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Teaching is a performance art

March 9, 2016

I didn't imagine I would ever be a teacher until after graduate school, and, faced with an uncertain income as a full-time potter, with a wife and infant son to support, up came an opportunity to teach art in a middle school program to kids in an "alternative program". This was an attempt to bring the kids' reading and math skills up to grade level before they reached high school. Each and everyone of the 100 or so kids had either failed at least one year of school, or were learning disabled, or were repeat offenders of school violations. I was offered the opportunity to teach art in the program on an "emergency" teaching certificate, with the understanding that I would pursue the required education classes for teaching in the public school system in Caddo Parish, Shreveport, Louisiana. The school's name was Hamilton Terrace Middle School, and our program was mashed into the neighborhood middle school because they had space due to declining enrollment. Hamilton Terrace was near downtown Shreveport, and was in a depressed neighborhood of aging families.

The day to day situation in the school was a nightmare for me, not having any teaching experience as the day to day teacher. I had experience as a visiting artist with my potter's wheel and clay, but no experience dealing with classroom management, not to mention sex, drugs and violence from the students on a regular, daily basis.

I lasted 3 years until one morning I woke up to read in the local paper that the night before the school board had decided to move our program to a school on the other side of town without even bothering to inform the staff or administration this was being considered. I felt betrayed, because, up to that point I felt that, even though the kids didn't respect or appreciate what we did, nor did their parents, that at least the school board, who implemented the program in the first place, appreciated some of what we were attempting to do.

That is when I decided to get back to pottery making and so answered two ads in the back of Ceramics Monthly magazine. One spot was in Sedona, Arizona, which I pictured as being scrub desert, something like around Coolidge, or Casa Grande, Arizona. The owners flew me out to Phoenix, and drove me the 100 miles north to Sedona. I was blown away by the scenery and beauty of the area. 

The job was as production potter for Red Duck Pottery, which lasted one year. More about that year in another post.

We moved from Sedona to Phoenix, looking for work as a potter, and finding a job at Desert Valley Pottery, where I worked for 3 years. More on that experience in another post as well.

I was offered an adjunct teaching position at Mesa Community College in the spring of 1990, to teach 2 nights a week, a class of beginners. I found the experience so invigorating that I remember being so exciting to be able to share my love for clay, ceramics and making art with a group of eager adults who seemed to want to learn everything I could share with them.

Soon I was offered a second class at MCC, so I was driving 25 miles one way across Phoenix 4 nights a week to teach these two classes until December 2000, when I was offered a chance to start a ceramics program at Paradise Valley Community College.

Along the way I realized how important my voice, body language, and ability to communicate in an engaging and entertaining manner were in the classroom, so I took classes and workshops in story telling, voice(singing), and acting. All have helped me learn how to use more of my faculties to a fuller level, and to gauge my presentation to my audience, whether it is a single student sitting across from me at a potter's wheel trying to master the "claw" or 100 adults attending a meeting of the Arizona Artists Guild.

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