Let Me See What You See
Primary School Art Teacher
Some say that you cannot make your passion your profession because of practical and financial pressures, remembers primary school art teacher, Lu Nan. So, she went ahead and did exactly that. Not only is Lu Nan following her dream career in teaching for nearly a decade now, but she is also following her passions – art and teaching art. Here, she explains to us how she blends her passion into her profession calmly, and always with a smile. As she speaks, the glow of a strong and determined teacher shines through her serene composure.
Trained as an artist and a designer, Lu Nan is also an amateur musician. Her instrument of choice – the trombone. The mix of the delicate nature of art, and the not-so-gentle character of the trombone, tells you a lot about our primary school art teacher. “Very few girls played trombone when I was in school due to its weight,” said Ms. Lu, quickly adding, “But that is exactly why I liked it, because very few girls chose the trombone, and carrying it around made me feel strong. In fact, I remember my teacher once told me that I was the first girl to play trombone in any school orchestras in Beijing. I was always the chair of the trombone section in our school. Our orchestra even performed at the Beijing Concert Hall during my junior year in high school. It was challenging, yet one of my best performances.” As you can see, Lu Nan is not one to turn away from a challenge.
Even on her pathway to the profession of her dreams, there were challenges. “Back when I first started school, my mother was hospitalized due to illness, and my father had to spend a lot of time at the hospital. So, with nowhere to go after school, I turned to my first art teacher who taught me for six years, and lived on campus. She was very kind and generous to me. She opened her home to me. I would spend most of my time at her place. She took care of me, and taught me how to draw. She was more than a teacher to me, and her love kindled my interest in art. It is this warmth and interest that made art education a natural career path for me,” Ms. Lu reminisced. She extends this generosity and kindness to her students too, as she helps them explore and express themselves creatively and consciously.
A Blank Canvas?
“The creative process is essential to art,” notes Ms. Lu as she excitedly begins explaining her teaching style. But she stresses that drawing is not about delivering perfect artwork: “I always tell my students to relax, and let me see what they see. I believe that art is ultimately about the expression of ideas and sentiments, and less about the physical object – be it a painting, a sketch, or a sculpture – that has resulted from the expression of your ideas and sentiments.” Ms. Lu focuses her teaching on not just giving students the skills needed in art, but also on giving them the confidence to express themselves through art. She remembers a grade 1 student from her first year at Keystone who told her that he did not like drawing or art because he was not good at it. “I immediately realized that he is one of those students who usually assesses his work against results. What I needed to do in response was to encourage him more, and boost his confidence. And that’s what I did. By the end of that semester, as soon as I would walk into the classroom, he would say to me with sparkling eyes, “Ms. Lu, I love art class now, and I have been looking forward to it for an entire week!”” As an art teacher, these are words Ms. Lu lives for.
On the other hand, the moment she dreads as an art teacher is when a student turns in a blank canvas. This has not happened to Ms. Lu yet, and she hopes it does not come to be. But a blank canvas is a reflection of a student’s lack of originality, and a failing art education, she believes. However, worse would be to suppress students’ creativity by “providing too many detailed images and instructions,” warns Ms. Lu. “I prefer to discuss my students’ ideas with them, before moving on to specific techniques and methods. This helps them better express their original ideas, once they have learned and honed the necessary skills.”
Deliberation and reflection are essential parts of Ms. Lu’s classes. Not just with her, but students can also discuss their ideas with each other. “In my classroom, students are free to interact with me and each other, to choose and experiment with different tools, and decide on how to create their own work. I try my best to ensure that my students do not have any reason to turn in a blank canvas.”
The World is Their Canvas
Lu Nan’s approach to teaching is ideal for Keystone’s model of education that emphasizes reflection, inquiry and innovation, especially for primary school that is framed by the bilingual immersion program. Experienced in both Chinese and international art and art education, Ms. Lu offers students plenty of opportunities to learn and understand art from China, and around the world: “One of my lessons involves learning a Chinese cultural topic via western methods. I designed an art project based on the daomadan (a female warrior character from the Peking Opera), in which students are required to first carry out detailed research on the daomadan through inquiry-based techniques common in international education. Their research will help them find specific costume patterns, types of theatrical makeup used, and other elements. Students are then required to analyze their findings in order to assess how these can be presented using art techniques and skills, and reproduce them in a cohesive manner.”
She cites another example from her grade 3 lesson on learning the technique of block printing where students drew inspiration from African tribal culture. Ms. Lu reiterates that students learn techniques and basic brushwork from a world of inspiration, some more conventionally than others. But the students’ creativity, vision and expression always come through. “Take the fish paintings on the wall,” she points, adding, “I only showed them how to complete a single fish; it was the students who decided how they would represent the movement and interaction of schools of fish.”
Let Them Follow Their HeARTs
As Ms. Lu goes through all the paintings of Chinese fish on her wall, she says pausing in parts, “No two children will have the same reflections or reactions to what I have taught them… I just show them some basic techniques, so that they can follow their heart.” She insists that art cannot be restricted to rigid rules and criteria. She also hopes parents can help their children explore and enjoy art by encouraging them to draw or paint as they like at home or wherever they choose to.
Well, at Keystone if you walk onto the fifth floor of the primary school building, the buzz of creativity followed by the silence of creation that you hear from the Art Room is definitely the sound of students following their hearts. “This is my true calling,” beams Ms. Lu, and it definitely is.