Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Career Realities podcast #1: the Painter/Teacher

January 4th, 2015 No comments

The first Career Realities interview is with painter Edwina Bracken. A former full-time (and then part-time) art teacher, Edwina has recently completed an MA at Glasgow’s School of Art. She talks about the difference between her expectations and the realities of a teaching career, and how she came to (just about) earn a living as a fine artist. (Apologies for a few glitches in the recording – a few Skype dropout beeps!)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On combining a teaching career with your own painting work

I thought with the time off that you get with teaching I could fit my other art career in around the paid teaching work. That was my idea. […] So I went and did the course, and I was really overwhelmed at the scope of the job, it was a much heavier, labour intensive job than I had imagined from the outside. It was horrendously difficult to train.

I said to her [my mentor], ‘when does this become easy?’, and she said, ‘oh, after about three years’. […] But before that it was just full-on all the way, and every holiday we used to get sick.

[My own painting work] was non-existent. I didn’t do any painting or any of my own work for about five years. The teaching job was so intensive that the holiday time would come around and you would just fit in the other things that you would do in your life, […] the things that you didn’t have time when you were teaching.

I couldn’t move forward with my own art practice if I remained working within that stricture that the teaching job dictates. You know where you’re going to be on the 1st of September, you can’t really deviate from the plan, irrespective of being part-time.

On the psychological barriers to overcome when you quit a career

I felt I’d become slightly institutionalised because I’d worked in teaching for ten years, and on the one hand knowing where you’re going to be on the 1st of September can be quite frustrating, but on the other hand its really reassuring because you know you’re going to have a fixed income. So I had to come round to the idea that that was going to be a liberating experience. [Q: And was it?] Yes, it was great!

On deciding what paid work to take

I find that a lot of jobs that I would like to do are full-time jobs, and I can’t do them, because clearly I would have no time to make my work, research it and then put it out there. It can be a really tough call.

On advising my younger self

Look for a mentor. Because I think mentors are so valuable. Even if it’s not in art, just to look at how somebody can work for themselves, the way to manage your time and a work ethic. I don’t think it matters what it is you want to do, but you need to find some practical way into that.

Networking is crucial. I think sometimes it gets a really bad press. Sometimes people think it’s an ‘I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine.’ But your network is just who you can ask questions to, and then from there who do they know. Also speaking to people about what you are doing in any situation leads to networks, saying who you are and what you are doing and what you are interested in, and you never know where that leads.

More information about Edwina’s work can be found at, and you can contact her on Twitter @EdwinaBracken.

We learn best when we have a genuine need for the knowledge

July 12th, 2013 No comments

If I see someone doing something skilfully, and I ask ‘how did you learn to do that?’ my favourite answer is ‘Oh, I taught myself’.

Often the ‘Oh’ is said with an element of wonder, as though surprised that they ever acquired this skill. Because anyone who answers this way has learnt because they needed to. And self-teaching is the best kind of teaching.

If you have taught yourself how to make a short film, or design a poster, or play a ukelele, or organise a festival, then you started out with an idea for which you had a passion. And then just went ahead and taught yourself what you needed to know.

This is wholly different from being taught a skill for which you do not have a use, an idea for its use. Imagine a ten-year-old who owned a mobile phone but had no need for communication – to learn how it functions would be laborious and not easily remembered. But my ten-year-old daughter, over-excited at the prospect of owning a phone and desperate to text her friends, learns the functions in no time, because she has a real need for them.

This is the difficulty with formal education – we are often taught skills which we have no great desire to use, and so we learn them laboriously. Education should focus more on cultivating our desires than teaching us facts and figures – the opposite of what Michael Gove, the UK Minister for Education plans to do to education. The essence of teaching is to enthuse children (and adults) to the point that they continue the work in their own time, without need of encouragement or expectation of reward.

You may decide to take a course, to train for a particular skill some way into the process of your idea. But more important was that the idea came first, and you then worked out what skills you needed.