For the past three years, I’ve been teaching undergraduate graphic design courses at various universities. Classes I’ve taught range from Introduction to Graphic Design to Advanced Typography, and student ages have ranged from 18-70.
I started teaching because I valued my own education and wanted to contribute to developing the next generation of creatives. I have been a graphic designer for over 10 years, specializing in brand development, visual design for web/UI and print design. Admittedly so, before the first class began I thought it would simply be about me sharing my experiences and knowledge with my students. However, I was wrong. It never fails that I learn just as much from my students as they learn from me. Here are four lessons that teaching has taught me along the way…
Never make assumptions
No two classes, schools or students are the same. It’s easy to explain a concept too quickly and to assume that all students understand when I see a few nodding heads in the crowd. Oftentimes when some students make it clear that they know the information, it becomes more difficult for those who don’t understand to speak up. The more pauses in speaking, the better—it gives students the chance to ask questions and take notes. It’s better to over explain and have students hear repeat information than to under explain and leave them with unanswered questions.
Interaction is key
Lectures. I remember sitting in lectures, and “accidentally” tuning out. Now I witness my students doing the same (and it doesn’t feel too great). Unfortunately, in most classes lectures are needed. After one too many classes of empty stares, I’ve realized that the key to lecturing is interaction. Students learn best when they’re active. I try to be conscious of different personality types because each class is a mixture of introverted and extroverted personalities; however, I’ve found that all personalities want to contribute and be heard. Throughout each class I ask questions and have students collaborate with one another. Every student that I’ve taught has learned best when they’re challenged—not by me putting information on the screen for them to write down. Whether it’s recalling information from past classes or critically solving a problem, active-learning helps students feel accountable and invested in their own education.
You can’t fake teaching
Students know immediately if a teacher cares about them, and it will directly impact whether they care about the class. Teaching is an always-on job. Sometimes all it takes is a one-on-one conversation or listening to a student’s opinion that makes all the difference in someone’s education. I’ve taught large classes and small classes. It’s much more difficult for one-on-one time in larger classes; however, authenticity and compassion are possible in all class sizes.
I don’t have all of the answers
And the sooner a teacher realizes that, the better. When teaching a class where visual work is created, I have regular critiques. This is a time where students hang up their work, explain their design decisions, and receive feedback from classmates and myself. I do this because it helps students learn to articulate their choices and build confidence in their work, but I also do this because listening to their peers' opinions and seeing each other’s work is just as valuable as hearing my feedback. Students not only learn from me but learn a great deal from one another as well.
A perfect class is nearly impossible. Classes are made up of humans, and humans aren’t perfect. However, by keeping a comfortable classroom environment and letting students know that their opinion matters, opportunities open up for concerns to be expressed and improvements to be made. Flexibility, empathy, and listening will make almost any class a success.