Teaching was never part of the plan when I first set my professional goals, however, after instructing an observational drawing course at the Art Institute I discovered an unexpected passion. The satisfaction I receive from teaching has little to do with teaching itself, and more to do with the simple enjoyment I get from sharing my experiences as an artist with others. One of the most fulfilling aspects of teaching, for me, has been the challenge of motivating students. It is incredibly rewarding to watch a student get inspired and empowered to take part in their own learning. In each class I devote some time to share stories and pose questions. I do this to help students clarify their dream and invite them to join the journey of self-discovery by making art. Generally, my students seem to enjoy these talks, but I never really know if they make any lasting impact in their life. I am not required to include life lessons in my class and often wonder if students think I am a bit crazy or perceive my lectures as sermons. While it’s difficult to know if I am making a difference, recently, I have received some strange confirmations that lead me to believe, that maybe, I am going the right way after all.
During my first quarter I had several encouraging moments. A few students mentioned how much they enjoyed the class discussion time, and I even received a note from a student. The letter expressed her gratitude and explained how the class had helped her get through some very dark times. These were all flattering and validating experiences that resolve my questions about being a good teacher. I will always cherish these affirmations, however, this past quarter I experienced another very odd concurrence, something I will never forget.
During the discussion time in week two I read an old blog post I had written about a year ago. The post is titled “Standing brooms and Gravitational Pulls” You can read it here, But basically, I wrote the post in response to a social networking trend at the time. The trend suggested one could balance a broom on its end because of various cosmic effects that would destroy earth. Pictures of standing brooms filled the newsfeeds of Facebook and Twitter for about a week, but as it turns out, you can balance a broom at any time. I used the image of standing brooms as a metaphor to explain that brooms are not extraordinary because they can stand on their end, but that they only meet their fullest potential by doing what they were designed to do. I wrote the post to urge all those seeking an extraordinary life to “keep sweeping”… to keep working toward their dream.
During class I heard a student in the back mention that he had read the post before, but I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until finals night that the topic emerged again. After they presented their portfolios I noticed a student lingering around after class. It’s not uncommon for students to stay after to talk, but this particular student wasn’t saying much. We made the normal small talk, but I could tell there was something on his mind. Finally, he spoke up as I was heading out the door.
“Hey before you go… there is something I’ve wanted to tell you, but haven’t known how to explain it,” he said.
“You know that thing you read about standing brooms… You wrote that, right?” He asked.
I smiled. “Yeah, I wrote it.”
“Well, I read that before I came to this school,” he continued.
I laughed. “Oh good, I guess Google is indexing my site.”
He paused for a moment. “No… you don’t understand. I read that post about a year ago when I was working on a cleaning crew at a store in Massachusetts. I was very discouraged and had resigned myself to doing that job for the rest of my life. I had given up my dream of becoming a professional artist and decided that making art would just be a hobby. I remember when that broom thing was going around because my coworkers and I were trying to balance the large industrial brooms at the store. That’s when I searched the topic and came across your blog. Reading that post made me realize I needed to do something with my life. It’s one of the things that made me decide to come back to school.”
I stopped him. “Wait a minute. You’re telling me that post was the reason you enrolled, and you didn’t know that I worked here until after I read it in class?”
“Yeah! Isn’t that strange?” He asked.
My mouth dropped open! Seriously… What are the odds that a random person from Podunk nowhere reads unknown blog by unestablished artist, gets inspired to go back to college, arrives, and realizes his teacher is the one who wrote the post that inspired him to come in the first place. I smile every time I think about it!
I don’t know if this is providential, coincidental or if i’m just making a big deal over nothing, but every once in a while, if you are paying attention, a reassuring message floats down from Mount Olympus that encourages you to keep going. It’s weird how connected people are, and how they seem to align by design. While I’m not one to see every happenstance in life as a sign or grand revelation, I take these events as strange confirmations, ones that tell me I am going the right direction and show me that “my sweeping” is not in vain.