Teaching can be creative, too

As I might have already shared, most of my career has been spent working in museums. For me, this has been intensely creative and enjoyable work. Underpinning all of it is the concept that museum work, as my husband has said, is Happy Business. My aim has been to leave visitors wanting more, their curiosity piqued, with their desires to return and/or learn more ignited. On my end, with each new project the doors have opened to growth and learning. In addition, I found that whatever position I held implicitly and explicitly included teaching.

Then, I got to actually teach. First, in the Anthropology Department of the University of Tulsa. I was pretty much given free rein to teach what I wanted. I introduced folklore and multiculturalism courses to the freshmen classes. Upper division students took Ethnography of the Middle East and Museum Studies. Students in the latter were given hands-on experience cataloging long abandoned archaeology collections at the TU library and then working together to curate small exhibits. Other students joined me in another experiential project at the Creek Council House Museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. They helped to catalog and rehouse another neglected collection.

Some years and many miles later, our family made our home in Miami Beach. One thing led to another and one job led to another and another teaching opportunity. The art department at Florida International University (FIU) created a graduate certificate in museum studies in lieu of starting a graduate program in art history. I was invited to teach one of the two required courses. After two years, I took over as coordinator (read director) of the program. You can imagine how proud I was eight years later when the program had grown from six to twenty-six students and graduates had found jobs in local museums or enrolled in full MA museum studies programs.

It all came to an end, as many things do, in 2015 with change of leadership and political meanderings. Ah well, I am proud of the accomplishments of the students, including five annual exhibits they curated which featured permanent collections of the Frost Art Museum at FIU.

I lept when the opportunity to teach a 1/2 day workshop for visiting Brazilian museologists fell in my lap two years later. Here’s where creativity (in this case, flexibility) came into the picture. First, no suitable space was found for the workshop. “Use our house!” I said. Second, the moveable topic. The group had visited museums in the USA considering new paradigms, new roles, and sustainability. Instead of being an interactive presentation moderated by me, the session turned into a much-needed session when the participants analyzed what they had seen during their stay in the States. Third, Miami’s ever-changing weather brought a downpour which prevented the group from going out for lunch, so the meal was brought in and they took over our living room for a continuation of free discussion.

Open discussion, an effective teaching method and a nice view of my living room!

Creativity in teaching … took the form of letting go. Letting the participants lead the way, within the framework of their topic, to reach toward their goals.

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