Thursday, May 14, 2015

Learning To Ride The Wave

Original article written for Verve - A collective resource committed to teaching artistry at Marwen.

I was feeling first-day-of-school jittery. It had been about a month since my last workshop with Embarc. In fact, it had been a whole month since I’d led any workshop. I arrived at Spudnik Press  plenty early to set up. Way earlier than my recent schedule called for. I was there and prepared. I felt tired and out of practice. The 13 students swept me over like a wave as they found seats at the big work table.

We went around the room to get each person’s name and share his or her favorite pastime. Thirteen new names isn’t really a huge deal, but here’s some perspective: My trouble with student names when I was in high school was trying to differentiate Jennifers. My trouble with Embarc student names is that most of them are completely new words to me. Ordinarily, I take to a name challenge like Kelly Slater to a tidal wave, but this morning I thought, “let’s get on with printing.” The students probably don’t expect me to know all their names anyway.

The workshop went well. The kids got to screen print and everybody had fun. We went around and named our favorite thing about printing. The students and teachers left to enjoy an exciting lunch at 90 Miles To Cuba.

I felt meh.

but..but...–everything went according to plan–

Where’s my teacher’s high dammit?!


By coincidence, I attended a workshop of my own at Spudnik that evening.  It was a syllabus writing workshop led by Kate Adams and Cynthia Weiss of Marwen. In true Kate and Cynthia fashion, my introverted self was tortured and uncomfortable the entire workshop  with games and working with partners. I tell you what, though–those ladies really know how to inspire and motivate. I had another workshop with Embarc the following morning and I was jazzed.


Oh dear. Morning came reeeally early again. I was at Spudnik prepared–again. I felt tired and intimated by the amount of energy that would be exhausted over 3 hours with young people. The wave of students swept over me again. I was soaking wet and dis-shelved as they settled into their seats.

I said, “good morning everybody.”
“hrrm” “mrnng” “gmorng” other grumbles.

Just as I was about to drop in, I wanted to bail and paddle in.
I know, however, that all I have to do is shift my weight to ride the wave.

“I said GOOD. MORNIIIIING!!!!!!”

The reverberated energy lifted me up like a tall gentle ocean swell. You’d better believe I got every single name and favorite pastime down. And oh! You should have seen Jeremiah beam when I told him he could sing while cleaning the mylar. KIds kept asking how old they had to be to work at Spudnik and if they could do summer internships. One student pulled me aside to ask some very specific questions about a different print process based on her experience that day with screenprint. The teachers walked the skeptical students out to lunch as they lament, “can’t we just stay here if we want?”

Now there’s that teacher’s high. A thought that keeps coming to my mind lately is that I don’t want to ask anything of my students that I wouldn’t ask of myself. I want an exciting, engaging, enriching experience for them. How can I expect them to have that kind of experience if I don’t create that kind of experience for myself? This is how growth happens. For them and for me. And I can’t think of a time it doesn’t involve moving beyond what is comfortable.