own modes of teaching but also to look back and analyze how my favorite (and otherwise) teachers approached the central tasks of instruction.
The core of that reflection is contained in my Teaching Philosophy (I’d be happy to send you a copy if you’d like to read it) as a three-fold charge: Facilitation, Encouragement, and Tact. I’ve tried to live out those values in my teaching, and I think that the best teachers I’ve had have demonstrated each in unique, powerful ways.
From Mrs. Ebensperger and Mrs. Goodwill (1st and 2nd grade) through Mrs. Carpenter (8th grade) and Mrs. Dudley (Middle and High School Art), most of my teachers could be said to embody thoughtful, encouraging modeling of concepts and strategies for learning. I would say that most of my early teachers functioned as allies and guides.
Once I got into the specialized realm of art school, though, there was more of a continuum between those who taught their own particular praxis and those who taught a broader, more generous approach. This is when I started to think about a tension between The Gatekeeper and The Advocate. I wonder if we end up teaching from a context of our own traumas and learned experiences… perhaps those who have had mostly positive and affirming experiences are often most able to extend them to others. If, however, person’s central project is to ensure the validity of their own perspective it is certain that their teaching will favor their values, their aims, and their sources of knowledge.
Of course, this kind of implicit bias is not limited to people in the arts nor is it always bad. But I think it makes sense to be aware of it. When I first sketched the graph below 10 years ago, I was thinking about these issues.
I think the continua expressed here are fairly obvious. It makes sense that The Gatekeeper would be invested in maintaining the integrity of particular theoretical and conceptual details while The Advocate would probably be more interested in a gestalt openness and investment in the potential for broad exploration within intersecting contexts.
In every instance where I felt most seen and understood as a learner, it was because my teacher heard me openly and talked to me as if I were like them – a student and artist and explorer. Lisa Gregg Wightman, my drawing and printmaking professor at Pratt, was just like this. She did not scoff at my novice ideas or weak technique; she facilitated my growth in strategies and skills. She asked me serious questions and drew out my self-reflection. This demonstrated “generosity of spirit,” a concept later described to me by Barry Gealt (my main professor in graduate school at Indiana University). You can read more about that here.
If you’re a teacher, where do you think you fall? Here’s a link to my chart – feel free to play around with it. I don’t think that one way is inherently better than any other way, but I do think it’s good for us to pay attention to our own proclivities, asking ourselves what works and what best serves our students.