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It's Not "Amateur Hour" If You're Teaching...
12-20-2017, 10:56 AM
Post: #1
It's Not "Amateur Hour" If You're Teaching...
Recently a student approached me after class with a rather odd question: “how can I be more efficient in my design process?” I was a bit taken back. It struck me as very odd question. I wondered: why would a student, a developing artist, and a quite talented one, feel they weren’t getting the job done. It was the word choice that perplexed me, but if I’m being honest and more to the point, she was one of my top students and a leader in the class.

Probing a bit. I asked: “why do you think your process isn’t efficient or not working? Walk me through everything. There’s no judgements”. It took a bit, but she told me about a critique from another instructor. The instructors only feedback to her was nothing more than: “I don’t like it, it’s amateur hour”. “There’s your problem” I said “it’s not you, it’s the teacher. They’ve given you no technical details on how to improve the work and why. That “crit” helped you in no way. It was taste based and lacked real ways for you to improve. You’re fine, your teacher on the other hand…that’s the problem”. I found myself once again thinking something I’ve thought and said way too often: There are too many individuals in classrooms that shouldn’t be. There are too many students who are turned off and/or demoralized from making art because of the negativity of someone. Someone who shouldn’t be teaching; let alone teaching art and design.

We need deep systemic change in education, specifically design education. Not the kind of change normally tossed about college board meetings. We need true focus on students and student success. We need educators who are educators. People who understand that at all contact points and levels, we are effecting, long term, the lives of students. We are not only preparing them for careers, or the next instructor, but we are preparing them to be their best creative self.

Teaching is, and should be, about guiding a student to discover the answers, on their own. To support them when they are struggling or failing. Always empowering them for success. Giving them room to experiment and take risks. To be there to pick them up when they fall. It’s about helping someone be more than they thought they ever could be. It’s about getting them embrace the awe and the wonder of what we do as creatives. Of course it’s about success, but that success has to be defined individually. Each student brings unique experiences and a vastness of skills with them. That seems like it would make finding a common base for assessment impossible. It’s not.

Pride on how many F’s you give isn’t a sign you are good teacher, a tough teacher, one who creates exceptional artists. “If they can’t handle it, they should learn now” is the typical refrain. I agree. Students must be held to standards, which is why we can’t give students feedback that isn’t based in verifiable tangibles. Feedback based on individual taste isn’t helping anyone. Giving feedback in vague, taste based terms not only confusion; confusion about all the wrong things. The vagueness of taste based feedback leaves students without the proper tools to learn and grow. Most times leaving them to take the feedback personally, I’m not a good artist, I’m not an efficient designer. It leaves them no tools for growth. They are now unable to correct what the instructor didn’t like, causing additional aggravation on both parts.

The bigger issue is they are now lacking the basic skills to assess their work and the work of others. They don’t understand what’s wrong technically (too much leading, point size too large, no bleed) so that can correct, learn and eventually be able to justify their design choices to clients and employers with more than: “…well I like it”
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