Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let the Party Begin!

It's that time of year again. We are either looking forward to the new school year, or are filled with anxiety... OK, sometimes a little of both. I want to give some advice to all of those who will be new to digital media this year and to their more experienced colleagues:

1. Don't feel insecure about how much you don't know yet. It is OK to be just a week, or sometimes just a day ahead of your students while you learn. You have a lot to learn. As a matter of fact, I think it's a great idea to let your students know. High school students in particular love to think of themselves as adults, and nothing is better for their ego than to know more than a teacher. If you let the students know you are also learning this along with them, some who are a little farther along than you make great resources when you need help, and are great teacher helpers when too many hands are raised asking for help. Also, all the students in the class will be more forgiving of your mistakes and backtracks if they know you are learning just like them. I usually have at least one student who is more of an expert in something than I am in every class, thank goodness.

2. Be flexible, if something isn't working, don't feel like you will look like a dufus if you say something like, "You know what, I don't think this is the best way to do this anymore. What do you think? I want to scrap this and start with this new assignment. My apologies. I appreciate you giving it the 'ole college try'. Let's start fresh with something better."

3. You are still the expert when it comes to art history, art elements and design and composition, expressing big ideas, looking critically at art and the joy of art. The fundamentals of art are the same whether you are using a spray can, a paintbrush or a mouse.

4. You are still an experienced teacher and an advocate for your students. If an administrator puts more students in the class than there are computers, explain that it is not fair for the students who have to share a computer to fall so far behind, or to have to stay after to catch up, or for you to be forced to teach them after school. Sometimes administrators forget that you aren't just using computer to peruse the internet.

5. Sign up at where you can watch wonderful video tutorials on any software you need to learn, plus some about careers and creativity. It is only $25/ month and you don't have to commit to more than a month. Plus, now you can print out a certificate for every course you finish and use these for recertification points. This style of learning is much more flexible than a class that you have to attend at a specific time. You can find courses at your community college.

6. Remember you are teaching Art and creative problem solving. Always design your lessons around the Art, not the software, but do keep in mind that learning software is cumulative and there is a definite set of skills to learn first before the others. Some software is easier to learn than the others. (I start with Photoshop, but others like to start with the vector software like InDesign or Illustrator.)

7. Digital media is preparing young people for the real world and you should be proud. In addition, you are probably attracting students into the art program who are as intimidated about traditional media as you are about digital media and for the first time, they feel brave enough to take an art class. If your school system requires a traditional media class BEFORE a digital media class, you might want to talk to your supervisor about the potential swell in art students if you allow students to use their digital media class as their foundation class.

8. Ask more experienced colleagues for help and offer to pay for long term tutoring. (Note to more experienced colleague: remember what you felt like when you made the leap.)

9. Psych yourself every day. Use a mantra: "I love art, I love kids, I love learning new things. This is exciting and I AM excited to be here. Life is good." In other words, if you are tense, the anxiety is contagious and the kids will not enjoy the class.