Those Who Can't, Don't
Many years ago, a now high-profile design business owner was involved in a heated debate with a design professor friend of mine. At the end of this debate, the heretofore mentioned professional exclaimed, "those who can't, teach."
Upon hearing this, I was stunned. This phrase made no sense to me. How can one teach if one hasn’t already been doing? I had just received my MFA; I had my overtime-ridden, entry level design job and I had just started what would end up being my 17 + years adjunct teaching gig. Was this exclamation a misguided generalization or a non-student type who found no significance in their college courses?
Although I have my advanced degree, no one really ever taught me how to teach design. I was thrown ‘into the fire’ and basically, along with my graduate peers, winged it. But I knew it was something I wanted to do or at least be part of. And as I acquired more skills and understanding with each job/employer, I gained the confidence to share those insights and skills with my students.
For me, and maybe to my academic demise, it wasn’t about the finest of details - there were others more equipped to handle those subjects - it was about the deep dive of problem-solving and all the great attributes that came with it. Over time, I began exposing students to process, collaboration and ideation sessions. I worked really hard to help them understand how research could influence their thinking and produce innovative as well as relevant concepts. We partnered with the Business School. I brought in experts to discuss topics they were unfamiliar with. Did they like it? No. Did they learn from it? Yes. They analyzed everything all the time and their product was better for it. They were thinking with both sides of our brain.
To be sure, I spent hours talking typographic nuance, Walter Gropius and even the Golden Mean. I encouraged debate and critique about color choice and readability from 10 feet away, much like I still do in my own job today. Theory and practice coexisting. Was I better at doing one more than the other?
There are many of you out there who've never taught, but are great at giving solid feedback and constructive criticism. That's what this business is all about. We need more of it. But does this mean you know more than your teacher counterparts?
I teach because I care. I care about the future of our profession from the students I interview to the senior level creatives I work with every day. Does that qualify me to be a better teacher than practitioner? Old-school thinking, perhaps. It's the anthropologist and not the archaeologist in me. And one that certainly has relevance in this anonymous, jib and jab world of blogging we just can't get enough of.