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Quiet Desperation

Try being a teacher — that’ll learn you


Three little words - "back to school" - have the impact of hundreds, including, "Oh, no."

I think I was supposed to dread it, but inwardly I looked forward to strapping on my button-down shirts and khakis and returning to the classroom.

My educational path was a lesson in American geography. I attended eight schools in four states. My father was either transferred or promoted. At least, that's what he said. Maybe we were one step ahead of the feds.

A new school year always meant my mother and father would give me a couple of new shirts, and something else: a three-ring binder with a blank, blue canvas cover.

Budding artists will draw or paint on anything that is blank. My new binder was my annual opportunity to show off.

Late summers were spent considering the new school year's drawing. I understood that pencil drawings smeared, and markers didn't exist. That left me with ball-point pens.

The majority of my drawings featured animals, like wolverines and bruins.

The animals didn't stop there: I studied with Miss Bird and Mrs. Hare. Miss Bird was 100 years old (that's what we all thought), and a caricature of mean-natured, elderly schoolmarm.

Mrs. Hare was as meek as her name. She was in her first year of teaching, and in her first year of marriage. Double jeopardy. I hope she was more successful at home.

Back then, schools provided just about everything we needed - except for binders and Pee Chees.

Things have changed.

One Jefferson County school asked every student to bring five dozen pencils, because of the school's low supply.

Costs overall have rocketed. One article (The Denver Post) stated, "In the last decade, the price of supplies and extracurricular activities increased by 88 percent for elementary school students, 81 percent for middle school students, and 68 percent for high school students."

When I changed sides and became an educator myself, a new school year meant that I had as many as 120 eyes (three classes worth) giving me the once over.

My very first morning as a college educator is an indelible memory. I am glad it is not on YouTube. I think I said, "I am the walrus. Goo goo goo joob," and dismissed them.

Much later on in my career, I walked around the classroom on opening day with a sense of command and a sense of humor.

I'd tell them I learned to draw in "Pencil-vania," and wait for the laughter to die down.

I'd tell them that Van Gogh had a good ear for music.

When I was in high school, art classes were perceived as a version of recess. However, college art classes are far from it (or should be) and that often surprised my incoming freshmen.

I enjoyed seeing their eyes widen when I handed them the nine-page syllabus.

I heard gulps.

Do I miss teaching? Yes and no. Yes, because I worked with some very talented, intelligent, involved, and hard-working artists and scholars.

No, because I worked with the opposite, and too many students who were grade-driven and often grade-obsessed.

Increasingly, faculty were expected to do a hill of accountability paperwork.

And not only that, most college-level drawing students are a little sketchy.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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