Monday, November 10, 2008

Educational expectations

I've been teaching animation at the college level for nearly two years now, and I'm a bit frustrated. Not with the teaching – that, I love. I'm frustrated with some of the students I encounter. Maybe it's because I'm firmly in middle age, but I'm just astonished by students who act as though they've got a great future ahead of them simply due to their existence.

Don't misunderstand; I've got a lot of students who work very hard, listen closely to critiques and act on the advice they're given. But I have far too many who do the bare minimum that an assignment requires, or turn in shots where it's obvious they started working on them earlier in the day, rather than over the course of the week since the last class.

I wonder what these students think will happen once they complete their education and start looking for work in the industry. They will have a freshly-minted degree in their hand, and a reel that shows mediocre work at best. And as they start sending it out to no response, what will they think? Will they then take responsibility for their lack of initiative during the years when they had the best opportunity to excel at their chosen craft, before the pressures of work and adult life take their toll? Or will they blame their teachers, their college, or the curriculum, as I see so often on discussion boards and other blogs?

Yes, there are schools that have astounding placement rates and hordes of successful students working in the industry. But there are many successful students from schools that have much more mixed results. And in both cases, the “x-factor” is the effort students put in, and the ownership they take of their future.

A professor can only present the information to the class, or answer the questions the students ask. A professor can't make the student pay attention, or apply the information they're providing to the work the student is doing. That's up to the student. Those who pay attention in class, who do more than the assignment requires, who really push themselves to get better every time they sit down at an animation disc or a computer – those are the students who have the best shot at making it in this business. Animation is a competitive industry in the best of times, and a cutthroat one when times are tough. Anybody's best chance of surviving long-term is to work as hard as possible and constantly strive to improve. Anything less just doesn't serve you very well.

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