12th grade
11th grade
11th grade
12th grade
11th grade
12th grade
12th grade
12th grade
12th grade
12th grade
12th grade
12th grade
12th grade
11th grade

When I arrived in New York in the year 2001, I always wanted to teach in a local public high school in order to get acquaintance with the art and design education provided for the American adolescents. This can also provide an insightful understanding of how this type of education was conducted and perceived by the students in New York City. In spring 2002, I interviewed a group of students at the cafeteria of The High School of Art and Design (A&D). I was told that Mr Chinelli was one of the best teachers in the school. I introduced myself to him, observed Mr Chinelli’s spring classes and became the co-teacher in his classes in fall 2002.

Mr Chinelli is an accomplished professional artist who specialized in canine and equine portraits. He worked as an designer in a big design company in New York before he started teaching. Knowing the colorful nature of the design industry in New York, he had many interesting stories to share with the students. For example, he would tell the class how a particular typeface was selected for a famous street corner in New York. He had five classes everyday with 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade students. My normal teaching hours were from ten in the morning till one in the afternoon for three days per week with 10th, 11th and 12th graders. I was assisting and at times teaching alone when Mr Chinelli was absent. Thus, I occasionally had to teach the 9th graders.

About the School

Art and Design (A&D) as it is normally called, is a public high school in Manhattan specializing in Commercial Art and Architecture. All students are accepted to the school based on the performance on an entrance exam and portfolio presentation. A& D is unlike any other high school in that the art teachers, as in art colleges, are all professionals in their respective fields. In addition to the common subjects like English, Mathematic and Science, the students major in subjects such as 3D Design, Advertising Design, Animation, Architecture, Cartooning, Computer Graphics, Fashion Illustration, Film and Video Production, Illustration, Interior Design and Photography.

A&D was first founded in 1936 as School of Industrial Art (SIA) at another location. Over time, the school earned the respect of the industry it was created to serve. SIA began producing not only working artists, but college-bound students as well. More and more graduates continued their education to become architects, industrial designer and teachers. SIA continued to grow. It was renamed to The High School of Art and Design in 1960 when the school moved to the present location. Today, there are four such public high schools in New York to prepare the young people for a career in the realm of creative arts. The other three high schools are:

LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts
High School of Graphic Communications Arts
Brooklyn High School of the Arts

According to Mira Tweti, an alumnus of the school,

"For decades after it was founded, the High School of Art and Design on East 57th Street in Manhattan funneled generations of students into commercial art classes. It did so by immersing its students in four or more art classes a day, in a choice of 13 majors from architecture to fashion design. Graduates include the designer Calvin Klein, the singer Tony Bennett, the playwright Harvey Fierstein and the filmmaker Ralph Bakshi. " (2001)

In the Classroom      Top

I was very excited about teaching at A&D. I was thrilled about having another enriching episode in my teaching career after Singapore and Italy. I began my teaching at A&D with much enthusiasm and zeal only to find out later that it was a totally different, taxing and challenging experience.

For a particular class in October 2002, the 10th graders were seated in groups of five or six around a big table. There were 24 students with more boys than girls in the class.

Students entered the classroom singly or in small groups. Many chatted with each other even after they had sat down. Occasionally they would stop talking as the teacher walked past their tables. I was going round the tables to distribute their drawings and rulers. The noise level got louder and louder. At this point, Mr Chinelli used a small hammer to bang the table twice to get the class’s attention. He paused and combed the room with his owl-like eyes to draw attention. He began to talk when everyone in the class looked at him and nowhere else.

Mr Chinelli began his lesson by recapitulating the content of the lecture he delivered yesterday to the class. The topic was “two-point perspective”. Students were then instructed to draw a row of cubes in two-point perspective with bird eye’s view and render the cubes with lines. They were instructed to pay attention to two concepts: the perspective and the line weight. They were also told to develop two important qualities while doing their work – control and patience. Students began their work and the teacher was moving from table to table to help the students. Occasionally, one or two students approached the teacher with their work asking either for approval or for assistance.

One student refused to do the work and Mr Chinelli went to him for a reason.
The student replied: “I do not see the point of doing the exercise.”
The teacher: “What do you like to do then?”
The student: “I want to do a project.”
The teacher: “This is a project. It will be graded.”
The teacher walked away and the student was unhappy.

A few students got restless and started to have small conversations. The noise level was beyond my comprehension. I never came across such a noisy class in my classes in Singapore or Italy. Mr Chinelli had to exercise control and he told the class that: “I am a master and when I speak, you don’t speak.”

The bell rang and students remained in the class for the second period. They continued their work. Ms Denino, the head of the department walked into the classroom and struck a conversation with the class teacher. Ms Denino was the official teacher for the second period and she is relieving Mr Chinelli who could have his lunch break.

The students were getting rowdy and Mr Chinelli raised his voice and said: “I am having a conversation here with my colleague and your voice was louder than mine. No student in the class should speak louder than the teacher.” All this while, I was pacing from table to table to help the students with the exercise. Students still talked albeit softly. Occasionally, a group of students would raise their voice but many were attempting to concentrate on their work. Mr Chinelli left the room at this point presumably for his lunch break.

Ms Denino approached the students, moving from table to table to discuss with them on their drawings. She would take a drawing from each student and then initiated a dialogue with the student on topics relating to perspective and line weight. Students who had completed the exercise were drawing on their sketchbooks or scrapbooks. They were excited to show the teacher and me their drawings. The drawings were mainly pencil-animated figures with exaggerated muscles and facial features.

Mr Chinelli came back from his break and he went to the student who refused to do the exercise initially to look at his work. He praised the student on his line work and said:
“So, did you develop control and patience? These are two qualities that you need to have in order to produce good art. “
“I do, but I still like to do a project with my own idea.”
“I understand. You should treat this exercise as warming up for the big thing to come. The next project will be a rendered drawing inspired by M.C. Escher’s work. Do you know who is M.C. Escher?”
“No” The student answered.
“M.C. Escher is my mentor and he is considered one of the greatest artists who has a mastery control of forms and shapes. I will bring a book about his work for the next project. ”

Mr Chinelli told the students to leave their perspective drawings on the table and I went round to collect the rulers and the drawings. The bell rang and the students leave the room swiftly. 11th graders were seen outside the room waiting to come in for the next period.

When I compared this particular class with the students in Italy and Singapore, I noticed that the American students were very open and lively. They seemed to harbor no fear and were definitely not afraid to speak out. The relationship between the teacher and the student was like between friends. American students were also outspoken and happy to suggest new ideas in the class. I also noticed that the students were very individualistic and too proud because in my opinion, some of them had overrated themselves especially in their work. Many kept a sketchbook each and were very proud to show it to me. I was very happy to engage in a portfolio-type discussion during a class, as I was curious to find out from the student the intention and motivation behind the creation of an image shown in the sketchbook. It would be great if the energy that they put into creating the sketchbook was channeled into the classroom work. I remember this was precisely the approach I took when I planned the lessons for my students at the Saturday Art School, Pratt Institute. I would ask the students what they like to do in the future lessons and I would design the lesson plans with their suggestions taken into consideration.

For the students at A&D, some students thought that their sketchbooks were so good that they were expecting acceptance and affirmation. No one genuinely wanted to hear negative comments. Comparatively, the Italian and Singaporean students were more humble in these expectations.

During a discussion of their sketchbooks, I always began by asking the students the process of doing the work. “What triggered you to do this drawing?” “Why do you do this?” One common observation was that many lacked the technical skills to bring the work to a professional level. To acquire the skill would require the students to put in hard work and constant practice and I noticed, many A&D students were unwilling to invest the time and energy to do so. There were also too many copied or modified images of Anima and Manga, the Japanese animations and comics. The influence of popular culture and peer pressures were evident in all the sketchbooks that I saw.

Although students’ works were displayed on the wall panels at the end of the project, I noticed there was totally no critique session conducted for the students. However, Mr Chinelli and Ms Denino did initiate or conduct class discussions occasionally by lifting up a few students’ work and ask question. A typical opening question would be, “What do you notice in this piece of work?” Normally, the discussions were quite lively as many students raised their hands to answer the questions.

American Students      Top

As I mentioned briefly earlier, the students in America are generally more open and lively. For example, during my student teaching, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with the relief teacher who took over only one period when the art teacher was having a meeting with the principal one day. The relief teacher was a Mathematics teacher who had said “My job as a relief teacher is to baby-sit the students. I am not in the position to critique their work.” Thus when the art teacher was absent, the students got really rowdy even though there was a relief teacher.

As the new assistant to the art teacher, I felt that I had to exercise my duty to ask the class to stop talking among themselves. I then told the relief teacher I was not used to the rowdiness and noise created by the students. In my culture, the students are not supposed to talk at all in any class and to pay attention to the lessons. To my surprise, he told me these students were very well-behaved compared to other public schools in New York and having conversations while doing work in the class is allowed in most schools because this country respect freedom and the right of the individual.

I was enlightened and the next time when the students got rowdy again, I asked the students to lower their voice so as not to disturb other students. From my experience, I found that American students have less respect for their teachers who must work hard to earn it.

“Teaching is not considered as a respectable profession here in New York,” the relief teacher told me. In my opinion, the seemingly fun-loving American students enjoyed and treasured the company of their friends in the class more than the teacher. However, sometimes the students could not handle this freedom. James, an 11th grader African American student in my class at the High School of Art and Design was suspended for three days for being involved in a fight with another boy in the school. He was rude to his classmates who chose to ignore him when James started to make a scene. To me, he was acting like a little boy who created a scene, as he wanted attention. I felt that he was putting on a mask to hide his true emotions.

“You took my brush.” James said to the boy sitting on his left.
“It is not your brush, I took it from the tray on Mr Chinelli’s table,” the boy replied.
“It is the brush that I used yesterday. I want the same brush,” he demanded.

The boy did not reply. He continued to use the brush to paint.
“I want the brush.” James said and he refused to paint.

James sat at his desk for the entire period doing nothing or murmuring to himself about the brush being used by other. This is James.

One day, I was in the classroom drawing and designing the texts which were in various languages to be displayed for the glass window at the school gallery. I was doing the work at the desk opposite James. While he was painting, he constantly looked at my desk. He then asked about the work that I was doing and I explained the entire process to him on how to do the texts on the glass window.
He said “I want to learn how to do that although I may not be as skillful as you.”
I replied “You are still young and when you are my age, you will be better than I.”
He said “That’s what Mr Chinelli told me too.”
I then said ”See, we both have faith in you. You are a talented artist. You do very good work when you are not talking in the class. We both notice that. You need to concentrate and exercise more control and patience. It takes time but you have to remember to try your best to do that.”

At that point, I saw a totally different James and I knew he was sincere and honest. He was not acting anymore. I know I had earned the respect from the notorious James. We had since established a new relationship although he still hides behind a mask at times.

American students are highly motivated in the areas that they are passionate in. However, for areas that they have no interest in, it is very difficult to motivate and excite them. This phenomenon has its root in the American belief in self-expression and individual freedom. Very often, the self-expression evolved into self-indulgence without consideration to social responsibility.

In my opinion, the teachers in America have to constantly find ways to motivate the students to cultivate their interests in areas where they obviously exhibit indifference. This task is made easier as the relationship between the teacher and the student is very friendly and humanistic. In the American classroom, I often saw and heard encouragement and praises which instill positive thinking and attitudes in every student. That to me was a very important difference compared to the classrooms in Singapore and Italy. American students were told in the class that mistakes were acceptable and they were to learn from the mistakes. The assessment process was very liberal and lenient in America as the emphasis was on the process and the task itself rather than the end product. From what I observed in the classroom, there was no moderation in the assessment process. A teacher’s mark was taken as final. Most students were happy if they had learnt something in the process and were not too particular about the final mark. There was an incident I saw Maria, a 12th grade student discussed her mark with Mr Chinelli and was happy to gain extra credit by helping the teacher in an exhibition at the school gallery. The onus was on the students who had given opportunities to be responsible for his or her own learning.

I think American students are very fortunate to be able to learn at their own pace and ability. They are encouraged to speak out and to have their own voice. They are able to develop an inquisitive mind, to question facts and provide their interpretation. Clearly in all art lessons that I taught or observed in the classrooms, the American system values and encourages the student to question, to think and write down the questions. They are encouraged to have an open mind and to have the freedom to have a different viewpoint from their parent and teacher. However, this freedom, as I noticed, must be managed and exercised appropriately to inculcate or enhance the positive attitudes and values which were found lacking in some American students that I met at A&D.

The End      Top

This page was created on 01 Aug 2004