A Selected Recollection of my Teaching and Learning Experiences
Ever since I was a little boy, I have been blessed with plenty of opportunities for teaching to and learning from others both in academic and non-academic activities. Going back to my first grade times, I recall an assignment where I was asked to draw a traditional family picture: you know, dad, mom, children, and a dog. I was sitting in my study desk at home struggling with this assignment because I was (and still am) not a good illustrator at all. Then a friend of the family who was visiting us that day offered me his help. With his help, I was able to finish successfully the family picture. In his own ways, he taught me a few tricks regarding the drawing of a human face, and the contour of a typical dog. With his help, I was able to tackle later assignments involving drawing with much more confidence. As I learned from my friend, as artistic as drawing can be there are usually some basic steps that can be followed by anyone to end up with a decent picture or portrayal. What is remarkable about this story is that the person who helped me draw a family picture was himself a person who had a moderate degree of intellectual disability. Also in first grade, I remember one of my classmates having difficulties with reading and math, two subjects I was pretty good at. She asked me if I could help her and I gladly did so. Thus, here I was in first grade on the one hand struggling with drawing but improving thanks to somebody else’s help, and on the other hand having an opportunity to help a classmate in her struggles with reading and math.
Let me get back to my drawing learning experience. As I mentioned, I was taught how to draw a human face and a dog by afamily friend medically diagnosed with intellectual disabilities. He was in his late twenties or early thirties, had speech impairments, and in spite of his condition he was very social. You may wonder how one can learn from a person with intellectual functioning well below average. Well, this is my recollection. First, I noticed that he was very passionate about drawing; I saw him many times just drawing for the sake of drawing. He was not doing it because it was a homework (He did not even go to school). Second, I found that he did not get upset when I showed him my sketches which were usually very bad. Instead, he showed me once more how the sketches were to be done. I just was not intimidated by him; I was not afraid of making mistakes. Third, he was very systematic. Because of his speech issues, he indicated what he wanted me to do with his eyes, hand gestures, and body language in general. At some point, he just took my right hand with his and we both ended up with a version of the picture. He tried this experience many times for the same figure, for instance the dog, and every time he followed pretty much the same basic steps. That was when I came to realize that even though he was not talking, he was still communicating something about practical drawing techniques, at least from his perspective. Repetition was a key component in his technique. The more we practiced, the better I got. Finally, I was able to do the drawings all on my own. I should say, however, that mine were never as good as his, but certainly much better than the drawings I had before he intervened. Nevertheless, I remember my friend being very happy when he saw how much progress I made under his guidance. In terms of my grades in school, I also saw significant improvement. I must say that this drawing learning experience has had a long-term impact in my own always evolving teaching style. In my next blog post, I will illustrate with a specific example how this learning experience has shaped me as a teacher.