Turning Frustration Into Success

Oct 29, 2016

Dawn Murray is the Owner/Founder of Village Arts Center in Broadway, VA.

I’ve loved teaching since I was ten years old. I went door to door, asking the neighborhood moms if they would send their children to my house every afternoon during summer vacation. The children and I sang and made crafts together. I think I charged $5 per week. It was magical. Everyone had a great time. I was sure that when I grew up, I wanted to be a teacher.

Recently, I opened the Village Arts Center. It’s a place where children and adults participate in music and art lessons, explore new media, refine skills, renew old hobbies, share talents, and appreciate local artists. From the programs I imagined in my mother’s garage 35 years ago, to the courses I offer through the Arts Center today…I’ve always loved to teach.

Last Thursday, a group of children and parents in a homeschooling co-op visited me. I needed an interesting lesson for a broad age range, so we discussed Henri Matisse and his paper cut-outs. Younger children worked on paper color selection, arrangement of their shapes, design development, and fine motor skills such as cutting and gluing. The older children discussed a Matisse’s life and work, then they got to work with their own designs.

While I moved around the room, I noticed that one boy was really struggling. His frustration was building quickly. He wanted a PERFECT CIRCLE for his piece of art. He couldn’t cut one out, so he tried to draw one. That didn’t work. His mother tried, and she couldn’t make a circle to suit him. I suggested that he trace a circle using a cup full of pencils. “It’s TOO BIG!” “How about this one … the center of this tape roll?” “That’s still TOO BIG!” His fists were clenched. He was ready to crumble his paper and throw it away. I took a deep breath, knelt beside him, and quietly asked him to tell me about his picture so far. His shoulders slumped as he sighed. He told me that he was trying to make a truck. That he already knew he couldn’t do it right, that he couldn’t make a circle, that he wasn’t sure anyone would even know it was a truck anyway. I asked what he liked about it so far. And then, I waited. Eventually he told me he liked the colors he had chosen. “YES! Tell me MORE!” He smiled a bit and said, “Well, I guess I like that I filled up the whole paper with different colors for the background.” “You sure did! It reminds me of one of the pictures I showed you in the book about Matisse! You must have really been paying attention!” “Yes ma’am. I like that book. Do you think I could look at it again?” “Absolutely! I have a few books that might interest you. Take a look! And while you do that, I’m going to look for something for you to trace so you can make that perfect circle.” Another sigh, but this time, a content one. His shoulders relaxed. He flipped through page after page. He smiled. He giggled. He said, “Hey … Matisse’s shapes aren’t perfect. NONE of them! MY circle looks just like his shapes. I’m like Matisse! Hey! Can you hand me the glue? I think I’m ready.”

When everyone was finished, I invited them to bring their artwork to the gathering room for an art show. Twenty pieces of art were placed on display. We mentioned that everyone used the same materials, yet they had each created a unique and special piece of art. I held up each piece, and asked for the children to tell me something they appreciated about it. Enthusiastic hands popped up into the air. Kind and thoughtful observations were shared.

Eventually, I held up a picture of a truck with a bright yellow sun in the corner, and asked what they appreciated about it. The artist looked nervous. Someone offered that they really liked that yellow sun. Someone else loved the colors. I glanced over at the young artist who made this picture, and he was beaming. He whispered to the child seated next to him, “That’s MINE! I made that one!”

No matter what you teach, or who your students are, there will be frustrations. Maybe they aren’t practicing between lessons. Maybe the material isn’t interesting to them. Perhaps they don’t understand the requirements or have unrealistic expectations. These obstacles are fantastic opportunities for the teacher.

Be kind and patient. Listen carefully, and speak softly. Adjust your plans if you feel like it would help. Give your student room to identify the problem, and then guide then as they develop a solution. We have the opportunity to teach our students much more than how to play a guitar, paint a picture, swing a bat, or solve a math problem. We must encourage them to make their own discoveries, while recognizing their weaknesses and celebrating their strengths. We must model successful problem solving strategies. On especially great days, we will be there to witness moments of frustration transform into moments of joy. This is why we’ve chosen to teach.

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