My approach to teaching and bringing out the best in each of student is to fuel the studio environment first. I try to create an environment where it is clear to the students that we learn together, that making and producing objects is a creative and thoughtful process, and at every level, from beginner to professor, each of us plays a role in the learning continuum, and we are all part of each other’s development. As head of a ceramics program, it is most important to me is that my students understand this one very important point. The students know they are a part of the learning continuum; they contribute to the story and the culture of our studio. Each student’s curiosity and learning experience is vital, and adds to the learning experience of those around them, as well as those that come up behind them. There are few things more valuable to me as a teacher than students that are intensely curious and know how to learn from each other.
Although my overarching goals for students are that they will learn to trust themselves as artists to search for and create what they need to see or experience, the practical goals that I have for my students do change from beginning levels to advanced. At the beginning, my plan is for students to develop sound, healthy studio practice, and to start to develop some fluency in the historical, visual and tactile language of ceramics. I was trained initially as a potter; and I still feel that, as a starting point, learning about pottery and vessel-making is learning about clay. Clay as a material comes with a set of physical realities that must be learned early on. This is vital in claywork, and can be something that if it is not learned early enough can frustrate and discourage anyone. In the intermediate levels, the students are given the task of developing higher levels of craftsmanship and learning control of materials and equipment. In advanced level courses, students learn the importance of remaining open to dramatic change in their work and the value of experimentation. Assignments at the upper levels are open-ended projects and research assignments that are meant to lead a student to meditate on and deconstruct their own ideas, vision and point of view. I have been teaching at the undergraduate level long enough to understand that it is some delicate business to teach students to think as growing artists, and I have learned that trusting students to learn is paramount in this. I have to trust them to learn, and I have to trust the creative process. Sometimes it takes nerves of steel not to put the brakes on when things go badly. Instead, it is my role to make sure they do not panic and put the brakes on themselves. I have repeatedly had the opportunity to see students take time to explore a direction that at first seems like a dead end, or a wrong turn, or a digression. More often than not, though, the wrong turn leads them to create wholly unique and thoughtful bodies of work.