How to Survive in School

When I was in design school, I had an instructor that seemingly hated me for whatever reason.  This class was a drawing class.  Until this point in my training, I had never had conflict with any instructor.

On the first day of this class, the instructor called up each student individually to view their previous work, and to ask them about their background and prior experience.  I told the instructor that I had experience in the same field that he worked in, which was the toy industry.  Maybe my confidence antagonized him.  I am still not sure to this day if I offended him or maybe he considered me a threat because I had achieved a similar recognition that he had, but that I was technically still a student.

The instructor viewed my work and severely criticized me.  He asked what I received in my last drawing class.  I replied, “ I got an A.”

He said, “Really?  I was going to suggest that you go back a grade!”

I was outraged!  I had never been so offended by a teacher.  From there things just got worse.  I felt like I was being picked on at every turn.  I had heard from previous students in his classes that he selected a student to torture every term.  Unfortunately, this time it was me.

During a timed drawing midterm, all the students were instructed to pick a slip of paper out of hat to determine what subject matter they drew.   Remember, this was a product related drawing class, and all subject matter were to be consumer product related such as toasters, alarm clocks, blenders, etc.  When it came my turn came to pick, I was told to put back the slip of paper that I drew, and he pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and instructed me to draw that particular subject; to my dismay it was a sport utility vehicle.  I had not drawn cars for years, and I was sure I was pretty rusty at it.  I sweated profusely during that timed midterm.  We had to draw multiple views and render all of them.  While my classmates were enjoying their class break drinking sodas, I was dying just hoping to finish in time.  The midterm earned me a horrifying “D”.  I was extremely upset and angry.  I felt he intentionally singled me out, setting me up for failure.  I now only had 2 choices.  I could complain to the department chairman and cry injustice and drop the class or I could tough it out till the end.  If I dropped out now, I would have to face this same instructor again next term and start all over again.

This class and its instructor traumatized me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I had never been in this kind of situation before where I felt the teacher hated me.  So I sought advice from one of my mentors.  He told me, “Not everyone wants to be your friend.”

He advised me that the best thing I could do was to show up to class on time, finish your work, and don’t speak unless you are spoken to.  I took that advice and it got me through the rest of the term.  Ultimately I received a “B+” for the final grade.  He just wanted to show me who was boss and put me in my place.  When you are in a particular teacher’s class, do it their way.  Don’t make waves and ruffle feathers.  The lesson here was to “shut your mouth and know your role.”

Let us fast-forward 3 years. I had graduated and was a working professional.  When I had the opportunity to return to Art Center to become an instructor, I frequently saw the instructor that tortured me at the faculty meetings.  Being in the meetings and letting him know that we were now on equal ground gave me a sense of justification.  In spite of what he thought of my drawing ability, or me, it probably irritated him that I was able to become a fellow instructor and teach things my way.