432. Artists and Teachers

When I was in seventh grade, Mr. Wetlauffer, my art teacher, once looked at a drawing I’d done and recommended that I stick to music. I think he was commenting on my art more than on my music. I’m pretty sure he meant it as a little joke. But I was devastated by his comment, and by other negative comments he made after looking at my art. I didn’t take long to decide that there were people who were good at art, and there were other people like me, who weren’t.
Just as the gym teacher had a habit of drawing our attention to a handful of strong and fit kids to use as examples, Mr. Wetlauffer kept showing us how talented some members of the class were. He also lost no opportunity to show us how talented HE was. I, for one, did not get inspired by that talent; I sometimes got awed by it, but mostly, it discouraged me. Probably, there were kids who felt that way about my musical talent; I think I was used as an example in music class. That did wonders for my self-esteem, but I wonder how many people it discouraged.
Since I started working with children, children have been impressed with my artistic talent. I’ve enjoyed the kudos I’ve gotten from children, but I’ve taken a long time to internalize them. I’ve thought children would stop being impressed by my art as soon as they reached an age at which they could easily outshine me – perhaps age ten. And besides, one of my roles as teacher is to get children to realize how talented THEY are, not gather kudos for myself.
Adults are former children, and there are often conflicts going on inside adults; they’ve worked to develop their own talents and skills, and having done so, they don’t always feel like working on children’s self-esteem; they’ve got self- esteem issues of their own. In fact, there are people who teach instead of what they really want to do; they’ve been unable to find work as artists, musicians, athletes, or whatever else they have striven for, so they’ve taken jobs as teachers. Some have risen to the challenge and become great teachers, but some have remained bitter and, to some degree, have taken it out on children.
The appreciation I’ve gotten from children and good art teachers with whom I’ve worked has gradually won me over; I’ve begun to think of myself as a pretty good artist. But that was after years of believing Mr. Wetlauffer. And I know people who’ve taken years to discover that they could sing; they’ve had to overcome reactions they’ve gotten from music teachers.
It’s too bad. I wish people could do the work that is most important to them. There shouldn’t be so many frustrated artists, musicians, athletes, scientists, etc. teaching children. They should be following their blisses, and letting children be taught by people who want to be teachers.

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