I have made myself unnecessary. I show up in the morning and my main job is to unlock the door. My students flutter in and begin to quickly move about the room at a frenzied pace. They dart back and forth, cutting paper, getting paint, and turning on computers. I’m pretty sure that one of my students is taking apart an electronic device of some sort. I hope it isn’t something of mine. I optimistically walk around the room asking my students if they need anything. I get the same answers every time, “Nope, we’re good,” or “We got this, Clump.” After a moment, I hear a student loudly call out, “Hey, Clump!” Excitedly, I bound over in his direction. “Do we have a screwdriver?” “We do,” I smile, as I dutifully retrieve one from the cabinet. It was a simple task, but it felt good to be needed.
I slump down in my chair as a Clash song begins to fill the room through the overhead speakers. I push some papers around. Maybe I’ll answer some emails or something. I’m sure there is a calendar that needs updating somewhere. It’s the beginning of April in my AP Studio Drawing classroom. Everyone is smiling as they bob their heads to the music, diligently working on their next masterpiece. There used to be stress this time of year. Students would move tensely in a frenzied panic. I would stomp around the room, huffing at the students, commanding them to work. Someone would inevitably start crying. It was usually the same couple of students. “They’ll never make it,” I would think to myself.
Not anymore. Nowadays, I’m all but useless, an ornate piece of set dressing in the play that is art room. It’s my own fault. All of my students are intrinsically motivated young artists focused on making art. One just left the room with a can of spray paint and a giant piece of plywood. He doesn’t even bother asking anymore, he just goes. Half of them are already done with the portfolios. I made the mistake of telling a student that what he was working on was too dimensional to be allowed for submission to the AP Studio Drawing Portfolio. “I know, Clump,” he replied, “I’ve got that all done, I‘m just experimenting with something new.” I have made myself unnecessary.
When did this happen? Was it when I stopped giving them homework? Was it when I started accepting late work for full credit? It must have been when I stopped assigning them specific projects or having standardized due dates. I intended to unmake the traditional role of teacher, to give my students more authority in their own art making. Now what will I do? Maybe I can sweep up those collage remnants. Maybe someone needs fresh water in his or her brush basin. Maybe I’m not completely unnecessary. The Art Teacher is Dead, Long Live the Art Teacher.