Since April I’ve been taking classes to complete my Teacher and Trainer of Adults graduate certificate. I am taking the very last class right now and I’m excited for it to be finished.
This isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed it, on the contrary, I’ve enjoyed it much more than I ever thought I would. But it’s been A LOT of work.
It’s funny because when I was in high school and university, I never really had to try very hard to get good grades. I also didn’t really care much about whether I got a B+ or an A+. I would do the readings and take notes and never really study much, or apply too much effort and usually come out okay. I had this thing where I would go into an exam and just let knowledge “come to me” and hoped for the best. I would like to say that I was channeling a bit of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” learning theory, but I don’t think I was quite that into my game.
But now when I take classes, I’m obsessed with getting an A+. If I get anything less, I get angry and frustrated and feel like the world is about to end. However, I am happy to report that in every single one of my classes for this program so far, I’ve received an A+ (that’s 7 A+s if you’re counting). But I work for them. I want to be the best student in all my classes, which can be difficult because my best friend Shannon is taking every class with me and she’s one of the smartest people in the world. But that just means I have to try harder. (We’re not competitive at all! /sarcasm font) I am reading or watching videos or listening to podcasts about education almost ALL THE TIME.
My house is covered in books and articles about learning theories. The amount of blogs I follow about education now outnumber my usual blogroll. My “teacher twitter,” as I like to call it, is the one I check most often and the one I actually click through to read the mentioned articles.
What all this means is that I haven’t had time for much of anything else lately. I haven’t taken any pictures, made any art, or written any sort of fiction. (I have written some amazing papers, though.) It also means I’ve been spending less time looking at Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. I mention Tumblr twice because it occupies twice as much time as any other social media I use. Because of the absence of these sites in my life, I’ve noticed a distinct change.
I feel more creative.
This seems to work against everything I thought I knew about how inspiration and motivation work. I thought I spend time looking at people creating art and making beautiful, challenging, magical, stunning things and that pushes me to get my butt in gear to make my own things. But that never really happened for me. I would actually get really discouraged, wondering why I wasn’t making anything like that. Or why couldn’t I take a picture like this. Or write a story like that. It resulted in me celebrating in all these other people’s success and never feeling the motivation to create my own success. I begun thinking things like, well, I could make something and it might be terrible and I’m sure someone else had already made it perfectly, so why bother? I could try to do something and fail, miserably, so why bother? I figured it had already been done, I couldn’t do it any better, so why bother? Thinking all these things, while fully knowing that’s not why we make art.
Being away from the internet, or at least the internet I had created for myself over the last decade felt nice. It felt like there wasn’t any pressure on me to create anything. I had no audience (and I lost about 100 followers on Tumblr), nothing to compare myself to, and I liked it. Everything slowed down. I started reading books again. I don’t think I’d finished a single book yet this year. How crazy is that? But I’m getting to this place where I’m starting to feel like I want to create art because I want to create art. It’s a good place to be.
I’m not saying that I’m blaming Tumblr and all the amazing, successful people around me for being an excellent time waster and intimidating me out of making anything, respectively. Not at all. But for me, I needed to disengage from the extremely fast pace of the internet and give myself permission to fail. This permission to fail is a big thing for me right now, and an idea that I think more people need to embrace. It’s also an idea that is inherent to the creative process, while at the same time being the complete opposite of the prevalent ways in which education operates.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about education and the way it’s structured and how we learn and what higher education, in particular, values within its pedagogy and I’ve been comparing it to my own reality. I am amazed I create art at all. I never took an art class, my experience with academia has been to follow traditional routes to get a job, I took keyboarding instead of painting, science instead of woodworking. According to studies and research, my potential for creativity is about 2%. And yet I keep trying. I cannot draw, or paint, or play an instrument, or sing, or act, or dance, or design anything but I want to learn. I want to learn how to think and behave creatively. And by extension, I want to teach creatively so my students can learn creatively. I believe this mindset is the only way the vision for our future becomes a hopeful one. That sounds pretty dramatic, but I do believe it.
Learning creativity is a big undertaking. Fostering and encouraging students (and myself) to think and act creatively is a challenge as it runs counter to how I was brought up by both educational institutions, legislative policies, and even my parents! But noticing what helps ignite the creative process, and what doesn’t, is a good start. I’ve recently learned that spending hours browsing Tumblr doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t inspire me or motivate me to create anything. It bums me out and drags me down. I think this can also be attributed to just the sheer amount of time I spend scrolling through Tumblr. So I know that for me, I need to limit the time I spend there. And online in general.
This whole thing can lead into a discussion about technology in the classroom and how to use it in a way that supplements the creative learning process and doesn’t act as a detriment to the goals of a teacher, but that’s an entirely different issue. One I won’t get into today.
But for now, I have to write a paper for my class, and then I think I’ll go sit outside and work on those notes I’ve been writing about this lesbian detective story I’ve been wanting to get out.
Further reading/viewing on creativity in education: