Zen and the Art of Motordrive (thoughts on teaching/part 1)

I come from a family of teachers. My mother was a teacher and later a principal. “First female principal in her district” she would proudly tell anyone who would listen. She briefly tried to get me hooked on teaching right after college, as a substitute teacher in the district where she worked.

“Subbing,” as it was called was one of the many of the jobs I held after college that were in education. Each one gave me a deeper respect for educators and taught me exactly what I did NOT want to do. Those jobs taught me about different people’s learning styles. Only recently have I come to really appreciate the most important lesson I was supposed to be learning, the one about different people’s teaching styles.

Today, I work as a photographer and photo-educator. The title is an elaborate way of saying I am obsessed with photography. I never quite made it past the first assignment in my first photography class, the one on light and shadow. So now, I do photography for money and I teach others how to do it, just so I can be around it even more.

For me to teach photography, the preferred format is a one-week workshop. Five to seven days of intense immersion in the medium where we do nothing but eat, breathe and dream photography. No outside distractions allowed for me, or my students.

My wife is also a photographer and photo-educator. She prefers a university setting, where the she can nurture the students over multiple years. In the few times that I tried university teaching, I could not tolerate the distractions that dominate the lives of most college students. Between boyfriends dropping out, dogs eating homework, the travails of college sports, etc., the students excuses quickly blurred into one sorry, stale, inadequate apology. College to me was serious business, when I went and when I taught.

One day I was commiserating with my sister, who was also working as a university professor at that time. I was lamenting my anxiety about failing a student, as compared to giving him a “D,” so he could pass the class and graduate. The pressure on me seemed enormous. My sister was giving me little sympathy. She was confronting her own students, who were similarly pressuring her for passing grades. A nurse by training, her concern was about passing her nursing students who deserved to fail. As she pointed out, my easing up on grades might produce another incompetent photographer. Her lack of resolve could easily lead to ignorant nurses and dead patients.

We each responded to that encounter differently. My sister eventually reduced her assumed responsibility and cut back on teaching beginning nurses. I gave up on university teaching and focused more on workshops.

To be continued…

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