“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward
“Re-do it until it SINGS, until you look at it and are so AMAZED by what you’ve made you can’t believe you made it. Then we’ll talk…”
― Alex Heria
First and foremost, I seek to inspire my students. The last two decades as an educator have taught me that providing tools and skills isn’t enough. It’s those sparks of inspiration that turn those tools and skills into creativity and ultimately, success.
My teaching career began by chance. I embraced many opportunities to share my passion for my art, and one of those opportunities found me working as an Adobe Photoshop instructor, teaching within the Visual Arts department at a community college.
Eventually I moved on to teaching photography at that same college, and it was there that I learned how my passion for photography and communication could inspire students. I began writing syllabi and establishing learning objectives in this highly subjective curricula. In 1999, I was hired to run the photography department and lab at International Fine Arts College (IFAC). Now as full time faculty member, I engaged in multidisciplinary critiques with artists of all media, interfaced with all my photography majors directly as guide and mentor, and became an important member of my learning community. I found that after conveying the technical aspect to students, empowering them to find the creativity within themselves was the best route to real learning.
In 2003, I joined the Graphic Design department, teaching software before branching out to many classes within the major. I was given the opportunity to rewrite and develop syllabi and a collateral set of PowerPoint lectures for the accompanying text, A History of Graphic Design by Philip Meggs. I designed with connections to the VARK system devised by Neil Fleming in 1987. Addressing visual, auditory and read/write learning styles, each slide was designed to convey the design/art movement a particular chapter covered. This approach to teaching, connecting to students in a learner-centered, style-based way, is part of what defines me as an instructor.
But it’s also important to balance abstract instruction with real-life apprenticeship. Therefore, I also assisted students in maturing their mid-program projects into professional-level work, including clearly communicated design briefs and collateral campaign pieces.
Growing as an instructor, I developed a style of teaching that communicates my own passion for artistic communication as a way of life. By conveying my own real-life experiences with humor and by bringing design “on the ground level,” I find that my students are intrigued and motivated. Core values of my teaching include clarity of concept and attention to detail. My students learn to understand the tools but to also remain connected to elements of surprise and discovery that foster creativity.
The creative process should be demystified in teaching. Therefore, I carefully demonstrate my own creative processes, live, in a way that reaches all learning styles: by example, by direct interaction and by research-driven project management. My students should leave each semester with experience in real world problem-solving and troubleshooting — the type of challenges they will face in a professional setting later on.
Projects that engage students to wear all the hats of advertising and production are key. Students in upper level classes serve as creative director, artistic director, photographer, advertiser, retoucher, illustrator, layout designer and in a post-production output role. In class, we engage in the same experimental and experiential approaches they will find in their future careers.
The goals are as lofty as they are in the real world: to always leave the designer, the viewer and the client in a state of awe. Because we have unlocked the students’ highest levels of creativity, they engage in self-examination at the deepest levels to find connections between ideas and products. All the while, they source ideas from a synthesis of diverse inspiration.
I tell my students to live by the Paula Scher phenomenon of “never let the role of expert blind one from the concurrent role of magician.” KNOW that design is a process not a destination, communication is a journey not a finish line, and creation is a lifestyle, not a chore.