TEACHING

A favorite student evaluation:

i doughnut“I have never taken a course quite like this and I can say without a doubt I have never had an instructor like Jenifer Wofford. This has been, by far, my favorite course taken at Cal. Wofford is one of the most effective instructors I have ever studied under. Wofford always had control of the class while maintaining a passive position in discussions. She allowed the class to discuss the topics proposed by the student facilitators while acting as arbiter, keeping the stragglers on task and adding insight when applicable.

She has a good sense of humor, especially about her own course topics, and though Wofford is a no-nonsense educator, she accomplishes this while maintaining a healthy degree of irreverence for traditional scholarly methods. I cannot stress enough how much I have enjoyed having Wofford as my instructor for this course.”

–U.C. Berkeley student, Global Perspectives in Contemporary Art, Fall 2013

Having been an educator for almost twenty years, my professional practice is now a happily ever-shifting mélange of teaching, collaborating, mentoring and advising. Any discussion of art without tying it to the power of communication, and its beautiful use as a tool for critical analysis, seems like a wasted opportunity. It’s a tremendous pleasure employing art to teach to subjects and values I believe in: this is not simply art in some formalized, neutralized skills vacuum, but to art as it also lives and operates in ideas, emotion, history, politics and social justice.

I believe in making the learning process a personal, humanizing one: coming to each teaching situation adaptably, assessing the group at hand, and calibrating the work to make it meaningful, difficult, and worthwhile enough for the unique individuals in front of me. I’ve always gladly taught to the specific conventions of technical skills in art, but it feels utterly unethical to do this without marrying it to the power of conceptual intent, contextual history, emotional introspection: all the things that make art more than empty visual representation, and about something stickier, deeper, and far more human.

I believe in the personal. Effective classroom environments often grow out of more intimate moments: quiet individual discussions about artwork, personal conversations which establish trust and respect, cultivating a class culture where students get to know and invest in one another, thereby making the thornier moments of group critique and presentation safer but no less challenging. Amiable working relationships make for productive risk-taking and growth.

My favorite teaching moments have often come in emails or phone calls long after the fact: from former students excitedly telling me about some new revelation, or thanking me for something that finally clicked. The evidence that I’ve been doing my job right has largely been when students have drawn their own connections in their own organic, dynamic, unique ways between course materials, projects, the world at large, and their own lives, and then communicated these back to me, joyfully.