Apparently, I’m an Art Teacher now.

Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in Ireland. No, strike that, yesterday was one of the best days I’ve ever had.
As part of the ongoing Creative Connections course, we, the participants, have to pass on some of the skills that we’ve been learning to the general public. So, over 6 weeks (starting yesterday) we have to run 6 public workshops for 60 women and children, both from Ireland and from other countries. These women would be broken into 3 separate groups according to the age of their children, and each group would be facilitated by a group of Creative Connections ladies. So, yesterday (Saturday) was our first workshop.
We had been planning for the workshop for two weeks, but, of course, as these things go, and it being our first time ever running an official workshop, we were still woefully under-prepared and disorganised come yesterday morning. I had volunteered to be my group’s team leader, as I am missing a huge number of workshops that are coming up in the next few weeks, due to work responsibilities of both the au pair and theatre types.
As team leaders, on the Saturday, we were meant to organise the running of the main activity for the day (printmaking), give a demonstration, locate and organise materials, schedules, and be on top of what each other member of our group would be taking responsibility for in the running of the day. All preparation had to be done on the Thursday before our Saturday workshop. For a while, the Thursday session went quite well. It was interrupted briefly to allow everyone to have a chance to ooh and aah over the 2 week old son of one of our group members (it is a group of women, after all), but we were having a great, if somewhat sleep-deprived hysteria induced, time for the first 2 hours of Thursday. Unfortunately, due to a variety of confusions, not least of all, what exactly we were meant to be organising, we didn’t realise the majority of the things that we were expected to have organised by the end of the session on Thursday. This meant that at 9:15pm, with the session finishing at 9:30pm (and my last bus back to Kinsale leaving at 10pm, with a 10 minute drive from the Mayfield Arts Centre to the bus station), the three team leaders were running around anxiously, not quite sure what to do or who to talk to, or where things should go.
Oh, ok.
I was running around like a headless chicken, picking up materials, putting them down, demanding people help me, telling them that I knew what was going on and they didn’t (when I really didn’t have a clue), and generally panicking about how I was possibly going to get this all under control as well as get the 10pm bus, so that I didn’t have to cop a 40 Euro taxi charge to ensure I got home in time to sleep and get up to start work at 7am the next morning.
I left at 9:35pm, with the assurance of our own group leaders that everything was under control, that we’d all be fine and things would work out on the day. I remained unconvinced, gripping my hands anxiously all the way to the bus station, sitting up bolt upright on the bus home, and devouring a strange concoction of baked beans and pasta when I finally got back to the house, my stomach rumbling due to 3 hours of anxiety and adrenaline. 
Friday evening I was babysitting, and I also spent an hour or so on Skype with a dear friend, babbling away about various things that had happened to us during the year, including my recent decision to leave the au pair business and figure out ‘something else’ to do. Whilst this was lovely, added to my already frayed nerves surrounding the Saturday morning workshop, my buzzing mood practically made it impossible to sleep. To get to Cork on time, I had to get up at 6:45am on Saturday. I eventually convinced myself to get into bed and read at midnight. 45 minutes later I was still sitting bolt upright in my bed, flicking back and forth through Vanity Fair and biting my nails. Convinced I was never going to get tired, I switched off my light, lay down and closed my eyes, hoping my body would get the idea.
It didn’t.
I woke up at 6:45am having had approximately 5 hours ‘sleep’ that had been consistently interrupted by anxiety-induced nightmares. I dragged myself out of bed and stared out into the darkness that is Ireland at 7am these days. I got into my clothes, got my bag together and snuck out into the kitchen. Little Man was already sitting up on the couch, watching the telly, with his poor mother fast asleep next to him. He took one look at me and demanded, ‘Where are you going?’ waking his mother up straight away. Whilst I felt guilty, the upside was that she said her sister (and our next door neighbour) would be driving to work in Cork in 15 minutes, and she would be able to give me a lift. So, I got a very comfortable ride into the city in a BMW, which included my very own, personal seat warmer. My bum has never been so toasty.
The problem with being so efficient getting into Cork, however, was that, when I arrived at 7:45am, absolutely nothing in the city was open. I hadn’t had breakfast yet, I was in desperate need of a tea, and I was freezing cold and being rained on, but not a single store was open. Not even the markets were set up yet. I did a couple of laps of the city, searching for anyone, anything, that was open, and, then, giving up hope of finding anything, continued to do laps so as to prevent my knees from freezing together. My sleep-deprivation and anxiety made me irrationally angry and I blamed the lack of open shops variously on a combination of the crap economy and lazy Irish people who drank too much on a Friday night and, therefore, didn’t get up early and go into the city on a Saturday morning for coffee and a bagel, hence no stores or cafes opening before the hours of 8:30 or 9am (dear Irish people – I don’t think you’re lazy or crap. Well, your economy isn’t great at the moment, but I’m fairly sure you were already aware of that. And I do not blame you at all for this occurrence. Well, maybe your politicians. And your bankers. But, not you, dear Irish person. Do not take my sleep-deprived, hunger-induced insults to be my actual view of the world).
Eventually, a cafe opened up and I managed to get myself a pot of tea, improving my mood immeasurably. After a crepe filled with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and feta, the whole world seemed brighter, and everyone, including my exceedingly surly and grumpy crepe lady, who charged me 50 cents more than her menu said she should have for my crepe, was my best friend and could do no wrong.
I got myself a few snacks for the day and then headed to the workshop location for set-up. Anxiety kicked in again. Once all the materials were out of the car, we had to start setting up. As the workshops were up to us to run, our trusty course supervisors were attempting to stand back and let us organise things. We weren’t given directions as to what needed to happen next, or what things should go where. An overall group leader hadn’t been decided on, so we were all standing around, debating what should be done. Eventually, I picked up a variety of things and started dividing them out amongst the tables. Other women started over jobs. Before we knew it, it was 10:20am, and women were arriving with their children. We (well, I) attempted to ignore them, keeping my eyes to the floor, continuing to organise materials, looking at the schedule and talking to my fellow group members about various activities. ‘Who should run the name game?’ ‘Where should the round robin be placed?’ Our group was looking after the women without children, and those women with children in the 0 – 2 years bracket (those a little too young to participate), but it soon became obvious that the group gathering around us were women with children aged 6 – 12. Our participants were starting to get a little tetchy, seeing that things weren’t quite under control, and that we weren’t quite ready to start at 10:30am, as had been promised (but, hey, this is Ireland, people never start anything on time here – except buses – so, what could they really expect?). We ran around, checking with people, until it became obvious that the age groups we had been expecting were different from the ones that had been organised. Things were put right again, and we were given our group of 10 – 12 women, plus one 2 year old boy with blonde cherub curls and a darling 1 year old girl with the biggest blue eyes seen this side of Hobbiton.
The mix-up with age groups and materials meant that I hadn’t had a chance to check with my group who was doing what and in what order. I asked one of the ladies in my group if she would run our first activity, a name game. She said yes, but then started off on a tangent about all the singing and dancing games she had for us to play. I said that was great, but what about the name game? She said she would like to give us a singing game to play. Before things got completely off schedule only a minute into the workshop, and showing my control freak side perhaps a little too early in the day, I took over and ran a quick name game. It was possibly too quick and too rushed, due to the fact that I hadn’t planned to do it, and that I was anxious about how things were going to be organised from then on, but, at least we had started going.
I then handed back to my original assistant. She started to show us a very simple song and dance call and response routine. It was completely different from the schedule that had been agreed upon on Thursday night, but as the aim of the activities was just to get people loosening up and moving, I decided not to get too precious about the whole thing, and just joined in. It turned out to be great fun, and a good starting exercise, because everyone was working as a group, and had to give up their inhibitions, trust what was happening, and not worry about the purpose and meaning of it all (or was that just me? No, I’m sure it applied to everyone…). Afterwards, I quickly ran through the planned games, and we ended with another song and dance.
After our warm-up games we went into our first art activity, which was a round robin pastel/charcoal drawing. The women all gathered around a table and started drawing a picture. At a designated point, they had to leave their picture and move on to the next one and start drawing there. The idea is to get everyone loose, working together, feeling free and not too precious about their work and activity. It went very well, was run by one of our other group members, and we ended up with a beautiful, colourful mural at the end.
Then it was my turn to take over. I was introducing the main art activity of the day, which was screen printing. I first of all showed the women how to do a basic trace mono print, which was similar to the technique we learnt at the start of our course, but without the printing press, and with some simplified materials. The women were delighted with the quick demonstration I did and went straight to work making their own prints. Every 10 minutes I introduced another technique, and the women experimented with the the images, the printing and all the materials that we had on offer, coming up with some truly lovely prints.
Before we knew it, it was an hour and a half into the workshop, and time for a quick break. Most of the women didn’t want to stop, so I let them go, whilst I went to the tea room and drank a gallon of water. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. My instructions had been simple and easy to follow, and the women had instantly jumped in and started to work. It was wonderful to watch how delighted they were with the results, many of them asked for the names of the materials so they could buy them and continue working with them at home. They were working together easily, talking, making friends and giving each other ideas of what to do next. Occasionally, you would jump in and make a suggestion of what could improve a print, or if they’d forgotten a step, or to complement a print, but it was mainly standing back and watching what happened, offering advice if needed and enjoying the enjoyment the women were getting out of the activity.
After a quick warm-up exercise, we did another 30 minutes of printing, with one more technique thrown into the mix, as well as showing a quick and effective way of displaying all the prints together. This was by making an ‘accordion book’, which is basically just paper folded up between two bits of wood and cardboard, so that it can be closed up flat, or opened up and displayed on a mantlepiece or table. Some of the women got all the prints displayed, whereas others took home materials to finish it during the week.
After the workshop, the Creative Connections ladies had to do a quick evaluation on how the whole day had gone, and, after that, some of us went for lunch. We were on such a happy, exhausted high, that we ended up sitting in the cafe for 3 hours just chatting about how it had all gone, our lives, what was coming next, anything that came up. We also learnt that the group had been granted funding to write a book about the experience of the course and what we have created within it, which is incredibly exciting, and we start work on that from December.
Anyway, the main point of this post is just how wonderful the whole session made me feel. Talking in front of groups, and teaching, is something that I find very easy, and its something I really do enjoy. You’d think, then, that I’d be much happier about my Master of Teaching, and the prospect of potentially being a high school teacher. Ah, not so, young Skywalker. See, one of the reasons I think I truly loved the workshop was because all the women were there wanted to be there, and they wanted to learn. Also, there was no curriculum, no expected outcomes. It was all about experimentation, about expression what you wanted to express, and there is a real joy and excitement in that. People so rarely let themselves feel that in their day to day lives. Its all about, I should do this, I have to do that. To be able to create a space and run a workshop that was nothing to do with making money, losing weight, learning useful things, getting fit, finding your ‘soul mate’ etc. but just about learning a technique for the sake of having fun and making lovely things, well… that was just delightful. I think I would be most happy running workshops like this, outside of the school curriculum. Of course, there is an argument to say that schools should be like this, that a talented teacher would be able to teach the curriculum in such a way that meets required standards through students’ experimentation, exploration, enjoyment and individual interests. But I’m also aware of how much harder it is to walk that fine line in a school scenario, finding the balance between the bureaucracy and the joy of learning.
So, yeah. The problem is that, if I’m honest with myself, I only really want to teach kids who want to learn. I’m kind of scared of the other type. I don’t know how to encourage them. I do have fantasies of being a Robin Williams-type in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, or, even better, a Michelle Pffeifer from ‘Dangerous Minds,’ but, at the same time, I have enough sense to realise that just wearing a leather jacket into a Western Sydney school isn’t going to suddenly make them want to read Shakespeare with me.
But, who knows. Yesterday gave me hope that perhaps teaching is something that I could do, could do well and may even enjoy. Now if only I could get through the bloody course without going crazy.

Highly accurate depiction of how an art teacher looks according to Mattel. The brightly coloured skirt and kooky scarf evidently show how bohemian, left-wing and non-conformist art-teacher Barbie is.

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Filed under Creative Connections, Introspection

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