Elementary and Middle School Art Teacher
What year did you come to YIS, and where were you working prior to YIS?
I came to YIS in 2012 from the American School of Doha in Qatar and, prior to that, Casablanca American School in Morocco.
What attracted you to come work at YIS?
I had heard very positive comments about the school from colleagues and teachers at conferences. YIS happened to be the first school to advertise the job I was seeking, and they were very professional and proactive in offering me the position. My original interest in Japan began in a university history course taught by an American professor who had been the child of missionaries in Tokyo during World War II. His descriptions of life in early 20th century Japan were fascinating. Between his lectures and, later, the prodigious amounts of sushi & gyoza I ate in southern California during my young adulthood, Japan lodged itself in the back of my mind and never left.
What do you love most about the subject you teach?
I’ve been creating pictures since I could hold a crayon, did my university studies in art and design, and have been painting, drawing, and making stuff all my life. I could easily spend a day very happily reading biographies of artists or watching documentary films about them, but what is best about teaching art is working with children. I treasure the unexpected, and both art and children provide plenty of that. Long ago I took time off teaching for a few years and worked a “normal job” — if trading commodities futures is considered normal — but the increase in salary never compensated for the fact that I was bored and miserable and, most of all, missed the fun of creating with young people.
What sports/non-academic activities are you involved with at school?
My primary activities are art-related. I organize two art exhibitions each year: the Elementary School Art Exhibition in February, and the Staff and Parent Art Exhibition in May. I sponsor an after-school activity for elementary children called Young Artists Group, and over the years students have done mural painting, ceramic tile design, paper-making, mask-making, and other individualized art projects. Each morning before school begins, I host “Open Studio” which is a time for students in grades four, five, and six to work independently by making artwork of their choice, either individually or with friends, and also receive help with their art projects and assignments.
How would you describe the IB Program, and its value, to parents?
In my experience, the essential value of the IB program is that it develops independence, curiosity, and decision-making in children. There is a strong emphasis on developing habits of mind and approaches to learning that cross all subject areas and applies to life outside of school and beyond. I honestly believe that the IB program respects and values the thoughts, ideas, and passions of children, which aligns with my own attitude toward education. This is why I so enjoy teaching the PYP and MYP programs.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of school, and what do you enjoy most about life in Japan?
Japan is a very sensory-rich place: delicious for the eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and stomach alike. My wife and I are spoiled for riches when it comes to heading out for something to eat, exploring a different neighborhood or alleyway in search of a new restaurant. Beyond the cuisine, all the contrasts — between old and new, traditional and modern, recognizable and foreign — are stunning and unlike anything I’ve experienced in other places. There are so many varieties to imbibe: the food, architecture, gardens, clothing, artwork, manga, and anime — of which, I did watch a lot of Ultraman and Speed Racer as a kid. Outside of school, I work on my own artwork and enjoy reading, traveling around Japan, exploring our local neighborhoods, and watching rugby. Having the Rugby World Cup here in Japan in 2019 is a special bonus for us.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would your profession be?
Artist — if the related contingencies & compromises of the so-called Art World were not a factor. If not that, I would enjoy being a craftsman of some sort. I have no desire to live in the Middle Ages, but the idea of working in a guild as a weaver, bookbinder, painter, sculptor, or stained glass artist has its appeal through the notion of spending one’s day making.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and what would you discuss?
There are too many to name: Hieronymus Bosch, Jan Vermeer, Kathe Kollwitz, Van Gogh, Goya, Michelangelo. I would be very content to sit in any of their studios, watching them work, discussing technique and materials, looking at preparatory drawings or plans, questioning decisions, ideas, and approaches. If not an artist, I would like to meet Haroun Al Rachid, Tutankhamen, or Nur Jahan.
Which YIS event(s) from the school year do you enjoy most, and why?
The morning assemblies for elementary school are always entertaining. You never know what you’ll see or hear, and I certainly did not have that kind of courage or initiative as a child. I’m also continually impressed by the musical and dramatic performances our ES, MS, and HS students present. Their progress and abilities amaze me year after year. I very much look forward to the springtime DP Art Exhibition, to see and hear the sophisticated level of visual and verbal expression our grade twelve artists reach by the end of their time at YIS. I also like the Staff & Parent Art Exhibition, simply because it’s a unique celebration of the creativity that exists, often surprisingly, among individuals in our adult community.
What advice would you give to teachers looking to work in Japan?
As a life experience, I would absolutely encourage taking the opportunity to live in Japan, regardless of one’s personal preferences, curiosity, or assumptions. It is a continually surprising, complex, and mysterious place. As for teaching, like any other search for employment, one has to consider the cost of living in Japan and one's personal lifestyle, as the salaries at international schools vs. those at English-language schools differ quite a bit.
What excites you most about the new YIS campus?
A blank slate is exciting because it opens up so many possibilities for how the spaces will be used for learning. For YIS art and design teachers, it will be the first time all the art studios are gathered in a central area, allowing students from all grade levels to interact and experience one another’s work and working processes. It should facilitate better sharing of resources and collaboration among teachers, and also help develop the vertical curriculum more efficiently.