Art of teaching
David Walsvik, assistant principal at Edwin Loe Elementary in New Town, N.D., appeared slightly rumpled. Early 60s, bald, heavy-set and dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, he had been travelling for workshops and training, and though it was still summer break, the life of an elementary principal seemed to weigh on him. Teachers had resigned, the new term was starting soon, and they still needed to hire replacements.
But this weary man grew suddenly animated when he started speaking of teaching and students. He began gesturing with his arms, the volume of his voice went up and the tone deepened, he leaned in and said, "You know the best teaching lesson I ever got was from a professor at North Dakota State. He asked, 'Was that enough? Do you think you should've done more? Do you think you did enough?'"
The professor Walsvik credits with that lesson, Shubel Owen, taught vocational agriculture at NDSU from 1938 until 1975. "On a scale of one to 10, he was a 12," said Walsvik.
Walsvik's first teaching job was in Wahpeton, N.D. Towards the end of his first year teaching, Owen contacted him and said he would like to come down and see him. "He didn't have to do that, and I was excited," Walsvik said. He readied lesson plans and projects to show Owen, but that type of detail wasn't what he seemed interested in.
Owen was more interested in looking over the facilities in general and seeing his former student in his new role as a high school VoAg teacher. He told me, Walsvik recalled, "My job was to make you think, to keep you wondering. Now your job is to make it work."
Walsvik has been trying to do exactly that in the 40-some years since. Doing more and making things work were the drivers behind Walsvik reaching out to NDSU last spring and ultimately coordinating a trip that took eight students, ranging from grade six to 12, from New Town to Fargo in April so they could spend a day in workshops conducted by NDSU's Visual Arts Department.
"We need to give these kids a reason to come to school, a creative outlet," explained Walsvik. "So many of these kids are creative and often don't have a vehicle to express that. If we can get kids channeling that creativity into art, interested in it, it can affect their academics. What keeps a kid in school? It has to have a purpose in it, even if it is for pleasure."
The eight New Town students attended three two-hour workshops, beginning the day with digital design/Photoshop with Su Legatt, followed by drawing with Kim Bromley, and finally printmaking with Kent Kapplinger.
Kapplinger, whose workshop was titled "Drawing on the Wild Side," said the day was rewarding for him and he hoped eye-opening for the students. "I truly believe they discovered something inside themselves I don't think they thought was there," he said. "With guidance from the workshop they created personal and dynamic images. They seemed to discover art can be fun."
Walsvik believes the workshops opened the eyes of his students and that they left wanting more, even though the day was a long one with the first session starting at 9 a.m. and the last ending at 5 p.m. New Town's 4 Bears Casino sponsored the trip, paying expenses and giving each student a $100 stipend. "The Casino doesn't want to put all its money into sports," Walsvik said wryly.
To choose which eight students would travel to the workshop, the New Town Public Schools held a judged competition in which students submitted a work based on a holiday theme or an animal as subject matter. The artwork included paintings, drawings and sketches. Selected students, who also needed to have passing grades, included three sixth graders, three seniors and a freshman and sophomore.
Braiden Jay Standish, a high school freshman, said the Photoshop workshop with Su Legatt was the most interesting for him, but that he "found absolute enrichment" in all the workshops.
Senior Joshua Bad Hawk thought the workshop brought out skills that he didn't know he had. While sophomore Frannie Lockwood liked learning new things about painting and printmaking and said she was much more interested in art now.
Walsvik hopes New Town Public Schools will continue building upon the workshop experience and the relationship with NDSU with workshops either on campus again or perhaps even bringing faculty to New Town. "If NDSU came to New Town, we would have 25 to 40 percent of the kids interested."
This is something Michael Strand, NDSU's visual arts department head, would also like to happen. "We have some potential funding to do a workshop out there and a lot of the work we are focusing on is community outreach," he said.
It is a reflection of the legacy of an instructor like Shubel Owen that one of his former students is still wondering if he has done enough, and recognizing untapped talent and the creative impulse. "We live in a world where you can't just keep teaching the same way that you've done it for 40 years anymore," Walsvik stressed. "You have to grow and change."
- Shadd Piehl