5 Questions with… Tim Needles

In early March, Tim Needles took over the Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap) chat to discuss art in the classroom. He utilized Vine to present his questions as facilitator, demonstrating how he is utilizing technology to continue to create, innovate, and inspire. The connections that he makes through his art and inspiration of his students stood out to me as a reason why art is so important in the classroom.

We are glad to have Tim with us this week to share his insight.

5 Questions with… Tim Needles

1. What do you most want your students to take with them from your classroom, school or district?

As an artist I want all of my students to leave my class with an appreciation for art and an understanding of how beneficial it can be in your life. Many people simplify art as drawing and I’ll often hear students say “I can’t draw” but I see it as my job to show how drawing is merely a skill that anyone can learn and art is so much more than that one skill. I make a point of exposing younger students to a really wide variety of creative art methods so that everyone can find a means to express themselves whether its traditional arts like: painting and drawing or genres they might be less familiar with such as: design, graphic novels, photography, animation, theatrical installations, film making, or digital illustration. The truth is that the genres that they might be less familiar with are the ones becoming more and more prominent in today’s technological world. There is procreate and similar software (what is similar to procreate for windows?) that can be used to help expose these younger students to things like digital illustration, so these are important to use.

  1. What are the most rewarding and/or the most frustrating aspects of education?

It’s always rewarding as an educator when you are able to help a student connect with something in class that excites them and becomes part of their lives. The arts allow students to express themselves and it gives some students a powerful voice that they weren’t always aware they had without it. I see students gain confidence, learn creative ways to relieve stress, and find balance in their lives through the arts. This is especially rewarding years down the line when you see students who found a passion for the arts in your classroom flourish professionally in the greater arts community and become professionals in the greater arts industry.

As an educator the greatest frustration comes not from the occupation of teaching itself but from the tarnishing of its reputation in our country due to political agendas and a lack of understanding of what the job really entails. In my sixteen years I’ve witnessed the respect teachers once had diminish as what is expected of us increase and it’s made the job exponentially more difficult.

  1. What advice would you give to young teachers?

My advice to young teachers is the same as my advice to my students- care. It’s my number one priority. If you care about your students, you’ll find a way to succeed and if you don’t care enough, find another occupation quick and save yourself time. Caring about students is really what gets you through the rough times and as a teacher, assume they’ll be some rough times. Looking back on my days as a new teacher, I think it’s a wonder I made it this far. I started teaching in my district without any curriculum or real experience outside of having observed some classes. What I did have is a group of students who I cared about and respected and who in turn showed me respect. I was willing to put in the extra hours on their behalf and I talked to them about what was going on in their lives and that connection that happens, that is really the magic of teaching.

  1. What has influenced your career the most?

Social media and the age of the internet has vastly changed my teaching and what is being taught in my classroom. With the advent of Google, facts are at the tip of every student’s fingers on their smartphone so there is just no reason to teach anything in class that Google can answer with a quick search. Teaching has become less about lecturing facts and dates and more about synthesizing information and mentoring students on creative thinking projects that have some greater purpose beyond the classroom. I know there are downsides to the advances in technology just as there are downsides in any massive cultural shift but it’s clear we aren’t turning around or slowing down so teachers need to harness the power of social media in their classrooms to flourish today.

  1. As an educator, what are you currently focused on?

As a teacher I find it necessary to really invest myself in projects each year that pay future dividends. I’ve also become pickier about getting the most out of what I put my time and energy into as I’ve grown older. Right now my current focus is finding ways to extend my work beyond the classroom to a greater audience to benefit more people and extend greater learning for my students and I. Thanks to social media such as Twitter, Instagram, Google+, blogs, and SKYPE, I have found ways to connect with teachers from around the world and the interactions and collaborations have been wonderful. I have learned so much from them in such a short space of time and I feel that my knowledge about things like social media is only going to grow further from here. For example, one of the teachers spoke about how reading this instaboostgram review allowed her to find the best Instagram growth service for her profile, and how she now has more followers because of it. I mean, wow! And that’s why I welcome this connectivity and interaction with people from all over the world – it’s truly amazing. However, I do believe that this type of exchange is still in its infancy so I’m looking forward to riding the wave of technology and finding a way to make it work in my classroom.

Tim Needles is an art and media teacher at Smithtown High School East in New York. He is the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Power of Art award at the National Gallery of art and founded the Strictly Students Film Festival. He works as a contributor to NPR, the Japan Society Going Global project, arts and culture journalist, Adobe Education Leader, and technology trainer. He is also a freelance artist, writer, and speaker and continues to exhibit and perform regularly. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Photographer’s Forum Magazine, The Columbus Museum of Art, and French Photo Magazine.