Tori Ralston

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teaching philosophy

As both a teacher and a student, my most satisfying experiences in the classroom have revolved around the powerful impression that, in the strange spell of a discussion or lecture, it is possible to see the world differently. I believe that it is possible to evoke moments when we think outside our typical sphere of habits and rituals. My teaching philosophy is comprised of teaching different styles of thinking that allow us to reconsider our own relationship to the arts and the world at large.

I have been teaching art for the last 20 years in various capacities. Currently I am a lecturing professor at North Carolina State University and instruct art at North Carolina Governorís School East. As well I have taught at Duke University, Elon University, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Central Carolina Community College. Iíve taught art to children of all ages, worked as an art therapist, and taught art in various community arts centers. And Iíve garnered wisdoms from all of my teaching experiences which have profoundly shaped my philosophy. I believe that any student is capable of managing the most complex and difficult intellectual challenge and deserve the opportunity to education that provide these challenges.

All learners today, from preschool to graduate level, need thinking skills in visual literacy in order to create and interpret visual information, to understand images of all kinds and use them to communicate more effectively. So, I believe those who teach art are responsible for teaching students methods for encoding visual concepts through creating art as well as decoding meaning through responding to the many images, ideas, and media that permeate our increasingly complex visual world. In exploring form, we discern the many structural decisions embedded in the creative process. In considering theme, we examine the concept or larger meaning that expresses the artistís viewpoint, connecting art to life. In investigating context, we consider the authentic nature of the artwork by learning under what conditions the art piece was formed. Our ability to interpret and evaluate art is enriched by identifying personal, social, cultural, historical, artistic, educational, political, spiritual, and other factors that influence the creation of the work.

My philosophy translates into a number of concrete practices. I formulate my classes around a concept toward a direction or goal. This creates a sense of flow, moving the studentís thinking toward a culmination, assuming the interrelationship of methodologies along a trajectory that I design. For example in a recent performance class I taught at Duke University, students began with small group collaborative projects followed by readings and class presentations all of which prepared them for their pre-performances, culminating in their final evening of public performances. I generally map my classes around a series of assignments, combining materials and technical practice with concept driven projects, culminating in a final piece. Each student, in consultation with me, decides upon his or her final project with respect to the assignment and produces a design prior to fabrication.

I've made a habit of meeting individually with my students, not only to talk about their respective projects but also to get a sense of how they see themselves within the learning process.

My teaching experiences have not only taught me effective ways to create new curriculum, communicate effectively with many different types of students but I have learned the importance of clear communication, strategic lesson planning, and time management skills.

I find that my best teaching occurs when I have planned well so that I can remain flexible. Over the years, I have learned to provide structure through assignments and readings with the intention that students reach the educational goals of the course while being flexible and adaptive so that I can respond to studentsí interests and include topics that arise during class. I find that this empowers students and helps to keep them engaged. As well, I enjoy incorporating hands-on activities whenever relevant because they can very effectively reinforce information from lectures and readings in a practical and fun way for students.

I want to provoke my students to think differently, to see that the subjects that concern us in a visual arts class are not insulated but engage manifold questions in the world at large. The willingness to make these conceptual leaps ultimately nourishes a form of critical thinking that I believe to be valuable in any capacity or field. As a teacher, this is my aim and my philosophy.

I am inspired by the North Carolina Community College Systemís mission to include all students, the "Open Door Policy". As a long time educator and proponent of social justice, I feel that everyone should have the opportunity to an education. I learned firsthand, while working as a grant writer for an educational non-profit serving disadvantaged youth and young adults in Washington, DC and while working with youth in mental health settings in North Carolina, that not everyone has the same access to education. The importance of educational opportunities for all cannot be overstated. When I taught at CCCC, I experienced students who were highly motivated and were eager to work for their education in the hopes of transferring to a four year college or university after receiving their two year degree.

My area of concentration is in the liberal arts and in conclusion, I would like to express my belief that an education in the liberal arts provides a solid foundation in developing a mind of inquiry and passion. Art and Art History focuses on aesthetics, communication, and the expression of the human condition. As humans, we have always relied on the arts to bring us closer to an understanding of our humanity, our global concerns and interconnectedness. It would be my pleasure to offer this diverse and compelling curriculum to students at Alamance Community College.
Tori Ralston
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