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  • Helen English Artist

What teaching has taught me!

What job did you dream of doing when you were young? My main ambition through high school was definitely becoming an artist. Life took me down a few paths before I got there, and it still has a few tangents, but I certainly grew up with no wish to be a teacher! This was wrapped up in a fear of how visible I perceived teachers to be. Your whole working life being played out in front of a group. I certainly wasn’t shy but I didn’t want to have all eyes on me for an extended period of time. I still have issues with delivering a speech in front of a room of people but teaching, it turns out, is nothing like this!


The point of teaching a class or workshop is to provide a learning forum for the group in question where they firstly realise that they already know more than they thought, and then use this information to achieve their goal within the class or course timeframe. Turns out, if you provide momentum by piquing student interest and then providing structure for them to grow into the topic, then teaching and learning is an amazing environment for everyone. This includes the teacher. I cannot tell you how many times I have taught a technique and a so-called learner causes me to stop and think about other ways of achieving a particular result.


As human beings, we have limitations in our personal thinking. We develop our own shortcuts and ways of understanding, forgetting or not realising that there could be another pathway through, or way of explaining, a phenomena. Teachers, I believe, have to be open to learning, and honest about the fact that we are all just at different stages in this process.


Currently, one of my roles is teaching a set of classes where we cover many mediums, from pencil to pastel to watercolour to acrylic. I am free to teach each lesson as I choose, within a curriculum, which is fantastic because I like to teach technique quite freely, providing the class with the mechanics of each medium and the variations of what it is can used to do. I find that this gives learners the ability to do things their own way, and to take risks without worrying that their version is ‘incorrect.’ This helps everyone to learn more than their own interpretation and have conversations about their version of the process. Every class throws up a whole lot of variations and occasionally a completely new discovery, and life should be like that.


So, my message this week is learn what you can from books, teachers, the internet – whatever your combination is – and then experiment with what you have found out as well as what you haven’t found out.Be brave and tell yourself that this particular painting is going to be an experiment so that you can just give it a go and learn.Sometimes you need to throw caution to the wind, for how would we ever develop without sometimes breaking the rules!


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