starting in the middle

margo halverson

It Must be Nice

Sabbatical was a term used in ancient Judea as a year of rest for work taken each seventh year. I’m on sabbatical this year. Well, last academic year 2012-2013. I teach graphic design at a private BFA & MFA accredited small art school in Portland, Maine. It’s my third sabbatical, so yeah, I’ve been teaching awhile. I try to keep my sabbatical out of conversations with anyone but faculty colleagues because the response to this time is guaranteed to be ‘it must be nice’.

Full-time teaching here is 3 different classes a semester. Each class session is a 3-hour studio time for at total of 18 hours in the classroom a week. In those 18 hours I am in full alert on stage and my brain and body is working in layers. This stage might be lecturing, critiquing, leading or coaxing discussions, mentoring, and teaching one-on-one… Through every stance I am reading the class to adjust and react on-the-spot so we can get to our goals in 15 weeks with 3 hrs x 2 sessions a week. In those 18 hours the only respite from being ON is probably walking to the podium for my water mainly to get a second to clear my head. Outside of the classroom hours that support the inside are researching and making the lectures, developing projects, reading and grading work, proofing written work, planning for student exhibitions, meeting and talking w/faculty in my department, fielding student, faculty and staff email,  and working with foundation faculty  where I also teach so that each course supports the whole. There are faculty meetings, committee meetings, planning the next class, the next semester,  the next year, and beyond. Then there meetings with students outside of class, curriculum work, field trips, internships, budgets to manage, books to order, recruiting events, marketing and, and did I also say we teachers have a professional practice to keep up with in order to stay current with what we’re teaching not to mention the need to supplement  our small art-school faculty salary? I’m not complaining, just stating the facts and feeling a need myself to get over my bristle when I hear ‘it must be nice’.

Teaching is for those who love it. Teaching sucks and sucks and feeds and feeds. Teaching is active and always moving. The year cycles with familiar ups and downs of semesters and breaks but the students are expressive individuals and fortunately, unpredictable; they are unique year to year, class to class, moment to moment. Their expectations and changing needs of the role of ‘school’ and the profession of design contributes to keeping teaching interesting and alive, feeding and sucking, taking and giving. It really is something I love, it really is nice.*

* Working with Charles Melcher and Eddie Opara we led a charette last February for an outcome of the College’s new visual identity. 72 hours of design students focus with the process and task at hand that brought out all of their experience and talents. Students also made this wonderful process documentary. So OK, not a total sabbatical for me last year, but this was in the feeding category.

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One comment on “It Must be Nice

  1. Gabrielle Esperdy
    August 5, 2013

    Just when I was getting all cranky about the approaching school year, you go and post this thoughtful piece. I REALLY like the sucking and sucking and feeding and feeding. That’s for the reminder that teaching is all about the give and take.

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