Teaching Artist Development Studio Part 3: Completing the Circle / Suzanne Makol

After everyone in TAD Cohort 1 finished teaching in their various Chicago Public Schools, each group of two teaching artists presented their work to the entire group, as well as guest art education administrators.  Alyssa and I had a good time working with the students in our two-session workshop we called “Exploring Borders Through Visual and Physical Language” in Molly Myer’s AP Human Geography class at Linblom high school, so we were excited to share our experience with our peers. 

As Alyssa and I sat down to plan our presentation, we were surprised to receive an email from Molly with feedback from the experience, questions to provoke discussion, and how our work could be improved, as well as a link to a blog post she wrote on the experience. We were happy to have such honest and open feedback, but were surprised at how differently she saw certain aspects of our teaching artist collaboration.

As I discussed in my previous post, based on our initial meeting with Molly our intentions for the two teaching sessions were to be an introduction to:

physical and visual language
risk
how to read photos and people
physical and self-awareness
learning to be more abstract
composition and spatial awareness
taking better, more interesting photos
an exploration into the broad idea of borders.

Some of the positive feedback we got from Molly was that her students had fun and gained from physically moving in the classroom. Alyssa was particularly good at helping the students become more physically aware through theater-based activities. Molly also commented on learning from the idea of starting a topic with the students’ personal self before moving on to political geography.

Some of the more surprising comments in Molly’s post seemed disconnected from our experience and original discussion, such as the idea that we portrayed that the art activities we brought to the students were somehow more important and more fun than the content dealt with in their AP Human Geography class, and that we could have integrated the class content more directly.   

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was definitely going outside of my comfort zone to integrate outside content into my teaching artist work. I’m more familiar and comfortable with specifically teaching technical photography skills. If there was no expectation of arts integration with the two teaching sessions, I would have taught something totally different.

Alyssa and I did our best to make content connections with what we taught. We also had no intention of portraying our arts content as more important or more interesting than the Human Geography content the students were learning. Perhaps moving around and creating art projects is inherently “fun,” but our focus was approaching the topic of borders and boundaries from a different, not somehow better, perspective.

Although there were some different perspectives on our experience of Exploring Borders Through Visual and Physical Language, Alyssa and I were both proud to share our experience in our presentation. I felt the strongest in particular about the public/private portrait session I had with the students. Most students were able to develop ideas of their own about the difference between the public and private portrait, even in the short time period. Even the photos that didn’t fit as well into the public/private duality were interesting.

I think part of what made that happen was taking the time to look at and discuss the portrait photography of Dawoud Bey and Yousef Karsh at the beginning of the lesson, because it fostered a thoughtful eye among each student. I was pleased that many students said that taking the photos helped them to be more confident and to relate to their peers in a new way. I assumed that art making in general would open the students up a bit, especially for those with limited experience in the arts, but I hadn’t thought about how the photo assignment in particular helped them in that way. Because of the way it seemed to open them up, I used a similar prompt for the first day of darkroom photography class I taught at Marwen.

The main aspect that could have been improved about the experience was better communication with the classroom teacher. Although we did quite a bit of emailing with her, we only met with her during the initial TAD meeting before actually going to her class. With the additional time, it also would have been helpful to learn more specifically about the class content. We had a general idea, but more information would have helped to make more direct connections. Those connections would also be clearer to the students if the teacher interjected during key moments to help us make those connections. In the future I would make this clearer with the teacher so he/she would feel comfortable doing this (we thought it was a given since we are the guest teaching artists). In general, spending more time with the teacher would help us both to better understand each others’ expectations.

Overall, my first experience in arts integration went well, and I learned a lot from it. I now know firsthand how I don’t have to totally sacrifice teaching technical photography skills in order to incorporate outside content, although in the future (and with more than two teaching sessions) I would like to make the photography technique even stronger. I now see that there are natural connections that can be made between my art form and other content areas, and I will begin to think more about how aspects of photography that are important and interesting to me can relate to a variety of other subjects.


Pay no attention to the clean desk, it’s all about the brand new Certificate of Completion hung on the wall!

I feel so lucky to have participated in the Teaching Artist Development Studio. I met so many great teaching artists and friends. It was such a supportive environment. To make matters cheesier, we had a mini-graduation ceremony on our last day, including receiving certificates (I’ve already framed and hung mine at home), eating pie and cupcakes, and staying late to converse with everybody. Programs like TAD are important because they make teaching artist work a little less isolated.

Suzanne Makol is a teaching artist at Marwen. She is also an editor at Composite Arts Magazine, which is available as a free download at www.compositearts.com. She received her bachelor of fine arts in photography at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2011. Suzanne enjoys photographing small treasures that may go unnoticed.

Also by Suzanne Makol on ALT/space:
Teaching Artist Development Studio Part 1: Fall 2011
Teaching Artist Development Studio Part 2: Design Cycle

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