A Willingness to Learn

I just got home from spending a few days at our Texas art teacher conference. It’s always a great time of learning and connecting with new and old faces.

But this year, I was more aware of an interesting element that impacts our experience and the experience of those around us.

It’s our willingness to learn.

Going to a conference with other professionals in your field makes for interesting dynamics. No matter the content area or profession, every personality is on display. Over the years, I’ve kind of figured out my role within my art teacher profession.

I’m the learner. This means that I’m willing to put my lack of natural ability and my desire to learn on display! Sure it can be unsettling in the midst of a few thousand “real artists” but I’ve decided to embrace who I am and in the process be a bridge for others like me and the new teachers who are intimidated and struggling to find their own role within the group.

This learner role was in full force on Friday morning as I sat in the front row of a session on painting. It was a really good session and the presenter was very knowledgable and easy to follow. He had prepped well and had a great handout. So I just got to work and played with the amazing paints.

I worked quietly and listened to the people behind me. One older gentleman talked loudly about his amazing work and his latest art show and asked the presenter questions designed to elicit complements and awe. Another gentleman was self depreciating. Another felt like we all needed to hear about his students.

I just listened.

Down the row from me a woman started worrying about how messy her work was.

Another was worrying about the size of her fruit.

Another was asking for the original paint as her plate was too small and she had messed up and needed to start over.

I just listened and worked. I got paint on my hands. I used a lot of paper towels. My plate was lopsided and my peach didn’t look like a peach.. but I just kept quiet and kept going.

Then a young teacher behind me made the comment that I’ve learned to listen for. She said she was embarrassed about what she made as everyone else’s looked so much better.

I turned around and held up mine for her to see with my messy hands and all of my used paper towels. I told her that I used to feel exactly like her, that my first couple of years coming I always felt like an imposter.

Then one year I realized that it didn’t matter what others were making. No one else was looking at me waiting to call me out for my less-than peach. I told her that I realized that some people actually planned what they would be making before coming to the conference! That they were so worried about looking good that they predetermined what they would create.

The woman looked a little shocked, but an older teacher down the row from me just started nodding and added in that she was embarrassed about her mess and the quality of her work.

Interestingly, the loudmouth stopped promoting himself and looked over at the young teacher’s painting and complimented her work. And with a smile and look of relief, she finished her painting.

I finished mine as well; gathered up my supplies and headed out with my simple little painting, messy hands and a smile on my face.

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