Adventures in Rebuilding a High School Clay Program

Why I didn’t want to teach high school.

I started my undergraduate career in the fall of 1999 as an art education major at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My decision to pursue art education stemmed from my experiences in high school and from the close relationship I had with my high school art teacher, Sharon Brown. She was nearing retirement and told me that I would be a wonderful K-12 teacher—and possibly her replacement. When the art program expanded during my senior year and a second art teacher joined the faculty, I got the opportunity to assist with the introductory art class and to earn an independent study credit. Armed with this budding teaching experience and Mrs. Brown’s blessing, I entered the art education program at WKU.

After two years of coursework, I returned to my high school to complete my practicum hours. Something had changed. The students, no longer my peers, were frustrating to work with—they seemed lazy and apathetic. I couldn’t relate to them, to their behavior. I was extremely discouraged. By contrast, my studio art classes in college were exciting and a respite from my practicum. After spring break, I changed my major to studio arts and entered the BFA program. I knew I did not want to spend my days educating teenagers.

Where my adventures in education took me.

I took the scenic route through undergrad, ultimately finishing in the spring of 2007 with a double BFA in painting and ceramics. Then I set up a studio in an old building in downtown Bowling Green with some fellow graduates, and we spent a year making art. At the end of that year, I didn’t know enough about making pots or making a living as a studio potter to rely on it as my sole income source. Being able to quit my restaurant job seemed impossible.

In 2008, I moved to Gainesville, Florida, to attend the University of Florida’s post-baccalaureate program. Things fell into place for me at UF. Every week, Linda Arbuckle, my professor (and clay hero), and I talked about pots, form, and surface, and it was thrilling. During that one year, I was accepted into graduate school, made several lifelong friendships, and most importantly met my wife, Naomi, a ceramic certificate student.

In my first year of graduate study at the University of Mississippi, I was the teaching assistant for Associate Professor Matt Long, then taught an introductory ceramics class on my own for two semesters. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed teaching and the way in which it energized my making in the studio.

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