There is a story about a Russian man who rings the bells of an orthodox church in Moscow. During Stalin’s reign most church bells were melted down. Bell ringing as an art form was almost lost during the time of the Soviet Union. After its break up, many churches that had been destroyed were rebuilt. This man decided to look at the traditions of his people and became a master bell ringer.
The bell ringer opened a school where he has only seven students. It will take several years for the students to arrive at the necessary artistic level needed to become masters. Despite the overwhelming task of teaching an art form few in Russia can remember first hand, he is determined. In doing so he serves both himself and his community. Teaching is an essential element in his artistic pursuit. Through it he helps others to achieve their goals of artistic practice and service. This artist lives the life and art he believes in. This kind of dedication creates a fertile learning environment.
Teaching is a creative process for teacher and student alike. It has taken me some time to come to this conclusion. The first time I taught a lesson was over 18 years ago. At the time I had little life experience and the subject I was teaching was still very new to me. That first lesson was exactly that. As I grew older and more at ease, my teaching became better. As my creative production became integrated into my life, teaching became more natural.
A teacher’s role in the classroom is to provide an environment for experimentation and research. A teacher must be an evolving catalyst for the student. The world, technology, students, personal experience, emotion, aging, fear, pleasures, rights, wrongs, in other words, life creates the teacher/catalyst. The student’s role is to be open to possibilities as well. A student has to take in the goals of a course and program and make them his or her own. After this is achieved, a student’s work must move towards a common good. In a class that produces visual/audio work an essential goal is to place the work within a community.
A class should go beyond the boundaries of a seemed discipline. The classroom must be a place where people and ideas from many directions converge. Some of the most creative thinking and exploration I have encountered has been within the educational institution. This is achieved when people of different disciplines are allowed to interact. A teacher must act as a mediator of experience, exposing students to thinkers and doers inside and outside the discipline. Doing so will expand their understanding of their community and the world.