Obsessing Over Obsessing About Teaching Graphic Design

November 12, 2009

teaching GD

Teaching graphic design is something I love. I get to share my knowledge with other designers, get inspiration from them, be present (at least for the length of class), and feel like I’m making a difference (hopefully) in someone’s life.

As I suddenly find myself teaching five classes at two institutions (School of Visual Arts and Pratt), and freelancing, I am starting to obsess. Even more than before. My brain activity is filled with ideas for projects for classes. How to better assignments, set up flickr groups, create class blogs, find articles and books to read and recommend. This happens in the shower, during yoga, on the way to and from class, before I go to bed at night. On and on and on.

I had this idea (again) this year that because the curriculum is already set up, I could just show up for the class, be present and engaging, then leave and not think about it until the following week. Wrong. Each group of students is different from the last, some quicker than others. Some struggle with software, others just struggle. Then there are those who’s work is so incredible I have to really nit pick to find things to re-think during critique. Too many of these students and I start to feel insecure as to whether I really know what I’m doing.

Most days i just show up, be excited about design (which comes naturally), and be accessible. Other days I show up feeling like a fake. I’ve been teaching for nine years, why? I actually think this is a good thing. It pushes me to constantly learn as much as I can. This semester I brushed up on the history of typography, and my revived passion for the geometric simplicity of swiss design is showing in my own work. I never ever see myself becoming someone who thinks they know it all. There’s nothing more appealing than someone with talent AND humility.

Now, about this obsesession. Those close to me call me by the nickname, ‘obsessio’ (which I hate). My mind is constantly thinking about the course I am teaching tomorrow, or the one I taught that day. What can I do to make it better? What magical design idea can I pull out of thin air that is the most inspirational motivational task anyone could ever wish for? Of course, there is none.

What I forget is CONTEXT. In a class I took with Milton Glaser, this is something he constantly stressed. Like most of his wisdom, it applies not just to design, but life. On Thursday late afternoon, my students are thinking about Friday. They are quiet not because they are bored, but because they are hung over. They are distracted not because I’m uninteresting, but because of relationship problems, or what they’re going to eat next. It’s not about me (phew).

I can only do the best I can with what I have. That doesn’t mean I’m able to stop obsessing, but I am taking steps toward awareness. Recognizing the need for balance. Putting time aside for personal projects (crucial). Socializing with people (non-designers! imagine that!).

Idea: what about a site for design educators that is a sharing of information; syllabi, projects, project images, links, news, books, more… design obsessio?

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