3 Reasons why it's harder to Teach Adults (than it is to teach kids)...and why I finally feel ready.
So, first you should know that I have a degree in Art Education (K-12). (A masters too.)
I didn't consider myself an 'artist' in high school, but had loved art class as a little kid and had always relished in any artsy/crafty project that came across my path.
When it came time to declare a college major, my safe bet was elementary education (4th generation teacher here), but I decided to take a little risk and try art education first (using elem. art as my backup plan.)
Why? Because it seemed like a much more FUN job (totally right on that. )
As I took more steps into the art ed program, the more I loved it...and even more so after graduating and starting my teaching career.
I thrived in the job of being an elementary art teacher!
I felt like, or might I just say it, I was a ROCKSTAR to my students and countless masterpieces and memories were made in my classroom. (I even ran summer art camps out of my house for 10+ years!)
Teaching art to kids is amazing and rewarding because...
Kids are waaaaay more capable of excellence than most all adults realize. The key is clear instruction and slowing them down. I always loved 'knockin' the socks off' of parents and school staff when I displayed student work in the hallways.
Kids already LOVE art. I've rarely met a kiddo who doesn't profess to love art...and those few outliers weren't hard to win over! The motivation and enthusiasm is built-in and ready to go from the start!
Kids are confident in trying new things and able to take risks in creating art.
Teaching art at the elementary level was my teaching sweet spot for years....that might be because kids in grades 1-5 have the ability to sit in chairs (well, at least MOST!) and when we're all standing, I'm sure to be the tallest (or in the top 3) in the room.
My husband used to say I had a 'Peter Pan complex', meaning I saw myself as a kid and not a grown-up.
This definitely was true in my 20's and even into my 30's. That ingrained belief is probably what made me skittish about teaching middle school (weren't they basically my peers?!) on up. I took an opportunity here and there to teach classes for teens and adults, but it was always done with shaky knees.
But since that time, I passed the 40's line (currently 41)...and started going noticeably gray. Goodbye Peter Pan! LOL And I've also stepped out of full-time teaching to pursue my own painting career (turns out I am an artist after all!)
This summer I'll be returning for my third year to teach an oil painting class at a local art center and I couldn't be more excited! But let it be known, adults are tricky....here are my 3 Reasons why I think teaching adults is harder than teaching kids:
Adults are self conscious and self critical. We're bent on success, and as soon as possible please! Some adult students come with 'art class baggage' or have labeled themselves as 'not creative' from the get-go.
The start of my workshop intentionally focuses on disarming the inner critic and creating a safe space for creating. I find I'm not the only one with shaky knees in those first few hours.
Art making is risky (if you're over the age of 10!) and it feels very exposing. I've always struggled with being too hard on myself and so it's a vibe I'm sensitive to for my workshop attendees big time!
2. As the teacher, I'm not guaranteed to be the oldest or the tallest. It's more likely to be the opposite. And I might also not be the 'best'. And I'm actually okay with all of this now. I realize that everyone brings unique gifts and experiences to the table...and I LOVE (and now greatly anticipate) learning from the people that take my workshop.
Art making goes to the next level when people work alongside one another...bouncing off ideas, tricks and tips, and encouragement. I'm leading the workshop ‘experience’ and eyeing the clock...I'm setting the stage, demonstrating and coaching....but in some respects, I'm also one of the group and learning so much!
3. Adults work slow and tight. And this bring me to the biggest difference between teaching adults vs. teaching kids ...and that is speed!
I always say that kids (generally) have 'fast motors'. They love being done first (this ain't the olympics folks!) A big key to being a successful elementary art teacher is slowing that pace down and modeling how to 'think like an artist'. Oh, how I've said that phrase a million times!
Adults on the other hand tend to overthink and work too slowly. (because they are desperate to be successful.)
Kids hold their paint brush far back as they slash the paint around a paper...I demonstrate where the brush should be held. I zoom in and show a gentle brush stroke. I point out areas that they have overlooked.
They need to tighten up, notice more, and slow down.
Adults, in contrast, have a death grip on their brush ('hold it farther back!' 'Even try it with your non-dominant hand!), notice every speck that's making them cringe, are working hunched over and at a snail's pace.
My approach in this case is to loosen them up! Even though art is challenging (painting in particular), it's also supposed to be fun (kids already know this and so very much on board).
So no hunching, no over-sensitive cringing. I try speeding adult students up, deprogramming ingrained methods and opening them up to try new methods and techiques.
My professional interests boil down to 1) Making art/stuff and 2) showing people how to make art/stuff. Whether it's kiddos or adults, if we're mixing painting or warming up a hot glue gun, count me in! :)
In case we don’t know each other yet…and you’ve already read this far…let me belatedly introduce myself. I’m Jessica Green. Art teacher, lifelong artsy-craftsy type, turned professional painter. I continue to teach children grades 1-12 at a local homeschool co-op group every Monday throughout the school year. (Wow, in hindsight, I'm not sure how I had the energy to teach kids 5x per week! Shout out to all my teaching buddies, you’re amazing!) I sell my paintings at local (Indianapolis) art fairs and also through my website. I teach painting workshops for adults and teens. If you know of art centers in your area looking for art instructors, I’d love for you to share this blog post or my website with them! To keep tabs on all that I’m up to, consider joining my email list! You can do that by visiting my website via the button link below.