Becoming Those Who Don't

Storefront In Blue, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

There’s an old saying, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

I’ve recently been asked if I am going to teach again. It’s an interesting thing, teaching is, especially in the arts. On the one hand, it’s great to teach, because, when I teach, I get to share my love of photography and image-making with somebody who’s just starting out. It’s very rewarding to see an artistic vision develop-in fact, I would say it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do, next to, of course, crafting your own artistic vision.

On the flip side, teaching does have its drawbacks. It can be very draining to teach and the amount of effort, time, and energy that goes into it really can weigh you down. Perhaps the worst part is that, sometimes, teaching can pull us away from what it is that we do best-we end up spending a lot of time teaching and maybe not so much doing. It cuts into our personal productivity time.

Maybe the secret “unknown” thing about teaching is that, when we teach, when we open up a world of possibilities to a select handful of fresh-faced eager students, only then can we really learn. Every time I teach, I learn more myself than any of my students. So, even though it’s an overlooked underpaid slot in life to be a teacher, it carries with it its own rewards. Like creativity itself, teaching is intrinsically rewarding.

I’ve been mentoring students for a while now and, actually, I find that to be quite beneficial. I’ve enjoyed more the one on one sort of aspect that the mentoring role can provide you, plus the mentoring does not have to cut into one’s own productivity cycles. It’s very possible to both be a mentor and a working professional, something that’s not always possible as a teacher. But then there are some drawbacks to mentoring too. It doesn’t scale. You can only really mentor one or two people at a time (at most) and, once the person is sort of “on their way” you can (and rightfully should) get pushed aside. So you find yourself always seeking out that next student. Maybe teaching in small doses would be a better solution than mentoring, at least in terms of scalability, though it feels entirely more daunting of a task.

An interesting thing about teaching too, I see some folks who do it regularly and I think to myself “but they aren’t really qualified to teach.” I know of a photographic instructor who is really quite a beginner, and that’s a shame. I think how students in that situation will essentially get “robbed.” They aren’t going to learn to love photography if their instructor doesn’t really have it down all that well for starters.

I was very fortunate when starting out. I had probably one of the best teachers in the world. Really, I did. And, I can honestly tell you, it made all of the difference in the world. Sure, I might still be a photographer, and sure I might still have talent within me-at the core of it, art is passion, heart, and soul, and these are things we really cannot collect in a classroom setting-but I know all too well, firsthand, what a difference a good teacher makes and what an impact a good teacher can have on our artistic development. I feel sorry for students who do not share that with me and I want to avoid teaching sort of “before my time.” I really do not want to teach if I do not feel I am “good enough” myself-that’s a situation that helps neither the instructor nor the student and, in fact, can do more harm than good. So, I will think about teaching before I take on that role. It’s a tall order, but I think one I might be able to juggle should the right opportunity present and should I be able to focus my efforts for the benefit of the students.

Having said all of that, I’ve started to think it might be sort of fun. I’m starting to get all sorts of ideas on all of the things I could do if let loose in the classroom once again.

Until next time…



  1. Scriber's Web
    February 18, 2009 / 4:20 pm

    hmm… mentoring versus teaching…

    As far as I am concerned, you are doing both for me. I would say mentoring more than teaching. And you are the world’s best mentor.

    But you also taught me how to create a blog, how to use the software etc. That falls into the teaching category.

    To me each holds its value. Teaching gives direct results but mentoring gives abstract results. Mentoring changes someone’s way of thinking and life.

    I think you have amazing talent and you have got to share it with folks like me. Teach and mentor…

    You excel at both:)

  2. mythopolis
    February 18, 2009 / 4:47 pm

    Go for it! : )

  3. Carol
    February 21, 2009 / 12:18 am

    Thanks for the kind words, all.

    It’s kind of daunting to think about teaching, especially in a more “formal” setting, but I might be able to bring something as a teacher. I know I could do it better than some, I just think teaching should be held to a more “higher” standard, since they can really do more harm than good if they aren’t careful.

    It’s a hard line this one is. Thanks for all of your feedback!

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