Teacher Talks: Auguste Elder, Upper School Art Teacher

Whether or not Calhoun students plan to pursue art as a vocation, they’re bound to learn invaluable lessons from any of Auguste Elder’s art classes. Auguste uses art as a tool to stimulate different ways of thinking, fostering problem-solving skills that can be applied to any field.

Auguste is a ceramicist whose work has been exhibited across the country, yet despite his professional success, he continues to learn alongside his students. His partnership with them has made him both a better educator and a better artist.

"Art is a very physical form of thinking and a holistic way of problem-solving. It’s multi-sensory, experiential, analytical and sequential. It's very sophisticated work that students will be doing in whatever field or discipline they go into outside of this school. We have different kinds of learners, and art reaches a lot of different kinds of minds. It's essential.

The curriculum is very interdisciplinary. I have developed courses like Anatomy for Artists, which explores the bridge between science and art. I’ve also developed courses that explore photography as a medium for cultural anthropologies. My Cameras Inside Out class is part engineering, part archeology and part image-making, while my course The Mask in Form and Function class examines mythology and anthropology as well as art and art history. I am teaching the kinds the type of courses I wish I had available to me as a high school student.

Often in my reports I’ll write, 'It's been a real pleasure to work and learn alongside you'because I'm also learning. Teachers and students are thinking and working around similar challenges. We might be in different places on that spectrum, but we both still have something to learn. My hope is that it’s an exchange.

I try to get my students to be very comfortable with failure and 'mistakes' because that's where our deepest learning comes from. It's not in accomplishing something right the first time, but having it fail and working through that. When I encounter challenges, I ask myself what I ask my students—'What did you learn from that?' The conversations I have with students come back to me when I'm facing challenges, and it's made me a better artist.

For those who want to pursue art down the road, my goal is to give them fluency, even mastery with the materials. But for those who have no intention of continuing with the arts, I want them to learn how to think sequentially, and how to work through problems as opposed to being paralyzed by them.

If I had to choose one word to describe myself as an educator it would be empathetic. I try my best to get into the shoes of my thinkers and doers. Doing that has made me a better educator in terms of bringing our school's commitment to social justice to life. Knowing that our students have different backgrounds and experiences, you cannot be a cookie-cutter teacher in any respect."

Teacher Talks is a series spotlighting the educators of Calhoun and their approach to progressive education.