What I've Learned This Year as an Adjunct Professor
As I've just finished up my latest semester teaching at my alma mater, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, I can't help but reflect on the last year's struggles. Let me preface this post by saying that I've taught the past 2 semesters. The first semester was an entry-level studio course focusing on the fundamental design programs within Adobe Creative Cloud, i.e. Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. The most recent course I taught was Design IV, the prerequisite right before their final portfolio course as seniors. These are two classes at opposite ends of the level spectrum.
Although it's hard to make an assumption based on just a few classes, I have noticed some areas that as an art institution and as teachers we need to address and take responsibility for, in addition to holding students accountable.
- Students should gain entrance, maintain eligible status and graduate by the effort and quality of work they create vs. their ability to pay for tuition. Post secondary education tuition has risen to exorbitant levels. If arts institutions continue to let students accrue 30-60k average worth of debt and don't hold them to higher standards, it not only diminishes the credibility of the institution, but it puts creatives into a world in which they are not prepared or financially healthy enough to sustain. That reflects just as poorly on the institution as it does on the student. When money becomes the motivator over quality, the system itself is destined to fail. How is our economy to blossom with the weight of debt trapping the ambitions of new graduates?
In addition to that, students need to hold themselves to a higher standard, not just in the quality of work they create, but in the effort that they put forth. With so many students just going through the motions, it diminishes the value for those students who are actually upholding their end of the deal and putting in a valiant effort. How are students to get valid feedback when the climate in which critiques are held enables deviation from the core values and principles that we are teaching? It's unfair to those students who are putting forth valuable input, and it's ridiculous for those who don't give a shit to piss away that much money. It's a shame.
- Many students lack a base-level respect in the classroom in regards to their peers and teachers. Arts institutions and teachers need to focus and implement new strategies that will encourage character and professional development. Stand firmly on yearly reviews and only allow those that are meeting certain standards to move forward. This will keep teachers from enabling chronic problems, and it will prevent these issues from being passed on to the next level of teachers and educators. We have to stop the "let's just get them through" mentality and uphold our role as teachers and developers of quality graduates.
- Many students aren't prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation. They often lack basic social, technical and interviewing skills to put themselves in the running for a real job. I always felt that college was there to hone the skills of artists, to create a body of work and to prepare them for the world ahead. But...it seems that professional development has become a class and not a mentality or core value for many of these institutions. We should take greater care of our students, set certain levels of expectation and help them craft their skills as professionals as much as we do creatively. No one taught me to follow up emails, how to make initial contact with someone I'd like to work for or the fact that emails are now functioning as cover letters. I didn't have a list of job sites to reference when hunting. No one helped me develop a plan to find a job. The effort needs to be put in by the students, but the educators need to give students the resources to do so.
Our focus should always be on quality, the rest will work itself out. The education system is not broken, it just needs a good old fashioned kick-in-the-ass.