I wrapped up my Winter college class last week. I spent 10 weeks working with a team of 18 designers and developers, teaching them how to interact with clients and run real website projects for five non-profits. My perceptions of what the class would be and what it was were wildly different.
As I transitioned from teaching at a four year art school to a two year community college I was unsure of what I should expect. These students would, skill-wise, be extremely behind the upper division students I was used to working with. I underestimated what I could expect from a lower division teaching environment.
I spent seven years teaching at a private art school, which was a great experience. While I loved helping to develop talent and bring designers and developers along, there were parts of the teaching process I really struggled with. Most directly related to this stream of thought (and more directly to this post) was the frustration at just how much apathy many of my four year students had towards the education process. I had many hard working students in my time—people that I really enjoyed watching grow into some exceptionally talented folks. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. Many students had little to no real interest in the process of learning. With parents that were picking up the bill for their four year $100k education, real commitment, real passion was something I didn’t get to see too often. Those frustrations eventually led me to leave campus for a few years—disillusioned with education.
Naturally, when I started to talk with Clark College about taking on a couple of web design classes, my expectations and my bar were set fairly low for the return on my time.
I did end up going back and teaching for another year. The internal desire was just too strong. I do love to teach and educate, and after a few years I could hear it beckon me like the siren’s call. Unfortunately, not much had changed during the time I stepped away. Apathy and a general attitude of entitlement were what I experienced from many of the students during the year I returned. So naturally, when I started to talk with Clark College about taking on a couple of classes, my expectations and my bar were set fairly low.
I have never been so happy to be proved wrong. What I’ve experienced over the last ten weeks has spun my head around and reinvigorated my desire to continue teaching and educating. The dozen and a half students I had the pleasure of working with this term showed a level of dedication, insight, and willingness to learn that I had yet to see in any of my previous terms. True the skill level employed in the class was commensurate with second year design and development students (read lots to learn), but they made up for every shortcoming in skill and knowledge with an unflinching eagerness to learn and grow.
Perhaps you could chalk this up to a perfect storm, bringing just the right group of students together to create the perfect learning environment. Most of the time, however, those educational geo storms are best left reserved for puffed up Hollywood portrayals of people like Jaime Escalante. In the real world the perfect class just does not exist…and yet, for the first time in seven years of teaching I hit a first: 18 students in the class, 18 “A”s earned.
Perceptions, apparently, like assumptions, make asses out of us all.