July 2008 | Story by Helen Thompson | Photography by Jeff Stockton |Austin Monthly
Austin teachers who had something to say and the students who got the message.
Learning is a complicated process and sometimes veers along its own path, serendipitously detouring around what we like to think of as the basics - reading, writing and arithmetic. As teachers return to their classrooms this month, they know what they are supposed to teach, and they know how they want to do it. Students are more unpredictable, and sometimes they come away from a class with lessons that aren't part of the official curriculum. Maybe that's because some students are searching for something more, and some teachers are poised to give more - and to give it in a way that ends up making a difference.
That's what we found out when we started asking successful Austinites about the teachers who most inspired them. If there's a common thread running through all of the students' stories, it's that the teachers took time to get to know and reach their students on an individual level instead of teaching a one-size-fits-all curriculum. For the teachers, the common thread is that they recognize teaching is a way to connect students to a larger reality, rather than focusing solely on specific skills.
Some of these former students were destined to make their mark, but who knows how much harder it would have been or how much longer it would have taken? That's the impact a great teacher has. To try to open up the world to a student is wonderful in itself, but when those educators succeed, their work can benefit us all.
MARC ENGLISH: Graphic designer, teacher
BART KIBBE: Graphic artist, community arts activist
Bart Kibbe is a graphic designer with - at long last - his own company, Rival Creative. But for a decade or so, the college dropout specialized in toting and lifting boxes and car detailing. Kibbe had always dreamed of being a graphic designer but reconsidered after his favorite high school art teacher cautioned him against it. "She told my parents I could never make a living in commercial art," he recalls.
Considering the damper her opinion put on his career choice, it's all the more surprising that Kibbe kept trying, albeit unenthusiastically, to go back to school. Both times he enrolled at Austin Community College, the goal was to study design. "It never really clicked," he confesses. That is, until Kibbe got a constructive reality check from a teacher. Marc English is internationally known for his groundbreaking work in corporate identity, packaging and branding and is past president of American Institute of Graphic Arts chapters in Boston and Austin. You've probably seen his work in packaging he's designed for Whole Foods (he likes to focus on companies that have cultural value instead of, he notes, cars and soda pop).
But the design guru is also famous for being brutally honest, particularly with his students. So when Kibbe turned in a branding campaign for his design communication class and English told him, "You can do better," the student was energized. "It was the first time somebody hadn't said something like: 'Good work, you did it to the best of your abilities,'"Kibbe says. “It was eye-opening." And that's how English meant for his student to take the remark. "I'm a hard-ass," English says. "I want to get them ready for the real world, where the competition is fierce."
Kibbe has since faced the real world and has noticed it could use improvement. "People in the design world don't communicate with each other," he notes, so he cofounded an arts cooperative to bridge gaps in the creative community. The Creative Workers Union sponsors lectures, mixers and the Ink Slingas Ball, a two-day event where print work is on sale for less than $50. Kibbe is doing his part to make the real world more fun, ever mindful that, like his teacher said, he can always do better. "Marc created quite a challenge," says Kibbe, "that I am now grateful for."