Here’s How Two Professors Can Have the Same Rating, but Totally Different Teaching Styles

As I have mentioned more than once on this blog, I am a student at Southern CT State University (SCSU). Being a Studio Art/Painting major has allowed me to take classes with a variety of art professors, great and not so great. At the end of every semester, I leave reviews for the professors I have had on ratemyprofessor.com. It’s important to note that everything said in any review you read on that site, should be taken with a grain of salt. You won’t know a teacher until you have a class with him or her.

One of my largest struggles as an art student has always been the way that I learn. I’ve never had my IQ tested (because it’s total malarkey), but I learn at a rapid-fire pace, and if something isn’t challenging enough for me, I get bored. Most great, and even good professors can tell when they have a student like me, and have learned how to keep people like me busy. Learning never stops, so it wouldn’t make sense to stop pushing an artist to succeed. Sometimes you have to trust that student’s knowledge and let them take the reigns and make their own discoveries, and even learn from them. Learning doesn’t stop when you become a teacher, either.

For quite a while I had heard a variety of vocal reviews about two art professors, both of whom teach painting. Most reviews claimed that the female professor was wonderful, would push you to be your best, and was challenging. Other vocal reviews claimed that the male professor was too harsh, too critical and at times disrespectful. Naturally, I looked up both teachers on Rate My Professor, and found that they had the same rating, just over 3 out of 5 stars. I decided to use my better judgement and take a class with the female professor.

My experience with that female professor was the exact opposite of what I expected. We were taught only as a class, not as individuals. We could only achieve so much, and after that we were a lost cause. I received criticism like “watch out for the greens” (what does that even mean?), and was often told there were things I simply could not do. Prior to this class I had studied art at GWCC for 4 years, and had studied painting since age four. I also had 11 years experience with oils. So you can imagine how insulted I felt. Not that I wanted to be held up on a pedestal, but I don’t need to be told how to start an oil painting, how to mix colors, or any of the basic things we learn when we first start painting. What hurt the most is that myself and one other student were the only black people in this class, and we were the only ones treated this way. Another student in the class, with autism, was often ignored by this teacher because she would lose her patience with him.

When it came time to take the next class level of painting, I was still apprehensive about the male professor. Knowing the way that I learn best, and against my better judgement, I took the class with him anyway. And the experience was the exact opposite of what I expected. He was not harsh, he was honest, and even straight-forward. His advice was direct and thoughtful, and tuned to each student individually based on their skill level. He was no nonsense, you had to show up on time, and get to work (because that’s what you do in a class, who would have thought!). We were there not only to learn, but to continuously learn beyond the level at which we thought we could. The greatest experience I had was our first series, of a minimum of three paintings. I chose to do portraits, two of them would be of people who I had lost in the previous year, and a friend who I had gained during that time. I painted the first two portraits in a way that made it obvious these two subjects were no longer alive, both literally and figuratively. The third however was much more lively. It’s a risk to do something like that but I know myself well, and the professor supported it. What was special for me was that when other students criticized why I did what I did, the professor stepped in and became defensive. Not in a rude way, but in a way as if he was somehow attached to my art. He did this for everyone, not just me. Sure, he may not be the most affectionate or sweet and smiley person that society would expect him to be, but the teacher to student connection he builds is profound. I have yet to be able to take another class with him, and it makes me feel like I am missing out.

What I learned from these experiences, is that some students really like to take the easy way out, as is the case with the female professor. But when a professor actually cares about who you are as an artist and pushes you to be your best, they are treated like villains. Students tend to base their opinions of a teacher on the grade they got (Note: I received an A in both classes I described), the teacher’s age, personality, gender or race, and even on the word of other students. Your opinion of a teacher should be based on how much learned, how well you learned, and how well you were treated, not on the grade you received (the grade is equal to the amount of work you did, so you can learn a lot and still slack off in a class, or work hard and learn next to nothing).

I believe that if you are new to SCSU, or any college for that matter, that your best course of action is to NOT listen to what the student body says about a teacher. A person’s perception of someone varies dramatically, and unfairly. Lately I’ve tried a new tactic of observing how a teacher interacts with their students when the opportunity presents in an appropriate manner. You’d be surprised at what you witness.

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