Back to School

Back to School

I've been teaching at SVA for a really long time. I actually can't even remember how long, but it's got to be at least 16 or 50 years now. Sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's inconvenient. Occasionally, it's incredibly frustrating. But that said, I wouldn't take back the many hours I've invested in the classroom and only wish more designers taught, too. Here's why:

• Teaching keeps you fresh. You discover trends that I guarantee you'd miss out on otherwise. Kids are plugged into designers, music, movies, and all kinds of other [sometimes scary] stuff you'd think you'd be aware of, but really aren't. Ultimately, you're not as cool as you think you are.

• Teaching provides a nice break from the real world and its many woes. Is that magazine spread really viable? Nah. Can you actually design a package like that? No way--but it's school. Students are supposed to try crazy stuff, even if you have to rein them in here and there.

• Kids are funny. They really do say the darndest things.

• Teaching is rewarding. I really mean it. You can't imagine how great it feels to meet up with a former student years later and see how well they've done. Or to see a quiet student blossom over the semester. Or to be completely blown away by an incredible project. And--gasp--sometimes a former student will even say thank you, and tell you what a great influence you've been. Really. It's happened to me. Okay, not that many times, but it really has happened.

• Students really ARE doe-eyed (though sometimes it's just a lack of sleep). They want to soak up as much as they can from you, even if it doesn't always seem that way. They haven't been worn down by difficult clients or editors. It's all shiny and new, and design is not "work" yet. That said, I've been told more than once, "At least you get PAID for what you do!"

• Shopping for an intern? Colleagues shopping for interns? It feels great to give a current student an opportunity to learn in the real world, and you know it's the right thing to do.

• Former students make great hires. You already know what you're getting yourself into once you've gotten used to their quirks in class. There are far fewer surprises than with complete strangers. You can assume they already "get" you and understand your quirks, too. They just don't know that you're not always the kind, gentle person you are in the classroom. They'll get to see you in action, so maybe I should move this one down to the next category...

• The world has changed a lot since you were in school, if you're anywhere past the age of remembering life without an iPod (or a VCR, in my case). Students love that worldwide web, and will contact you via e-mail rather than ask their classmates questions. Don't say I didn't warn you.

• Students are needy (see above). They need more hand-holding than coworkers, so you have to amp up the patience and kindness. You THINK they should know, but when you step back for a moment, you realize that they're kids, even though they're tattooed and wear exposed thong underwear. They just seem older.

• Students have cell phones and all kinds of other stuff, and they're not afraid to use them in class. But if you're not taking calls, then neither should they.

• Students are bigger than you. They may still be kids in your now-jaded eyes, but they're tall kids. Or maybe they just wear higher heels now that you've entered your "comfortable shoes" years.

• You'll make someone cry at some point. You won't mean to, but either you'll be too honest, or you'll say something stupid out of frustration. You'll try to convince yourself that this will build character in the student, but you'll just cringe inside and feel awful for days. Or maybe you'll be happy that people think you're scary. If that's the case, it's time for a sabbatical.

You don't teach for the money, although I admit that the little extra check has saved me more than once. You really ARE "giving back," even if it sometimes feels like you're giving, giving, giving. It's important to encourage the next generation of designers, and to give them honest feedback and pearls of wisdom. You know more than you think you do, and when you're able to help someone through a difficult project, you're actually doing more than just that. You're building confidence and helping young things to bloom. I remember the names of my favorite teachers--people who, in the end, changed my life. I hope that someone will remember me, or will at least remember an experience in my class--perhaps even a good one.

  • NancyStam

    yes, yes and yes. Gail, you said it all! I, too have been teaching 10+ years [at Pratt], and I LOVE when September rolls around. The students inspire me. I hope to do the same for them. AND they keep me on my toes! They do their homework...I do mine. I keep researching current events, the media, new artists -- all that is entailed in the visual communications field. It helps me to bring new knowledge and experiences to the class.

  • millie

    Hi Gail,

    I loved your class. SVA is so lucky to have you!

    All best,

    Millie Rossman Kidd (SVA, 1999)

  • G.Glas

    Graduating from college three years ago I can relate to your post. I had many professors that helped me along the way.

    "Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual."


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