This post was written as part of the 2017 MTBoS Blogging Initiative, in response to the prompt “We all fall down.” (mtbos stands for math-twitter-blog-o-sphere)
When I was finishing my graduate degree, I was hired to teach my first college art class. I was really proud of being the “professor.” I would come to class and say all of the things that I thought the professor should say. I had had some really wise teachers who showed up to class and gave really wise commentary about art, and I thought that what I was supposed to do was to emulate their behavior, and say wise things. I remember that there were a lot of students so we had divided up the first formal critique into two days. On the first day, I acted the part that I thought I had been hired to act. I said things that sounded like what an art professor should say.
The students saw right through it. They could tell that I was just playing a part. It was a miserable day both for them and for me. I really reflected about this, and was determined for day 2 to be different. But I was scared too. If I didn’t say the things that were my idea of what someone in that role should say, what would I have to contribute? I went to class ready for it to be even worse than the first day.
I don’t know if I said anything wise or deep or even if I gave any meaningful feedback that day, but I was honest. And students were totally different. They were actively listening to me and to each other. They could immediately sense that there was a difference between the two days of critique. What they wanted was not my idea of an art teacher. What they wanted was honesty. As soon as I just acted like myself, they were willing to be on the journey together – even if they had an inexperienced captain.
As a math teacher, I have been so grateful to have made these mistakes in the art classroom. I had so many art students who were much more gifted artists than I, that I didn’t feel threatened when my math students would catch on to something new before I did, or would think of a more elegant solution than the one I had in mind. I learned to be comfortable with not knowing as an artist, and have translated these important lessons to my math classroom. When I catch myself trying to be wise or trying to sound like something I’m not, I remember that first critique day. Students know.