I am the son of an artist. As is the case for many artists, creating artifacts rarely pays the bills, but teaching art does, hence, I am the son of an art teacher: an artist who taught his skills instead of plying his wares.
Being the art teacher at our local public high school, my dad held the key to the art supply closet, which meant that I inasmuch held the key to the art supply closet. Routinely, Dad would bring home a bag of acrylics, a tray of watercolors, a box of pastels, and every so often, we would devote our Saturdays to sitting around the dinner table painting, water-coloring, and…pasteling.
During these art lessons, my dad regularly reminded us to paint what we saw, not what we imagined or remembered about what we were seeing. In order to reinforce this habit, we rarely painted anything that we were not directly looking at. We would often paint still life—a bowl of fruit on a table with several small objects sitting around it. He would tell us to paint the apple in front us, not our idea of what an apple looked like. He taught us that color and light dance with each other. Sometimes a red apple doesn’t appear red, so paint it the color you are actually seeing. Don’t paint the apple in your mind; paint the one on the table.
In our homes, whether we are teaching our children art or English or writing or math, we would do well to remember my father’s art lessons. Our students—our children—are actual people, not the students we imagine them to be nor the ones we remember from previous years. Like painting the apple on the table during dad’s art lessons, we need to teach the students in front of us, not our idea of what a student is or should be. This is not to say that we have no goals for our students, but it is to say that each child’s goals must be for the actual person they are, not an imaginary person we wish they would be.
And we must remember that every single student we will ever teach is a human being—no more, no less. Every student bears his Creator’s image, and every student deserves the honor attending that image. They are unique people, which makes each one unique, and they are unique people, which makes them all people.
So, don’t paint the apple in your mind; paint the one on the table. And don’t teach the student in your mind; teach the one at the table.