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I have been reflecting on my values as an artist-teachers in adult community learning and have come to see that my values as an artist-teacher are linked to my personal values, artist values, and teacher values.

values Abbie C

Personal values

Personal values develop from childhood. In ‘Teaching to Transgress’, bell hooks (1994) outlined education as a place where values are shaped. In her experience “to learn ideas that ran counter to values and beliefs learned at home was to place oneself at risk” (1994:3), but is how one develops. This process aids in identity formation, in childhood it is learnt what is valued in the society the child is growing up in. Erikson (1994) gives an example of this, stating that if a child is treated with tolerance, they will grow to value tolerance in themselves, and others (1994:73), as values, are created experientially (1994:74).

I started to build a set of values from the age of five. They were built in education but maybe not in the way you might expect for someone who became a teacher. My school experience was the worst time of my life. A time that extended from nursery to A-Levels. Foundation year, 1999. In my primary school, there was a total distrust of children by adults. Pinched by my teacher. Something she later described as a ‘love tap’ – it was a pinch, for standing up to pull my trousers up. This was the start of my values emerging. Much of my life narrative has been in opposition to teachers and thoughts of ‘I wouldn’t do it like that’, ‘that can’t be right’, and ‘it can’t be as hard as they are making it appear.’

Artist-teacher values

As we grow and amass values throughout life, they result in a person with “unique values, fostered by a unique history” (Erikson, 1994:109). Continuing this line of thought, artist-teacher Susan Coles (2018), outlines that “our personal values are what…make us unique and special” (2018:19). HE artist-teacher Simon Lewandowsky (Reardon, 2008) believes that some standards are so important that they transcend being values of your profession and become personal values, such as “integrity and honesty” (2008:260). In her interview with Reardon (2008), Vanalyne Green shares how her teachers had a “huge effect” on her, and “changed [her] values to ones that were more community-oriented” (2008:193). Similarly, Parker (2009) found the experience of completing an Artist-Teacher MA as a “catalyst for changing [their] perceptions and professional values” (2009:285). 

Professional values

Hatfield et al (2006) state that “professional identity builds on personal identity” (2006:45), hooks (1994) and others (Weatherby and Mycroft, 2015) agree and believe that personal values are “inevitably linked” to professional values and help to “underpin…practice as a teacher” (2015:64-65). With this in mind, I used autoethnography to reflect on my personal values, artist values, and teacher values. 

I do as I please.

When I please;

Or not at all.

The privacy of the studio.

The public exhibition.

Be supportive of others.

Be a cheerleader.

Their success is not your failure.  

Artist values

We met at the first session of a five-week course. You told me your course aim was to come to every lesson.

You talked to your peers and engaged in the activities. But you were tired.

You asked how everyone was every week. We asked you how you were too.

I left you feedback in your sketchbook and commented on how well you’d done.

You couldn’t come every week. Not all aims are achievable. Your health came first. You came first.

adult community learning teacher values

Peer learning and community;

Unconditional positive regard;

Treating everyone as a human.

artist-teacher values

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The author

Abbie Cairns is an artist-teacher working in Adult Community Learning. She is currently completing her PhD at Norwich University of the Arts, in which she explores the identity (trans)formation of artist-teachers in ACL. Cairns identifies herself as an artist-teacher and is engaged in both art and teaching practices. Abbie is interested in how those that identify as artist-teachers in ACL came to develop their identity and is engaged in narrative research with self-selecting participants. Her research was motivated by her own lived experience of being an artist-teacher in ACL and wanting to connect with others living the same experience. Abbie is a text-based artist who makes, and exhibits work regularly. She sits on the board for Colchester Art Society and work with SPACE to facilitate the Creative Practitioner Support Programme, which supports emerging artists.

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