Monday, March 24, 2008
I recently heard about an animation teacher’s meeting in one of the NY area schools. For several years in row, the problem (as explained by the administration), has been that the grades are too high and the quality of the student’s work, too low.
As for grades, no doubt there are some animation teachers that grade far too gently. Such a policy may be a sign of general laziness in teaching. For instance, a teacher that passes everyone won’t have defend a failing grade. If everyone passes, there are no confrontations. No confrontations mean less work and aggravation for the teacher.
As for the quality of the student’s work? I’ve always believed that students that needed school the least made the best students. Just below them are the students that struggle and work their ass off just to scratch out a few successful moments of animation. I belonged to that group. Below that group are the lazy masses of students yearning to be left alone. This group went to art school to escape rules and discipline. For them, school is supposed to be a utopian paradise filled with freedoms, while at the same time owing them a quality education.
Teachers have a choice to either allow the student majority to wallow in that malaise or to shake things up. Again, it’s much easier to just attempt to teach the students that seem to give a damn and ignore the rest. By engaging the students this way, year after year, the teacher is part of the problem, part of the status quo that prevents the school’s program from really teaching the students.
Teachers are not supposed to be best friends with their students. Confrontation is important. Part of a teacher’s job is to rattle the student’s into discovering their enthusiasm. A teacher should set the expectations incredibly high for both quality and quantity of work. Students should not be allowed to move on until they master each stage or lesson. When I’ve taught “Intro to Animation” and “Action Analysis,” students had to make changes/revisions to their work week after week, sometimes extending assignments a month later than was originally planned. All the while these students had to simultaneously keep up with the new weekly assignments. Work compounded on some students, but all improved dramatically by the time of the semester’s end.
During the difficult semester, some students had been close to tears or were otherwise noticeably frustrated. That’s okay. A teacher has to push their class. It’s not enough to give an assignment and then, the following week, express disappointment that the class didn’t work hard enough. That’s not teaching. That’s participating in a passive aggressive war. A class needs a challenging teacher that provides a structure and opportunity that does not exist anywhere else.