Secondary Art Teacher

There is a poster out there entitled “How to Be An Artist.” It’s a list of things an artist is supposed to do, like “plant impossible gardens,” “take moonbaths,” and “invite dangerous people to tea.” If this poster is the definitive list, I’m not an artist.

sark-how-to-be-an-artistThe only things on that poster I can check off would be: “take lots of naps” and “get wet,” if daily showers count. I wear khaki pants and most of my shirts are plaid. I have soup on Sunday after church. And I like to be organized…just check out my art room some time; yes, those jugs of paint are in the order of the colour spectrum. (Faith, please stop rearranging them to see if I will notice!)

Taking the plunge

You might wonder, then, how I ended up leaving a perfectly good teaching position in London, Ontario and moving to the West Coast. You probably think it seems like a big risk for a guy like me…and it was, actually.

The decision wasn’t easy, despite the fact that I have lived here before (I completed my Masters and teaching degrees at UBC and started my teaching career at Pacific Christian School), and despite the fact that my wife, Christine, has always wanted to move back “home” to be closer to family. God had to do a lot of coaxing for me to step out of my comfort zone and take the plunge.

Going off road

When I got my keys to the school, the structured part of me insisted on rearranging pretty much everything before I could feel settled. One thing that did survive the purge, however, was the statement “Make Mistakes,” which was taped on the wall at the front of the classroom in those plastic letters that are used on outdoor signs.

Maybe I left it because part of me wondered if that’s exactly what I had done, and leaving that sign up at least left me with the assurance that I had followed instructions properly. Or possibly, it was the start of something new that I am learning: that going “off road” now and then, as one colleague put it, is actually a pretty good idea.

The sign stayed up through my first year at ACS, and as the year progressed, the letters would occasionally get rearranged so that some letters would be missing or upside down (whoever has the “T”, by the way, I want it back). There seems to be something satisfying about a sign that does what it says, and I kind of enjoy watching students trying to figure out whether I rearranged them on purpose or not.

Unexpected and curious things

This past summer, I was privileged to be a part of the week long Project-Based Learning Residency. PBL Coach Trent DeJong coined the phrase, “Fail Early, Fail Often” in one his sessions, and this helped reinforce this idea about the value of taking risks. I’ve been thinking that it’s important to take risks, not just in life, but in teaching and learning as well.

Perhaps students need to be sent “off road” a bit more often, and that as a teacher, I need to not just preach the value of that but practice it myself too. If I always stick with the projects that I know will produce art that looks fantastic, perhaps I’m actually playing it too safe for students to grow. If I shy away from new and different things, I can hardly expect to grow as a teacher, and I can hardly expect my students to take similar risks. Projects with uncertain outcomes, and ones that push students past their comfort zones, may do a better job of engaging minds and nurturing some of the values that we would like to see in our students.

My wife and I are happy we took the risk and moved to Abbotsford; we are very aware of God’s providence in our life. I have to confess, though, that I’m glad to be through my first year: it was a pretty intense time with a lot of changes. So while I’m not itching to move again any time soon, and while I still like things structured and organized, I have gained a new appreciation for risk taking.

Maybe it’s time to look at that poster again; the “build a fort with blankets” idea actually sounds kind of fun. If nothing else, doing unexpected and curious things might help keep me nimble so that I’ll be prepared for the next time that I feel God nudging me to try something new.

Secondary Art Teacher