As many of you know, I am a middle school teacher. I’m probably a bigger kid than most of my students and it’s probably why I enjoy my job so much. Middle school is such an awkward and odd age filled with hormones and creating your own identity. If there is one thing I hope my students leave with is not so much the content that I teach them, but the feeling of security in knowing that it’s okay to be your own person, love the things you enjoy doing, and being proud of who you are; never second-guessing your enthusiasm and expression for the things you love and care about.
Every school year, I run an after-school film photography club for my students. I usually cap it off at about twenty students per year. I keep the numbers low because it’s more manageable and I want to make sure the each child gets enough of my attention. I separate them into two groups of ten and teach the first group for the first quarter of the school year and the second group during the second quarter of the year.
The students that take my class grow so much from their time shooting film, and every year it literally causes me to choke on my tears when I make a speech at their first gallery showing at the school just before the Holiday break.
I prefer give my rookie students (usually sixth graders) point and shoot cameras and teach them some basic shooting concepts. I give my returning students (who basically become my teaching assistants) SLRs. The students are given weekly assignments on what to shoot each week before our next meeting. We all shoot black and white film and develop it in the school’s science lab. We use darkroom bags, Patterson tanks, Arista film and chemicals, and a Pakon F135 scanner to get the job done.
I must mention that NONE of this would be as successful as it is now without the help of Michael Raso of the Film Photography Project. The FPP has run features on my students in numerous episodes of their podcast, donated somewhere around sixty total cameras, and Michael continues to be a close colleague for both me and the students. So a thank you is definitely warranted to them. A thank you is also warranted to the local press who ran a feature of us last year as well. That article had a few awesome quotes from students on their time in the club.
I must say that there is no better feeling than seeing my students crack the reel and see their images on a strip of film for the first time. The amazement in their eyes and the look of fulfillment and relief on their faces is something I truly enjoy. Of course, not every student nails it their first time, but we all work and support one another to make sure we all get there eventually.
I know I am teaching the kids a lot in the nine weeks I spend with each group, but I feel like I learn and benefit way more. They push me to learn more so I can teach them more. It’s a shame I don’t have an arts degree, because there’s an adjunct opening for Photo 101 at the local Community College and it would be pretty cool to further my photography teaching experience in the evenings. But for now, this is more than enough to keep me happy.