Scott Campbell: candidate for national award

Scott Campbell. Photo by Ralph Stewart
"Teaching is not just about art, but life," says Scott Campbell, a potter and Martha's Vineyard Regional High School art teacher who has been nominated for the 2006 Disney Teacher Award. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Brooks Robards - February 2, 2006

While his students may have been relaxing over the holidays, potter/teacher Scott Campbell spent his time writing essays for the 2006 Disney Teacher Award, which was created by the entertainment giant "...to give extraordinary teachers the recognition they truly deserve, but rarely receive."

If Mr. Campbell makes the cut of 40 finalists out of thousands of nominees, he will receive a $10,000 prize, and the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School will get a $5,000 grant. In addition, finalists will travel to Walt Disney World Resort in California in July to share six days of professional development, swapping ideas and learning how to enrich the teaching environment back home. "I wrote and wrote all during the holiday," Mr. Campbell said in a recent interview. "I'm not a writer, and it makes you stop and think." The four required essays include one on his approach to teaching, one on high-stakes testing, one on collaboration with colleagues, and one on an event that influenced him as a teacher.

Although he doesn't know how he came to be selected as a contestant, Mr. Campbell guesses a parent or student nominated him. He's not the first from the high school's art department to be selected. Department chairman Paul Brissette of Vineyard Haven won the contest in 1993.

Scott Campbell with students Sean Gilpan and Colin Kelley. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Mr. Campbell guides his student Sean Gilpan who wields the blowtorch while Colin Kelley watches.
When it came to writing the essay about his teaching approach, Mr. Campbell used feedback from his students.

"I had them critique me," he said. "I like to learn things, too." He said that he tries to find comfortable tasks for the students in the classroom and ways to develop a creative atmosphere.

In the week before our conversation, Mr. Campbell had been reading the results of a final he gave to students in his two Advanced Crafts classes. The students were asked to make a figure. Then they had to write about what they made. "It was very interesting to see the results," he says.

The verbal with the visual
Vocabulary and the principles of design are both important concepts in his class, regardless of whether a student goes on to become an artist. Mr. Campbell said he found that many of his students didn't know the difference between two very basic terms: "shape," describing two-dimensional objects; and "form," referring to objects in three dimensions. "They can actually use this," he said.

Scott Campbell with student Matt Williams. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Student Matt Williams works on his clay sculpture while Mr. Campbell looks on.
Much of what Mr. Campbell teaches is also cross-curricular, and students love his classes because of their open format. The classes, he noted, are usually full.

When it came to writing about high-stakes testing, Mr. Campbell concentrated on what the assessment point is in his students' development and how he teaches them to think like an artist.

Islander Al Hurwitz became the subject for Mr. Campbell's essay on what shaped him as a teacher. The two met while Mr. Campbell was enrolled in graduate school at Syracuse University. He traveled to Newton to observe Mr. Hurwitz, who was teaching there at the time. He said that he never forgot the experience.

According to Mr. Campbell, Mr. Hurwitz talked about how teaching frees you as an artist and said that a teacher's students become his artwork. Mr. Campbell calls Mr. Hurwitz the grandfather of art education books. "He was very instrumental early in my career," he said, remembering how Mr. Hurwitz emphasized that all youngsters need time to do artwork.

"Art teachers - all teachers - save lives every day," Mr. Campbell said. "There's an awful lot of support here on the Island for the arts and education - and teachers in general."

Mr. Campbell spoke about recent tensions at the high school between students. "It happens over and over," Mr. Campbell observes about the frictions between ethnic groups. "Teaching is not just about art," he says, "but life. It's our job to be there for them. We need to let the kids know we hear them."

Pots, past and future
For his essay on teaching as a collaborative process, Mr. Campbell wrote about the annual wood-kiln firing at Featherstone Center for the Arts, which he has been in charge of for the past nine years. "Pottery has been a part of the Island for a long while," he pointed out. "We have 3,000- to 4,000-year-old pots."

Last year, in conjunction with other members of the community, Mr. Campbell and his students helped raise $7,000 for a Save the Children project in Southeast Asia.

The students dug local clay to use in making pots and chopped wood to fire the kiln at Featherstone. They camped out overnight and cooked food. The experience demonstrated how to make something of value out inexpensive, local materials, by using your own hands.

This year Mr. Campbell's students are planning "Planters for People," a community fundraiser for New Orleans hurricane victims. By creating and selling planters, "They'll see a real function of what an artist can do," he said.

Mr. Campbell also involves the school's language program in his art classes. He plans to use an immersion approach to throwing pots by working with the high school's German teacher to help students see connections between the discipline, its vocabulary, and its creative impulses. He has already collaborated with a chemistry teacher.

Mr. Campbell still remembers traveling from Indiana to Disneyland as a child with his parents in 1957. His father was a baby food salesman and wanted Disney to create a baby center. The trip gave the eight-year-old Mr. Campbell a chance to meet Walt Disney himself.

During a long career, Mr. Campbell has alternated teaching with making pottery. He taught for 10 years in Palmer. Then when his wife Ruth, also a teacher, switched to real estate, he decided to stay home, raise the couple's three kids and fire pottery.

The Campbells moved to Hardwick and opened up an art center in an old school house, offering photography and pottery. "In the mishmash of doing that, we packed the kids in the car and took a vacation," he says. Their destination was Martha's Vineyard.

They liked it so much they switched houses with a family who was finishing a house on-Island. In 1989, Mr. Campbell landed a teaching job at the Tisbury School and they became permanent Islanders.

"I stayed home making pots," Mr. Campbell says. When he got involved with the Island's soccer program, he met Paul Brissette, who persuaded him to apply for the teaching job at the high school that occupies him now.

Mr. Campbell's pots are on exhibit at Mount Wachusetts Community College, where his two daughters are students, through Feb. 8. He'll head back to the art center in Hardwick for the summer, and, just possibly, spend six days in California trading tips with other nationally recognized teachers.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.