The Bad Teacher

Occasionally in conversation, someone tells a story about a teacher they had who turned them off a particular subject or activity forever with just one sharp remark or action.  I have such a story, too, but the ending is different.

I attended a two-room elementary school with grades 1-4 together in one room and grades 5-8 in the other.  Mrs. Gibbs was the teacher for grades 1-4.  I always finished my homework as quickly as possible during the school day, so that I had free time to pull out my paper and crayons and draw.  It was my reward to myself!

One afternoon during 4th grade, I was so engrossed in drawing a tree (yes, I still remember that it was a tree), that I didn’t notice Mrs. Gibbs had walked up behind me.  She suddenly barked “What are you doing, drawing and coloring?  That’s for first-graders!  Are you a first-grader?  You pick up your colors and go sit with the first-graders for the rest of the day!”

I was shocked!  I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such a rebuke, and tears welled up.  Back-talk was not tolerated, though–this was in the era when every schoolteacher had a paddle–so I hastily gathered my pencil, colors and paper tablet and moved to an empty desk among the first-graders.  All the other students were surprised, too, and none dared to say anything.  There was no laughter as I obeyed.

This is the point where most people’s story ends with “And I never drew/sang/liked arithmetic/read aloud/jumped rope/spoke up again.”  But I finished that tree.

Mrs. Gibbs retired at the end of that year. It’s a good thing. That was the kind of incident that squelches creativity, interest and learning in too many children.  If I wasn’t so stubborn and so eager to draw, it might have done me in, too.

I sometimes wonder how many people’s entire life trajectory was changed by a bad incident with a teacher.  I hope some of them find their way back through a positive experience later on.

Followup Aug. 24:  check out this TED talk–it’s what I’m talking about!

October workshop!

My upcoming half-day “Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil” workshop at the Pacific Art League sold out two months in advance! So we’ve scheduled it again in the fall. Here are the details:

Tree of Character, 15"x20", colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Tree of Character, 15″x20″, colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil
presented by Denise J Howard
Pacific Art League
668 Ramona St.
Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, October 5, 2014
1:00 – 5:00 PM
$73 PAL members / $85 non-members
Materials fee due to instructor: $10

Learn how to use a variety of techniques, surfaces and tools with colored pencils to create glowing color and details that blur the distinction between drawing and painting. Colored pencils offer the control and portability of pencil and the color of paint.

See the listing on PAL’s fall 2014 workshops page.