Dear Teacher...

Have you ever wanted to hand a letter to your art teacher and let them know your thoughts? I have had so very many students tell me of their horrendous experiences with thoughtless teachers. I’m certain that we have all shared in some of these experiences.

I think my favorite teacher horror story is my sister-in-law, Annie’s, tale of her drawing class. She got up the courage to attend a local drawing class. When she entered the room most of the students knew each other and no one greeted her (sound familiar?). The subject matter was a cow skull – no easy assignment for a first timer, geeze. The short of the story is that after much effort by Annie to sketch a skull in graphite, the teacher looked over her shoulder and exclaimed, “You’ve gotta be kidding, right?” This is amusing in the shock of absolute lack of empathy, understanding, or even good manners!  It’s like a TV moment; you’d see it in a sit com, but no one would believe that it could happen. Except anyone whose taken a lot of art classes. (It’s ok to laugh;  Annie quit the class, and has gone on to paint beautiful paintings!)

I’ve heard of teachers painting on student canvases without permission, ruining their work, even completely covering their work. And, much like Annie’s experience, I’ve heard of critical comments by instructors that have literally paralyzed student creativity. Like the breaking of a horse’s spirit.

An artist may be a brilliant painter, but not a good teacher or communicator. Artists may take up teaching for all kinds of reasons especially in today’s economy. Ultimately there should be only one true reason to teach: to inspire others. A teacher must have limitless compassion for the student and a true desire to see that person create joyfully. If you don’t have that kind of commitment to the student, you should honestly stay in the studio and continue to create your own work. Students tell me that I have endless patience, but I never feel impatient. Patience never crosses my mind. I am too focused on what is best for my student to consider any other option. Admittedly, I teach very small classes so I have an advantage here, but any good teacher should have similar intentions.

So, I have written a letter from Student to Teacher. Feel free to copy it if you wish and use it at will. Hand it out on your first day of class. Adapt it as appropriate. And let me know any of your own stories, good and bad, about “Art Class.” 

Dear Teacher,

I am so excited to be here in this class. Excited, nervous and scared. I have always wanted to create and I am now finally getting the chance. The art store was a small piece of heaven on earth: colors and textures and blank papers full of potential. I have all of my supplies and can’t wait to begin.

I hope I fit in. I don’t know any of these other students and they are probably all really good. I can see that you know many of them and they all seem to be friends. Please introduce me and make me feel welcome. Please ask that your students each share in the creative process.  I am nervous and don’t want to intrude.

I know this may sound silly, but it took a good deal of courage to come here. By being in a class, I will be creating in front of other people and exposing my work (my self) to judgment.  I am not a weak person, but this idea scares me. I am not confident in my abilities as an artist and I am not ready to be judged by others. Please give me words of encouragement, as the slightest doubt of my ability may crush my spirit. You will know if this happens, as I will not have the courage to return to class.

I’m ready for what ever you tell me, and your choice of words really, really matters. I respect you as an artist and I know that you are talented and knowledgeable about your craft. Your praise means more to me than you will ever know. I will remember your words for years to come. I realize that my work needs criticism in order for me to grow as an artist, but please be gentle and mindful of your comments. I will remember your words for years to come.

Thank you for your patience and generosity of spirit in sharing your knowledge. These qualities are paramount in a teacher. If you are patient with me I will absorb your knowledge as fast as I am able.

I am ready now to create.

Yours truly,

My Creative Self