A 'Philosophy of Teaching'

Darrell Schultz shares what his personal 'Philosophy of Teaching' became over the course of his career as an instructor.

No teacher can make a mark in the world without followers.  Every person has had some teacher, in his or her life, that left an indelible impression.  Teachers are special creatures who first need to realize that they are not teaching a 'subject' or 'course,' but PEOPLE.  Students don't care how much one knows until they know how much that person cares for them as people.  I believed I needed to make class different from the norm because the mind can only absorb as much as the bottom end can endure, so I liked to be on my feet--and have my students on their feet with fun activities--as much as possible.  

There were certain facets of the profession that I tried to embrace...  
1)  Praise positive behavior: I took my students' artistic visions to a variety of exhibitions and competitions.  It was important that the students knew that it wasn't just there mothers and teachers who hung their works up and appreciated their artistic expressions.  At the shows, students learned that winning awards wasn't the end result but, rather, sharing and learning from the experience.  

2)  Offer challenges to the student's potential:  As a teacher, I identified, defined, and refined the abilities of students to the best of my ability.  Much of the downfall of the country's educational system can be attributed not to poor teaching as much as the issue of failing to properly motivate/challenge their students.

3) STUDENT solves the problems:  It's been said, "Problems are simply opportunities in disguise."  That was my classroom approach.  I would listen to the student's plight and often said, "You have a problem.  How are you going to solve it?"  I believed that the teacher who always took charge cheated the student of one of the prime benefits of education.  One time, late in the morning when everyone was asleep, I was in the artroom at work.  Cody Neugebauer was readying an airbrush painting for a competition that was important to him.  Just by coming in so late and putting so much effort into making the deadline showed Cody's desire to solve problems.  But, that night, he had an 'accident' on the huge canvas he was painting.  With a cunning solution, he covered the spill and, at the contest, the judge raved about how he implemented his subject motif as a replacement for an eyebrow.

Another time, former pupil JoAnne Agers had labored several weeks on a pastel sketch of a famous actress.  As was often the case with my students' works, JoAnne was creating a MAMMOTH-sized piece that had to be rolled out on tables just to work on it.  Well, one of my first-hour students failed to clean their desk thoroughly before departing and, when JoAnne rolled her endeavor out on the table the oil paint soaked through her work.  But, all was not lost.  She ended up spraying fixative to the area, then added some pastel to it, then sprayed it with hairspray, and once again added more pastel work.  It ended up being one of the 'happy accidents' from which my students benefitted.  When we took that work to a state show, the judge opened the closed door and called for me.  I went inside, surprised that he'd allow me into the sacred area (usually, we all stood in the hall until the door opened and the winning works were carried out for display).  The juror told me, "This work by JoAnne Agers won first in 'Drawing.'  But, I HAVE to ask you a question...that's why I called you in here.  She did something that, in my thirty years of teaching, I've never seen before.  How did she make that cold sore? It's SOOOOO realistic and 'made the drawing'!"

4)  Vary teaching activities...each and every year.  I was incredibly lucky to not only land a job at Cache, where I had a good budget and the support of my administrators right off the bat, but there was The Cache Times Weekly newspaper there for me, as well.  Ron Scott, Tommy Hawthorne, and others not only covered what my students were doing, they unselfishly filled pages and pages of their editions with photos and lengthy write-ups.  I was always coming up with learning activities specifically designed for motivating that group of individuals.  Once, I challenged my class to attain a certain level of excellence as a class and, if they could do it, I'd come into class in a swimming suit.  Ron Scott was in my classroom, shortly thereafter, ready to take photos of the price I had to pay for their excellence in class.  When I walked in wearing a robe that I took off to show my NORMAN ROCKWELL-STYLE swimming suit I had custom made, by my wife, for the event, he--and my class--roared with laughter.  But, so did the community, who saw the photos in he paper.  Whether I put my students on 'The Search for King TOT,' made them do their work with boxing gloves on or specially-designed glasses I made to suggest physical maladies, led a 'spoof wedding' (in the church, with a phony license, the whole kit-and-kaboodle), I didn't want my classes to be mundane.  After all, when I first started teaching we weren't having to compete with MTV, cellphones, tablets, Playstations, and so on for their interest.  So, I had to really come up with some cunning projects to win their time.

5)  Tease and be Teased.  'Laughter' in the classroom was imperative.  My students and I would banter back and forth in good fun, which made us feel like we were family members or friends, walking down an educational pathway together.  I used to play the 'White Rabbit!' game with my students.  If you could wish them a 'White Rabbit ('Rabbit, Rabbit') Day' on the first of each month before they could do it to you, you would be the recipient of a month of good luck.  The extent to which the students went to make sure they 'got me' was terrific.  I got plenty of calls at midnight, so I just left it off the hook finally.  The next month, my DOORBELL rang at midnight.  I opened the door to find a poster stuck in the ground of my front yard that read, "White Rabbit Day, Mr. Schultz!"  I got them back, though.  One month I hid in the electrical closet of the office.  I could hear student-after-student anxiously asking the office staff, "Where is Mr. Schultz?  We gotta get him!"  Well, AFTER the bell rang to begin school, I just went to the office intercom and said, "White Rabbit Day from Mr. Schultz!"  I heard collective groans and laughter coming from the rooms.

Probably the prime example of this facet of my teaching style came into play in 1994.  The playfulness spread between classes.  The middle school kids, a really sharp group of creative and energetic minds, started a 'boasting contest' with the senior students in my most advanced class.  The middle schoolers would take my wooden mannequin and put it into an environment that somehow poked fun of the seniors.  The seniors would then re-do the environment with one of their own to try to 'one-up' the crafty middle schoolers.  This went on and on and on.  My other classes came in daily to see what the 'comeback' was by the next group 'up.'  Students from all over the campus came by the art room to see the newest, zany, witty comeback.  It ended when Roger Brown made a larger-than-life mannequin out of rolls and rolls of aluminum foil and had, at its feet, the mannequin--with a snarky comment about the middle schoolers--bowing down in reverence.  I never dreaded coming to school a day in my career and when it was fun, like that, I didn't even want to go home more than necessary.

6)  Academics...even in art!  When my students left my classroom to march through life without me beside them, I wanted them academically prepared for the trials.  At one point, I required ALL incoming students to take a year of 'Art History' before they could get into a lab class.  That separated the students really serious about art from those wanting to finger paint.  It was one of the smartest moves I made in my career, as students began to study eras, artists, and styles so that they developed a set of ideas they'd want to try to put into 2-D or 3-D form and their personal likes developed before they ever used a paint brush.  Year after year, at a state college-sponsored 'Art History Competition' for high school pupils, Cache art students won and won and won.  I don't think we ever finished lower than second.  Students quickly learned Michelangelo and Leonardo weren't just talented with their hands and art media but, instead, had an unquenchable desire to learn.

7)  Coordinate and work with other adults outside of the classroom.  I never sought to be the ONLY 'teacher' in my classroom.  There were many times when students would ask me questions that, if I couldn't answer, I'd give them extra credit for and then find the answer before the next day.  I encouraged peer tutoring in art and, often, found that the students had learned something that I didn't know in working with a medium.  They'd share it with others...and me.  

We interacted with other teachers both inside and outside of our district.  We illustrated student-conceived myths written by English students; made a geodesic dome that students could lay beneath in the library while reading; we printed t-shirts and bumper stickers; we hosted contests and even events where other schools came to the Cache campus and my students taught them different methods of creating work in a variety of media; we invited adults to come up at night and my students would teach them; we went to both secondary-level and college classrooms to be taught by their art teachers; we had guest artists come in and show their works to the Cache Art Club...and on and on and on.  Had I come out of college thinking I knew everything about art and that my podium was a sacred spot only for me, I'd have been a fool.

Special note, here, has to be given to Andy Watson, Jerry Hall, and Todd Haxton.  Each took my Art History course multiple times.  (Todd set out to take it EVERY year!)  I let them teach sections of class materials which they knew as well as I by then.  Todd could do a dead-ringer impersonation of Forrest Gump.  When I let him teach sections and he'd do it from the vantage point of Forrest Gump talking to the class, we'd all be laughing so hard our ribs hurt.  Man, he was funny!  A GREAT teacher, too, let me add!   Jerry and Andy had a head-to-head competition to see which one of them was the best art historian.  The principal, and other adults, sat in and watched that academic face-off.

8)  Respect one another and 'pay the love' forward.  It's said, "The family that plays together stays together," and I applied that in my style of classroom management.  My students and I played a lot of 'review games' together, from 'Putt-for-Points' (with real golf clubs and vinyl balls) to 'Group Concentration.'  One of the facets of the bonding process I discovered was the importance of eating together.  In my career as a college teacher, I always wanted one or two sessions, per class, where I sat with my students in an informal setting and supped.  I asked the students to bring their favorite foods to share in dishware purchased from dollar stores.  Then, at the end of the day's class, all of us left and--during the next fifteen to twenty minutes--those who really were in need of food could come back to the room and take home whatever they wanted.  About a half hour later, students who wanted to see if they had been able to minister to someone else in class would return and--more often than not--dance out of the classroom with joy because someone had taken home their leftovers and dish.  I received a lot of thank you notes for that activity which was intended to show that not only did I care about each student, but the class had grown into a collective whole caring for each other.  (I even started each class with an opportunity for students to share anything that was really bothering them at the moment, and you would be amazed at how many classroom students were shown grace and love because they shared they were about to be divorced, had just lost their job, had a mother with cancer, and so on.  I never had to ask anyone to go hug a student in tears; my classes were full of caring hearts who discovered they could learn what I was supposed to be 'teaching' from a book or intensive study, but they learned more about themselves and life by reaching out to classmates that were hurting.)  I even had a couple I paired together for a group project end up getting married!

As the years went along, I started calling myself a 'mentor' instead of a 'teacher,' because I thought the former term better described my role.  I was entrusted with the very LIVES of students and I needed to make sure I touched those lives, not just their minds.  My fellow teachers and my wonderful students, over the years, also sought to touch my life.  I will never forget, as I was tearfully going through a tragic time in my life, receiving a standing ovation from my colleagues when I was named the 'Teacher of the Year."  To ME, that was an affirmation of love and support for me during that very difficult year rather than applause for the way I ran my classrooms.  When Roger Brown and Randall Ferguson stood on the tabletop to end their senior year as my students and--like the supportive students of English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poet's Society--shared their unsolicited love by saying, "O Captain! My Captain!" I was touched to the very depths of my soul.  Thank you, men.  I've never forgotten that moment, nor shall I (Alzheimer's excluded).

I once wrote that my students were like a boat on a lake and I was the wind, entrusted to set them sailing down the seas of life and safely so, lest my whisp of breath not move them nor it become a gale that crashed them into the craggy stones all about.  

Of course, more students touched my heart than I touched theirs, I'm certain.  But, the important thing is that I DID touch SOMEONE'S heart.  I matured from my role as a first grade, fifth grade, high school, or college student to have adult interaction with my former teachers.  I don't know how many students were still in contact with a teacher forty-nine years after leaving that instructor's classroom, but I was one of those lucky people.  Slowly, one by one, I've watched some of the absolute dynamos I had as teachers pass from the portals of this world.  What saddens me the most is not that I'm unable to associate with them anymore on earth but, instead, that a special voice and spirit has left this planet forever.  I hope someone misses me like that when I, too, return to dust.  I hope there will be former students who look back on my time with them as a time where they led by a God-fearing man who tried to open their eyes to new possibilities and their own hidden potentials.  Perhaps a fitting epitaph for my tombstone would read, "He taught us to SEE."   

But, if I failed to show charity and be a Godly role model for students who won't reach the eternal destination desired, nothing I did in or out of the classroom succeeded.  My prayer, then, is that someone else served as their 'mentor' and accomplished that singular, all-important purpose.

Your 'Mentor,'
Darrell Schultz