Teaching is like being the captain of a ship. The captain is directly responsible for when and where a ship goes as well as the manner in which it gets there. As captain, my job is to create a comfortable yet challenging atmosphere in the classroom in which I can provide each student the means to find their end. Every experience I have had, both in and out of the classroom, plays a part in accomplishing this goal.
As a teacher of photography, I give students the broadest possible arsenal of photographic skills to help them understand their relationship to the world. Students should fully understand and control the mechanics of their craft. I often hear students speak about their prints or negatives as if they had a life of their own, "I like the way this one came out". I find this attitude to be unacceptable. Instead, the technical side of photography should be seen as another part of the creative process to be controlled and pushed to suit the photographer's needs. A photo program should be technically thorough and include all aspects of photography from digital to large format studio shooting. Each new process is another valuable tool for the student. At the same time, as Minor White once said, "A knife is useless if all you do is sharpen it". Photographic processes and technical choices are empty without content. What do we learn about ourselves if we only strive to make pretty pictures with no personal connection? A thorough discussion of the function of pictures must be introduced along with technical abilities.
Learning about the choices of other photographers, both past and present, as well as reading essays on photography and critical theory is indispensable in helping students advance their work. Having students write about their own work is equally important in each student's discovery of the many elements present in their work. Photography is a challenging subject to teach, as there is not one absolute, linear progression every student can take towards becoming a better image-maker. The captain must also find a way to help each student understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses.
The essence of teaching in any situation is communication. Living and traveling abroad have honed my communication skills. Colliding with contrasting cultures and many different kinds of people has been an eye-opening lesson in human interaction. Traveling through another country presents a constant stream of difficult situations. How do you buy a bus ticket if you can't read or speak the native language? Other modes of communication must be employed--and quickly if there is a long line waiting behind you. In the classroom, how do you challenge a student who is clinging to cute baby pictures to see beyond the immediate subject matter? There are always many more ways to approach a problem than the obvious. Each country is unique in its cultural norms, and each culture has a different approach to life's obstacles just as each student is unique in his or her approach to the world around them. The ability to approach students and their work from many different points of view is essential in the photo classroom, especially during critiques when obvious responses to student work must be challenged.
My experiences working and traveling abroad make me who I am and shape the way I approach photography, both in the classroom and in the lab. Each experience has altered my view of the world. Each clash with another culture has left me changed. I bring a little bit of all of these experiences to my work, to my relationships, and to my students. The wide range of people I have had the pleasure to meet, teach, and learn from has further developed my social skills. From stodgy Japanese principals who must be treated with the utmost respect, to elementary kids from the projects with deep-rooted anger, to college students who only want to know if what you are talking about will be on the next test, each experience requires a unique solution. Navigating through these experiences, I have learned to approach each person on his or her level with empathy and respect. This approach to students is important in keeping my ship on course and effectively arriving at our destination of photographic excellence without mutiny while keeping desertion to a minimum.