Note: Surnames have been left out to maintain the privacy of the individuals mentioned below
Several months ago now, I taught my last class and resigned from teaching after having done it for the past three years.
It really wasn’t an easy decision to make. I was leaving part-way through the year, right when I had establised a rapport with a new set of students and built even stronger connections with existing students. The Te Wāhi maker space that I was involved in was doing well, with many coming to the weekly Innovation Workshop I co-hosted. My confidence in the classroom was at its highest, having finally found my stride and style that I enjoyed using to help students with their work.
So, why leave?
There were a few key reasons. The main reason being my wife getting a collections/archives related job in Wellington, one that she has always dreamed of. There wasn’t an equivalent in Auckland, so we would have to relocate no matter what. The logical thing for me would have been to find another teaching role here in Wellington - after all, there is a national shortage of teachers even now and (provided you are capable) one can pick up a full-time or relief role relatively easily. I would start again at another school, and that would be that.
But I realised this wasn’t possible for me. I had given so much to my previous school because I believed in its staff and students very deeply, and felt truly invested in what was going on. Many of these students, some of whom I had been teaching since they were 14 years old, were now growing into young adults realising their dreams. In the three years I have been teaching, I have worked with close to 1000 different kids (likely a bit over if I counted up). I knew I couldn’t come close to that level of energy at a new school (or, it would take a very long time).
With moving to a new place, I thought - why not have a completely fresh start? Try something different, and begin picking back up the things that I had to shelf for the past few years that I have been teaching. I had neglected many parts of my own life, namely my friends and family, in constant pursuit of this job which wasn’t healthy. Doing something more black and white could help me leave work at the door when I come home everyday.
I am in a completely new job and field now (IT related), but I still think being a teacher in the classroom is one of the most rewarding things ever. It is a shame that the state of education and teaching in this country is as dire as is it, because on the job you have inclinations of what it could truly be. No other profession has made me laugh, shout and cry as much as teaching. It really gives you a sense of what is meant by the human condition (as cliche as that sounds), and just how much education can help shift social class barriers.
I will miss the team that I worked with dearly - Robin, Francis, Andre, Linda, Sandra, Tina, Sam and Motu. They are some of the most hardworking, funny, and talented people I have ever met. Others such as Shar, Joe and Jill were instrumental in me finding my feet when I first started teaching, to whom I am forever grateful.
Most of all, I will miss all of the students that I have been lucky enough to work with over the years - Bo, Isobel, Scarlett, Matthew, Eleanor, Stanley, George, Hidetomo, Taiji, Anne-Marie, Gabriella, Isaac, Violet, Lucas, Oscar, Sofie, Nathan, Sam, Aliza, Zara, Reese, Ruby, Amber, Sylvia, Christina, Hamish, Freddie, Olivia, Finn, Molly, Andrei, Seungjin, Ben, Aedan, Will, Noah, Callum, Jude et al. Thank you.
Bending towards the sun,
As an art teacher, I have seen firsthand the incredible impact that artificial intelligence (AI) has had on the world of art making. From the way that we create and share our work, to the very techniques and materials we use, AI has transformed the art world in ways that were once unimaginable.
One of the most significant ways that AI has impacted art making is through the development of new tools and technologies such as OpenAI’s DALL E 2 (which I wrote about briefly a few months back when their first research paper was published) and Stable Diffusion by Stability AI. With the help of AI, artists can now create digital works of art that would have been impossible to create just a few years ago. For example, AI-powered software can generate complex, detailed images and animations, or even create entire music tracks from scratch.
But it’s not just the tools that have changed – AI has also had a major impact on the way that artists approach their work. Many artists are now using AI to generate new ideas and inspiration for their art, and to experiment with new techniques and styles. This has opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities for artists, and has allowed them to push the boundaries of what was once thought possible in the world of art.
Understandably, there are also those who worry about the impact of AI on the art world. Some fear that as AI becomes more advanced, it will replace the need for human artists, or that it will somehow dilute the value of traditional art forms. There is also the concern of copyright - many of these training models have used artist works without their permission, and are thus making derivatives without attribution. It means that artists, particularly smaller independent creators, are having to reckon with platforms that can generate works in their style which potentially leads to lost commissions and income.
One only needs to look at the recent and ongoing protest at Artstation where artists have begun fighting back against technology companies using their IP without their permission. In the case of this protest, artists are also up in arms about the prevalence of “AI art” on the site. As noted by character artist Dan Eder, to place an image generated using a tool like DALL E that was simply generated using a prompt “alongside artwork that took hundreds of hours and years of experience to make is beyond disrespectful.” Artists have provided free labour for technology companies to train and improve their models which, in the case of an entity such as OpenAI or Midjourney, is then sold as a SaaS product back to consumers.
The impact of AI on art making will depend on how we choose to use it. At least in the case of Stability AI, they have begun addressing the IP and ethics concerns by allowing Artstation artists to opt-out of being using to train future releases of Stable Diffusion which is positive. For artists, there is an opportunity to embrace this technology and use it to push the boundaries of what is possible. It makes for a great starting point, but is still a long way off from completely replacing the creative agency that comes from a real living, breathing artist.
Scattering seeds in the wind,
Spending this week in isolation due to being classified as a household contact.
It has been a strange time. On the one hand it has been peaceful being able to work from home and avoid the mad rush of teaching physically. On the other hand, things that would normally take a single step (or no steps at all) are now three, and you find youself having to constantly work around issues rather than being able to really solve them.
Seeing your loved ones get Covid is also not fun at all. Not being able to do anything about it is even worse.
Here’s to hoping that next week goes better.
It’s been a long year.
While it has not been an easy one, there have been some fantastic things in 2021 that I am grateful for. I have met some wonderful new friends, colleagues, and students, and have enjoyed many laughs with them all.
I am especially thankful for my students. They showed great patience with me and expressed great energy and determination even in the short time we were in the classroom. These students are truly kids of the Covid-era, having now been through successive lockdowns and their associated uncertainties for the last two years. And while it has been a great challenge for them, they have also achieved some tremendous things.
There are many names I wish to celebrate, particularly those who did not receive traditional academic awards at school but have held a quiet strength and achieved many milestones behind the scenes. I will not publish them out of respect for privacy and my professional responsibility, but I am so proud of them. It makes me understand why some teachers stay in the profession for decades - this part of the job is so incredibly rewarding and fun.
I feel for students less fortunate, particularly those in lower decile schools and areas who have been hit particularly hard this year. There is a lot of work being done by fantastic people behind the scenes here, but they have been stretched so thin from this. I want to create and share more resources for other teachers and students in the coming year, something people can grab and use for their contexts.
Let’s pull back the veil,
This is just going to be a short post so I don’t overthink it. I would like to follow up another time though and go over the highlights of this year.
I am very glad and thankful that this year is coming to a close. The sun is shining outside and people around me are happy, which is what matters most.
Take care and see you soon.
Been many months since I had time and space in my mind to be able to write anything.
Since my last post Sophie and I did a big move out of our old place and into a smaller apartment in central Auckland. It was a very stressful experience and, despite our limited posessions, made me realise just how much stuff one accumulates over the course of even a year (the total length we were at our last place).
Work has been rewarding but challenging. I wake up early every morning, at work from 7am usually until about 4pm, sometimes staying as late as 6pm some days. I occassionally will see what people of the Merveilles community will be working on and wonder how they manage to find the time to balance work, life, and their own creative pursuits. It still brings me great joy nevertheless seeing what they get up to, as well as what some of my students manage to make over the school terms.
One aspect of work that I have been enjoying a lot has been helping to set up the school makerspace, Te Wāhi Auaha. Myself and another colleague have been working a few evenings a week (and during the day whenever possible) to set this space up, creating tutorials for students to follow, making partial exemplars to demonstrate the capabilities of different machines and so on. It has been great fun - the space has only just started to take shape and there is still much to be done.
It is now the end of term holidays. I intend on using this time to get back into the swing of things creative, as well as get back into my programming practice.
Though the links are subtle,
Recently I have been working more on my own design work. While I have always had a basic understanding of using design tools such as Inkscape, Figma etc, I have never really had the time to push myself to learn more until now.
Using the Nothing Market moniker, which has been the name that I have traded as for the past year, I have been generating different designs to improve my skills. I am hoping that by doing this it will mean that I am able to teach more to my students, beyond the core requirements of what is expected from them.
This is what I have done over this past week, producing at least one outcome every single day. Some are more successful than others, but it doesn’t really bother me too much. For me, the most valuable thing from all this has been getting faster and better at the process of using these tools.
Back to making!
A tulip for your thoughts,
Yesterday evening the government announced a new lockdown for those living in Auckland. We will be in Level 3 for at least the next seven days, during which time I will be teaching remotely yet again.
Slowly as we have more and more situations such as this I am getting used to virtual learning. It is still greatly challenging - especially in the case of teaching kids who have inconsistent internet connections and/or unreliable technology. My own connection at home is flaky, with Google Meets often dropping mid-call or uploads being interrupted.
Despite the fact that we have been doing this for close to a year now, I think that we as educators still have much to learn. The technology hasn’t gotten that much better over this time, and I am still not sure about the strategies many of us are taking to ensure a productive remote learning environment.
I am not sure what the answer is. I don’t know if anyone does. If anything, I think this pandemic continues to show us how ill-prepared many of us are. A vaccine is thankfully around the corner, but what will the next pandemic make of us?
A lot has happened since my last post but I will keep it brief.
I started a new role at a new school here in Auckland. It has been just over two weeks since I began and we unfortunately just went into another Covid lockdown from yesterday, but otherwise things have been going well. My classes are a range of junior and senior, teaching predominantely art with one DVC technology class as well.
Getting back into teaching has been that everything to do with school has taken priority over everything else. I haven’t really had a chance to settle down and work on my own material for a few weeks now. Hopefully I can change this over the coming weeks.
There are a few interesting websites that I have been keeping an eye on and following their material. One is Astral Codex Ten, the new blog of Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex fame. I had only discovered SSC recently over a controversy surrounding the New York Times running a story on the author and doxxing him, leaking his real name (Scott Alexander is his first and middle name) even after asking NYT repeatedly not to do so. He has a long history of blogging and writing about various topics, including mathematics, science, politics and technology. I really enjoy his writing and highly recommend you subscribe to his Substack page.
Through Astral Codex Ten I recently also discovered the work of the Qualia Research Institute, a non-profit that describes itself as “studying consciousness in a consistent, meaningful, and rigorous way.” I have been working through their core research papers which can be found here, and I highly recommend to anyone interested in psychology and philosophy that is centered squarely on the human condition (suffering, love, etc) and the Effective Altruism (EA) movement.
Never date a poet,