I started writing this post a week before students did their final presentations. We had our final class of tutorials and I found myself going back to a place of real discomfort, once again questioning what the hell was I doing (being a teacher) and if it was worth pursuing. A week or two prior I’d had a chat with a small group, debating some questions about the overall course and my teaching methods, in particular, already anticipating my frustration reaching some sort of breaking point. The end of the academic year always tastes bittersweet and as fatigue is installed, restraint becomes ever more difficult. We all want a break, we want to move on to something different, but the thing is we don’t. I mean, as teachers, in the academic context we’re in, more often than not, we don’t. Students move on with their lives, whether they keep doing photography or not, but we keep teaching similar things to similar students, year after year and it can be boring and often exhausting. This year I feel I may even be projecting onto them my own frustration with the fact that the time I dedicate to teaching is robbing me time from my creative practice. That time dedicated to teaching feels worth sharing if something arises from that; when it doesn’t, it’s just painful.
As I digest these feelings and commit to making a final effort to edit some aspects of the works, I can’t help but remember a conversation with one former therapist regarding my intuition. As I sense some students get really anxious and/or nervous around me, I remember that therapist trying to educate me on the need to build a shield, also trying to make me go back and find the moment I’d lost it, just so that we could come to the conclusion I’d never had one. Being too exposed makes me extremely vulnerable and that’s the price I pay for wanting to be engaged at all times. Often I’m too intense, too sincere, too transparent and students avoid coming into contact with my energy and being pushed forward; sometimes they’re just aware they aren’t living up to their potential; sometimes I push too hard and they fall under pressure. Sometimes I can’t stop that energy from building up into something extreme: it can be positive and cathartic, but it can also be somewhat destructive and unnecessary.
The end of the academic year is hard as shit, that’s just how I’ve always experienced it. Every year writing these stupid posts questioning my role as a teacher and then ending up feeling thankful by students’ commitment, delivery and generosity and thinking maybe I had something to do with it and that’s reason enough to keep teaching. Anyway, this year it feels a bit more schizophrenic, like no clear understanding of reality is on the horizon. Somehow that space of trust, empathy and commitment is a blur. As I’m sure every single teacher can understand, it comes to a point we just need a break: stop overworking our bodies and minds, sleep, eat and relax.
Fast forward to the day they are finally presenting their projects to the community (colleagues, teachers and invited artists). Artist Orlando Franco, who also mentores the students in the context of their final projects, joined in, as did Rodrigo Peixoto, colleague, artist and the programe coordinator. Invited artists Susana Paiva, José Luís Neto and Isabel Dantas dos Reis, completed the group. Their presence brings renewed energy and clear constructive perspectives and critical layers, so thank you! It was intense, to say the least, here and there emotional and exciting, but mainly filled with glimpses of potential futures and practices.
We’re accustomed to these moments, we know what goes on and have the tools to digest those things that linger in between silences. We also talk among each other, sharing experiences, comparing methodologies, etc., etc.. We have little answers, consider several circumstances that may or may not be relevant to some of the conclusions we’re trying to get at. This year, there’s been a lot of talk about student’s individuality, often translated in a poor sense of community. How can we do our work if they fail to understand that all we do at school is community work? What else can we do if they fail to see the impact their individual actions has in that shared space? Such a frail sense of interconnection and dialogue compromises the way we manage our energy, commitment and delivery. More often that not, teachers share the feeling of being depressed by the class experience, but fortunately there are lifeboats. One of the most positive learnings I take from this year is the sense that although students’ lack of interest in historical consciousness and what we see as culture (an understanding of how humans have been experiencing their passage on this shared universe) can be disheartening, the way they behave as if everything is possible is hopeful. They seam to be ready to reject all canons and invent new rules, new codes, some that fit them better. Ignoring aspects that made it possible for civilization to have better conditions is extremely dangerous and is opening the doors for extreme neoliberalism, among other political systems, but I don’t see how we can prevent this from happening. Drawers will have to be open, disarranged, dismantled and thought anew. Maybe they’ll find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff and find better crops…
Below some imagens of the day and the projects presented: