Professional Practices – Assistant Teaching – week 7

Due to the ever-changing plans to hang the best student work in the AMF building, things were a little different this week. Midway through the week, I received an email from Ernie asking for some help. Because of an illness in the family, Gordon would be unable to work on arranging and hanging the work, which meant that the bulk of this responsibility now fell on Ernie’s shoulders. In short, he would have to arrange and hang all of the work on Friday, while somehow managing to teach both his morning and afternoon classes as well. That is where I came in….
Since Ernie foresaw being tied up all day with the display work, he asked if I could run both of his classes for him. Up until now, my role in the class had been an observatory one, with the occasional administrative assistance or general help here and there. I hadn’t really done any “teaching”. Of course I said I would do it, and planned to meet with Ernie before the first class to discuss what he wanted the students to get out of each of the classes.
The morning class, which I had never been to, is the same as the afternoon class (the one I’m assisting), with different students. We followed the format that we had been using for the past few weeks, beginning with quick gesture drawings and then going into a long pose for the remainder of the class. Last week the class finished up one of these long, multi-week drawings, so this time we set up the model and lighting for a new one. This new drawing is to be completed over a 5-week time period, so we set everything up carefully and in a way that we could re-create week after week.
Throughout the class, Ernie would spontaneously come into the room and check things out every now and then. He also came in to set up the long pose and helped a few students with their drawings. This was helpful because it somewhat lessened the pressure of keeping the class running well for the full 3 hours. If I had a question, I knew Ernie would likely be in before long and I could ask him. There is probably also something to be said for always knowing that your boss could pop in at any minute and watch you at work.
The first class of the day was through before I knew it. Everything went pretty smoothly and I think I gave the students some good basic advice on their work. However, it took a bit of a nudge by Ernie before I really got into “teaching”. I did a lovely job of circling the room and internally critiquing each students’ drawings. I did a less-than-lovely job, however, at communicating my thoughts to the students. A little into the class period Ernie pulled me aside and gave me a good old-fashioned pep talk and it was all I needed. Afterwards, I really pushed myself to worry less about saying the perfect thing to each student and instead made sure that I said something.
As difficult as it was making the first comments to a student on how to improve their drawing, it became a little easier each time I did it. In both our Theory & Criticism class and our Graduate Seminar class we have been talking a lot about “thinking” versus “doing” and various combinations of the two. I have been an increasing proponent for “doing”, and I think that my experience here speaks loudly in favor “doing” over “thinking”. Once I took the plunge of “doing” in the classroom, I eventually got into something of a flow and it became easier and my advice became better. Before class started that morning, I was lamenting my lack of recent practice drawing the figure and how I did not feel confident enough about my current drawing abilities to draw in front of the students. I was afraid that if I drew something a little off or did not draw perfect lines that they would not take me seriously. Ernie often sits down at a student’s drawing and corrects problem areas, drawing over the student’s work and sometimes doing his own drawing on a separate page. I had decided to avoid any drawing in this class, focusing instead on giving them verbal feedback.
After I had begun talking more to the students and sitting down with their drawings, I was comparing their drawings to their viewpoint of the model, the lighting, and so on. Without even thinking about it, I grabbed a student’s pencil and began drawing over his work. I was mostly correcting his proportions, using the pencil to measure specific points on the model and checking that against the drawing. It wasn’t until I needed an eraser later on that I realized what I was doing. I had accidentally (and quite naturally) started to draw, communicating to the students with the pencil in a way that I couldn’t verbally.
The second class was much the same as the first. Now that I had gotten my feet wet, it was less difficult to run the afternoon class. I am also much more familiar with each of the afternoon students and their drawing styles, so it took less time to analyze their work. Towards the end of class Ernie had finished up with his hanging of the student display, and had some time to discuss my first experiences teaching that day. He thanked me for helping out, and seemed genuinely pleased when I told him about finally “taking the plunge” and working with the students on their drawings.
At the end of the day, this was a big opportunity for me. Just as I was beginning to hope for more of a chance at teaching our class, I was handed it. Twice in the same day. It was also a big responsibility. As pleased as I am that I was able to help out Ernie with our class, I know that I have a lot of work to do in terms of teaching. This is just the beginning. But I feel as though I have taken my first step in to a larger world.


About AlexEConrad

Fine artist. Freelance designer.
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