Riot Bus Studios

Teaching Philosophy

An overview of my approach to pedagogy and diversity.
David Chatfield, Image by Alexis Oliver

99 is not 100

That’s it. You can stop reading.

Fine, allow me to explain; this adage is the most oft-used phrase heard in my classroom. The adage was coined by Valter dos Santos, a Catador (picker of recyclables) who appears in Vik Muniz’ documentary, Waste Land. His philosophy begins with the question, does throwing one soda can in the garbage really make a difference? His answer: one does make a difference, or, 99 is not 100. My philosophy refers to how a student looks at their own work and how far they choose to take it. It is rooted in constant self-assessment and leads to confidence in vision.

Every student is unique, must be seen and heard, and are capable of excellence in their work. I enact a philosophy of inclusion, equity, community, and individual growth through evidence-based pedagogical practices which also encourage creative thinking and problem-solving skills. These increase student participation through free and open artistic expression. The above quote is foundational to that philosophy: all students can achieve their best, and all students are included.

The adage 99 is not 100 firstly relates to if students believe they are done with work, they are asked to look again, spend twenty or so minutes more with it, and think about the assignment objectives and whether they’ve met them to the best of their ability. This process incorporates guided self-critique, questions and feedback, dialogue, and another key category of my rubrics, craftsmanship. Whatever idea or technique is being learned, a student is encouraged to achieve their best work.

Collaboration is also a key element where I can ensure students have agency in the process. A grade is no longer something that just happens to students. With transparent assessment and guided self-critique, the students take the lead in evaluating their work. At the same time, I ask directed and specific questions designed to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving. In a group critique, I can nudge other students to posit those questions and provide possible solutions. This helps to build community and respect within the class. Again, with the aim of continual improvement and inclusion.

As I discussed in my Diversity Statement, a community is built when everyone feels seen and included. To this end, I’ve implemented more representative and responsive OER courses where the content reflects the class, and they can add to the course, as it’s not limited to one text or philosophy. My assessment practice is also transparent and collaborative. Students see and respond to the objectives and how I assess them,
can question and challenge the assignment, and ultimately have agency in their success. Most assignments are autobiographical, so students have ample opportunities to express their identities, and their peers can see and hear them.

Finally, my personal and pedagogical practices challenge traditional artistic conventions, which gives students the space and flexibility to express themselves effectively. My Master’s degree was multi-disciplinary, where Mentors like Emeriti artist Mohammed Kazem taught me that I no longer needed to default to oil painting, but rather, my conceptual goals should determine the material or tool used. Consequently, my recent work involves digital collage, printmaking, painting, and installation. I’ve taught as many courses and media as possible to bring this practice into the classroom. Materials and methods don’t depend on the course title; instead, students are given the appropriate tools to express their ideas and be properly heard. In this way, they are also able to achieve their best work.

One example is the New Perspective Project, which begins with drawing or photography created from a student’s experience, turns into a screen print or toner transfer, and finally into a multi-media “painting.” Each stage of the project demands the application of formal elements and requires the problem-solving skills inherent in the evolution of the image and critical thinking skills in choosing the most appropriate tool for the final stage.

Every student in my class is seen, heard, and has the agency and tools to succeed.

99 is not 100

Listen

Similarly, my teaching philosophy requires familiarity and understanding of my students’ voices, styles, and goals. This level of familiarity requires me to listen, especially when a student is from a different background. I’ve largely taught in under-served communities, from the nation’s first accredited HBCU  to Community Colleges in rural, economically disadvantaged areas. As a white-cis-middle-class dude from Colorado Springs, it is incumbent upon me to listen. It is my responsibility to help young artists understand what it is they have to say while giving them the tools to say it. I seek to provide formal, contextual, and technical knowledge within a space where the student feels encouraged and safe to tell their story.

Just as my mentors helped me find my voice through conversation, or via their particular adages repeating over and over in my head, I hope that I will be that voice for my students. 

On Diversity & Inclusivity

The Academy was started by Plato to free minds. The institution changed throughout history and was rarely, if at all, inclusive. More often than not, it has been destructive (see colonial pursuits, often academic discovery was done at the expense of indigenous cultures). So, the core value of an Academic institution must be to free individuals from limiting and oppressive forces. Expressing one’s identity through art frees one to make oneself known and creates space to exist. This also allows those not generally exposed to marginalized identities to become more empathetic and understanding of those individuals. My job as an Academic is to help build that space for each student to exist and communicate their experience safely. 

I have had the privilege of teaching largely underserved communities, including a school in New Jersey’s poorest county, the first accredited HBCU, Lincoln University, and three HSIs. As an artist, activist, and educator, I have experience building power through community and creating equitable and inclusive spaces. I have also worked with diverse groups to fight social and economic injustices to increase the inclusivity of our institutions.

I’ve undertaken research and training in evidence-based, equitable, and inclusive pedagogical practices, including a certificate in effective instruction from the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). These practices manifest in every aspect of my course, beginning with attendance and grading policies that are less punitive and more collaborative. Students are no longer punished because they miss a few classes or assignments. Instead, they can communicate with me and have the opportunity to improve. This continues with aligning course objectives, lesson plans, and assessments and making the entire process transparent. Students know exactly what I expect, and they have agency in their success.

As an underpaid and underemployed creative, I have spent most of my life in the lower working class. I understand how poverty limits educational and employment opportunities and adversely affects physical and psychological health. I have witnessed students who lose out on education because of work obligations, limited access to transportation, and inadequate housing. I’ve addressed this with Open Education Resource (OER) curricula, which combat an economic barrier to education.

By curating free and readily available information, students no longer need to pay for over-priced textbooks and can participate using readily available and accessible tools.

OER has also allowed me to curate more responsive and representative content that dismantles the Eurocentric curricula. It provides a malleable framework for me to bring in more representative content based on students’ identities and immediate needs. I’ve also created collaborative class policies and used accessible technologies to engage students of all types in multiple modalities. 

My art deals with issues of the working poor and underemployed and engages with these communities directly. My current project imagines where people from iconic imagery of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl would be in the modern gig economy. In my next project, I will work directly with working people to build a new resume that asks what they would do if money weren’t a limitation. I will pair audio interviews, this new resume, and a portrait in an exhibit. I often discuss my work in class and plan to include my students in the resume project.

I build community in my classroom through autobiographical art, collaborative projects, and inclusive practices. I’ve focused my art and activism on improving workers’ stations, including organizing two Adjunct Unions. In my time organizing, I’ve found how intertwined economic and social justice is and that systematic racism often employs economic tools to oppress. I also fought for economic justice as a Board Member of the Downtown Aurora Visual Arts Center, where we nurture the humanity and job skills of largely working-class families. 

Building power through community is how we dismantle oppressive systems and liberate marginalized peoples.