This morning started like many others, with my reluctance to be conscious and a sense of dread as I faced yet another day of wondering if I will ever be able to move forward.
The reason I find myself in this familiar dark place and the precursor to my ennui is that I withdrew from the Secondary Teacher training course in May.
So what happened? Why did something that I wanted so much become unattainable?
I was pretty nervous to be going back to uni after so long away but I soon found that I hadn’t lost my ability to learn and remember. I quickly felt accepted into the fabric of the class and was reassured that I had a worthwhile and unique contribution to share. The lectures were great and the discussions were stimulating and thought provoking. I loved being in a class of such varied and interesting people and found that our diverse life experiences and opinions were the perfect foundation for truly deep and meaningful learning to occur between us. As classes progressed I became heartened by the forward reaching philosophy that underpinned our learning. Teaching was being presented as our opportunity to help individual students achieve to the best of their unique abilities and also as a place where inequality could be addressed and challenged. I was excited that the rigid structure that had marked my own high school years seemed to be something that was in the past and that student centred learning now seemed to be the dominant philosophy.
Then we went on practicum.
We were sent off to schools to observe experienced teachers teaching. Some schools took a group of students, some only one and the school I went to took two of us. I arrived full of expectation and anxiety, trusting that the school I had been assigned to and the associate teacher/s who were assigned to me would be supportive in my learning. We were introduced to the staff first thing in the morning and during the day we were given a tour and went through all the health and safety stuff and met our department staff. I was a bit surprised how often ‘stress’ was mentioned. Then when I got on my homeward bound bus I failed to notice a very low ceiling and cracked my head. I had a mild concussion.
Over the next three weeks I observed many art classes and started to contribute with some teaching. I also watched as students were pushed, cajoled and bullied to finish assessments. I observed stressed teachers who were under pressure to get equally stressed students to complete tasks for assessment. I also watched as students were given briefs to complete that were so prescriptive that there was very little room for originality and where there was absolutely no room for abstract expression and I listened as the same old sexist subject matter was presented in art history.
These students were painters, sculptors and printmakers and they were being ‘assessed’ until every last vestige of joy was squeezed from their art, all the while absorbing the message that as girls they could never be ‘great masters’.
I saw a 17 year old weep when she got her assessment grade back!
How did this happen?
In the late 1970’s my secondary school was streamed, boys and girls were segregated everywhere except in the classroom, uniforms were strictly monitored and rules abounded, we were all destined to participate in an exam system that routinely failed 50% of all students. The system was clearly broken. However we were not constantly stressed by continuous and unrelenting assessment and the art room was a place of relative freedom and, for me, joy.
At the end of the 3 weeks of practicum we returned to Uni for a week of lectures (that seemed like a rest) and 2 weeks study break. During that time I was constantly bothered by what I had seen happening to the students I had contact with. I found myself becoming immersed in long internal dialogues that took me around and around the disquiet and disappointment I was feeling. I was loving learning and being with other learners but facing the very real possibility that if I graduated and got a job I would be expected to participate in a system that would stress my students and suck all the joy out of art.
I couldn’t sleep and the headaches were getting more frequent and painful. My cat died and my Dad got pneumonia.
Everything imploded and I woke up one morning at 3.30am in tears and having a serious anxiety attack and we decided I couldn’t go on.
So now here I am again, feeling useless and so regretful and really foolish.
I miss my co-students very much and seriously regret withdrawing from the course, while at the same time acknowledge that had I continued I would have gotten seriously ill.
I have been depressed and floundering here in my failure. I know what to do to get better and have been cleaning my studio and trying to organise an exhibition. I haven’t been able to create anything so I’ve been doing prep work for future paintings and prints. I am truly stuck.
I got a card today, it had warm and kind messages from a bunch of people who are going to be truly great teachers in the near future. Thank you.