I value a teacher that has a mastery of skills on both traditional and digital photographic platforms. While digital is more prevalent, analogue photography has the capacity to slow down students and encourage them to consider and linger on their images more meaningfully. Current gallery and museum exhibitions across the country indicate a renaissance of sorts in photographic processes, and being familiar with them maintains an important connection with the relatively short history of photography.
A teacher should have the capacity and motivation to work with a diverse student population; globalization is the new normal, and students from different age groups, different backgrounds, with different abilities and learning styles have the right to expect an accommodating and stimulating learning environment. This requires the teacher to assume the best of each student and to have an abundance of patience and tolerance.
A teacher should continue her/his own art/photographic practice, whether commercial or fine art. The most effective teachers engage with the art/commercial/photographic community beyond the academic environment, and, as a result, they have a wealth of real-world experience and information, not to mention enthusiasm to share with their students.
The teachers I value most think independently, work collaboratively, and bring something new and valuable to the academic program; this encourages a respect for the environment into which they enter as well as propels the academic program forward, addressing new pedagogies and technologies.
References are important; they speak to the character, skills, and work ethic of the applicant. After my daughter’s first term in college, I asked her, “If you needed a reference or letter of recommendation, would you feel comfortable and optimistic about asking one or more of your professors or a staff member for a reference/recommendation?” This approach stresses the importance of positive and productive behaviors with each and every professor, staff member, student, and non-student the individual encounters. EVERY meeting is an interview/evaluation, whether in the classroom, during office hours, in the workplace, and informally; people assess other people, consciously and unconsciously, all of the time. A colleague of mine teaches his children that most happy people are cheerful, grateful, and helpful; I imagine these people have long lists of references, too.
A good photography teacher has students whose photographic work doesn’t always look like her/his own work. This signifies that the teacher encourages and exposes students to a variety of aesthetics, approaches, concepts, and techniques.
A good teacher learns from her/his students and listens to them. She/he embraces humility, takes responsibility for her/his actions and words, and says, “I don’t know, but I will find out,” when appropriate.
A good teacher is organized and well prepared; she/he has a conceptual understanding and technical mastery of the course content AND can effectively communicate and share this information with students; knowing how to do something well is not enough; interactive discussions and lectures, as well as hands-on demonstrations and examples provide much needed variety to the classroom experience. Sometimes my demonstrations bomb and sometimes they go well; either way, students learn from these interactions.
Most of all, a good teacher is responsive and makes her/himself available to students, whether that is in the form of timely emails, office hours, or unexpected, informal meetings.