Trying To Practice What We Teach

This year, while teaching at San Marin High School in Novato, California, I have tried to combine my love for teaching and my love for story telling. There have been times when being able to do both has helped me as an instructor. There were other times when I wondered if I succeeded at either.

At Journalism Education Association conventions, I have judged and critiqued thousands of photographers. Recently, JEA has changed the photography critiques so that all contestants sit together and view a small collection of the photos. The photographers are critiqued publicly in front of a few hundred other students.

How many teachers expose themselves to potential public ridicule? I try to avoid it.

Before the recent JEA student critique, I asked Gary Fong of  We Are Photographers to critique some of my photos.  I told Gary that I wanted to learn how to be more sensitive to the students I was now critiquing publicly. I also wanted my students to see that I could submit to the similar scrutiny.  Somehow, I thought this entire process would give me more credibility. After going through Gary’s Gauntlet, I am questioning my own credibility.

Gary selected three photos from a concert photo gallery I had recently shot for the Epilepsy Foundation of America. When I saw the three photos he chose, I was horrified. Why did he chose the bad ones? And why did he display them THAT WAY? And why did he list my other website that was in bad shape? And whine, whine, whine. CRY!

Little Big Town – Concert for Epilepsy – Images by bryan farley

And, I am an adult who asked to be critiqued. How do students deal with us?

Once I read Gary’s comments again, I realized he was rather polite. I saw mistakes that he did not mention. I also needed to update my own disjointed webpage.  (I had several excuses for its lame condition, but had any student made similar excuses I would have reduced them to tears. ) I had become sloppy.

Being evaluated by a professional was important for another reason. While I respect my principal, expecting him to evaluate me seems unfair to both of us.  (For that matter, how do principals evaluate auto shop? I can barely evaluate my own mechanic.)

But I need to be evaluated, at least so I can remember what it feels like to be evaluated. I must remember how it feels to be judged, because I judge my students and others judge my students. I ask them to reveal their point a view. I ask them to display themselves when they display their work knowing that they will be criticized.

It seems only fair that I am willing to be criticized too.


note: the top photo was taken by my son. he turned 5 two months after he took the photo. I taught him him.

Bryan Farley

Bryan Farley is a visual art educator from California. Primarily a photographer, Bryan also studies and teaches how to use new media to communicate personal stories about people he considers invisible.

Bryan Farley has 13 posts and counting. See all posts by Bryan Farley

4 thoughts on “Trying To Practice What We Teach

  • June 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I think it should be a give and take type thing. I think students should critique their teachers and vice versa. This is the best way to learn. Also just being nice is never a good way to critique, you need to be nice while giving good advice and being truthful.

  • June 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm


    In your experience, have your teachers either been too nice or too unavailable for critique?


  • June 20, 2011 at 12:02 am

    I’ve been lucky and I tend to pry for a good critique whenever possible. I also try and network at events as much as I can so I an go home and compare photos with more experienced photographers.

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