Teaching Outside the Lines
by Myiesha Gordon
As a freshman in college, I had a Humanities course with a professor named Dr. Myers.
Dr. Myers would bring recordings of Gregorian chant to class and play no less than 20 minutes to a classroom full of lethargic students. He would stand on his desk to mimic the architecture of Egyptian monuments. He would make big gestures and speak passionately and intimately about ancient minutiae. He had an uncanny ability to envelope students into his world through lectures. When I think of influential educators, Dr. Myers is one of them. Years later, while I cannot remember a single detail about any test from the course, I can still distinguish Corinthian columns from Ionic or Doric–because of his class–and because I had a professor whose method of teaching was unconventional, a little quirky and what could be characterized as a bit outside the lines.
Teachers, today more than ever, are renegades—they are the champions for exploration and self-expression—and many times march to the beat of a different drummer.
I attended a symposium coordinated by the Art and Art Education program at Teachers College: Conversations Across Cultures, now in its third year, which is a platform for emerging educators and seasoned professionals to discuss ideas about understanding and improving art education. This year, the theme was “Teaching Outside the Lines.” The focus was the relationship between teaching and learning and how educators can explore ways of effectively assessing how their students learn, in a climate of excessive standardized testing.
The event started with a screening of the 2013 documentary, “Teach,” a film about four California teachers’ journeys in preparing their students for critical standardized tests. A keynote presentation was delivered by Celia Oyler, a TC Professor of Education in Curriculum & Teaching, in which Dr. Oyler discussed education reform, the recent for-profit testing phenomenon and the opportunity gap between rich and poor and how it is manifested in American classrooms. The keynote address was followed by panel presentations and breakout sessions, including dialogue about creativity, freedom and engagement.
Throughout the symposium, the symbiotic relationship between teachers and students, teaching and learning, was represented by an array of voices, including teachers of K-12 and college levels, along with their students—conversations in which the teachers’ and students’ voices were equally valid.
Among the teachers who attended the event was Ingrid Butterer, a ceramics teacher at LaGuardia High School, who delivered a presentation with ten of her ceramics students. The students were encouraged to discuss their creative process, their individual goals and how they work within their ceramics class. One student from Butterer’s class purported having the courage to make decisions about her art work and to focus on her creative process as a result of the art that she created in the ceramics class.
Government reforms and standardized test policies in the United States have long been a source of contention for American teachers. Now, more than ever, teachers are feeling pressure to teach to tests. Many educators question the effectiveness and accuracy of excessive testing. Particularly for subjects like visual art, which is arguably one of the more difficult subjects to assess through tests.
As students across the country are opting out of standardized testing, assessment remains a critical issue. However, teachers are continually trying to evaluate how their students are learning, the issue is the effectiveness of the teaching and learning.
Teachers are solving problems creatively, to ensure that their students have every opportunity to learn—which as I witnessed at the symposium, is no small feat. They are not satisfied with complacency and mediocrity and usually employ unconventional methods to connect to their students and ineffective testing methods.
Teaching and learning art is more than what can be measured by any test. So what can art teachers do to ensure that students are learning?
Develop partnerships with parents?
Encourage self-direction from their students?
Be mindful of their student’s culture and community?
All of the above.
All photos by Myiesha Gordon.
Myiesha Gordon was a Staff Writer with the Department of Arts and Humanities.