By Michael Prater, Associate Professor of Art Winner of the 2003 College of Fine Arts Dean's Teaching Award A teacher should be more than a communicator of information. I had this realization in a moment of dissatisfaction in a lecture class one summer in Kansas. I realized that anyone could stand up in front of a group of students and recite a lecture or a passage from a book. And I also realized that with practice, that same person could develop the ability to screen out the faces and personalities of their students until the task of communicating was complete. It is possible to be that kind of teacher, and it is, obviously, easier. But I draw a distinction here. I will not call such an automaton a teacher. A teacher is more than a communicator of information. A teacher must be more. This must be true because each and every teacher occupies a position of social responsibility. What we teach becomes, at least to some degree, part of the social behaviors of our students. I value the arts in society, and I value art teachers in the schools who will help my children find a lifelong interest in the arts themselves. In a small-town high school in rural Texas, I saw how directly the time and effort I put into training my student teachers could affect the lives of children and even the attitudes and perceptions of an entire community. Teachers must be more than just communicators. But what else should they be?
In the field of fine arts education, it is difficult to embody the ideal. And perhaps no one can. I only know that teachers must remind themselves constantly of the difference between what he or she is doing and what he or she could be doing. This is important because for some, the machinations of institutions can lead to conformity, and that conformity can result in mediocrity. In the end, what we do is far too important to allow our jobs to be defined as the simple communication of information.
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