Friday, May 21, 2004

Artistic Discovery

Today, while leaning against a wall in the third floor hallway at Max Hayes High School, I discovered an artist.

Some black and white digital photographs, chronicling a field trip, were posted on the wall across from the computer lab. Normally I would not have paid much attention to them, since most of the students pictured were not in my classes, but something struck me.
The compositions were wonderful.
Balance, variety, unity, all of the design principals were there. Portraits were expressive, backgrounds told a story. There was a name...Michele... credited with taking these marvelous photograghs. With a bit more investigation, I discovered that she is a 10th grader, she can write fairly well, and she can be counted on to complete her assignments. My Monday mission will be finding Michele.

Every coach knows that to have a winning team you must recruit top talent. Businesses do it to survive, and private schools and colleges recruit the brightest students, knowing that the school will be credited for fostering that brilliance, regardless of the abilities of the teaching staff.

I have found, in order to keep my edge as a teacher in my subject area, I need to have students who will challenge me. Granted, teaching disadvantaged kids in an urban district is rife with the challenges associated with poverty and emotional baggage. So many of these kids challenge us to simply help them function, to somehow reach the status quo. It is a very different challenge to take a student who already exhibits talent, who possesses natural aptitude, and to nurture that ability, to help them grow their gift.

Experience taught me that often these kids are unaware of their creative artistic abilities. Guidance counselors might not place them in my classes, so I have learned to search for them. I look on the walls of my colleagues classrooms-at the book reports that include a drawing, the science fair projects, the social studies posters, and I ask these teachers, "Who doodles? Who draws? Who's good?". I recruit.

Lately, quite a few people have asked me how I've managed to build a successful art program in a trade school. My response is; there are talented artists and creative thinkers all around us. The problem is, often they don't even recognize their own gifts. Occasionally all that is needed is for someone to point it out to them, and place these people in an evironment that will encourage them to use their creativity.
That's my gift.

What I cannot do is create talent, or nurture the nonexistant. Neither can I leave it up to chance that talented people will walk through my door. So I search for talent. When I find it, I work diligently to build a relationship that will help that student discover their own potential.

And when they do...they make me look good.

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