Monday, May 2, 2011


Teaching dye transfer, c 1990

It is the week I never thought would come. The final week of my career.

            After 25 years teaching photography full-time at County College of Morris, NJ - preceded by 2 years part-time at Jersey City State (now NJCU) and a year before that at Salzburg College, Austria – I’m retiring.

            I’ve been a lucky man. Full-time, tenured positions in the fine arts are rare as democrats in Kansas, and I landed one just 9 years after grad school. I survived my career – something I cannot, sadly, say for everyone I knew from graduate school. And, I’m leaving before the political mean spirits currently attacking public workers destroy the puny pension package I’ve assiduously built.
            But this column is not only about me. It's about how I’ve been blessed by wonderful students. Many have gone on to do terrific things: successful artists, accomplished professionals, excellent mothers and doting fathers. I come across them in the optical store, in New York City restaurants, on the pages of magazines, shopping in malls and of course online. I am so proud.

            As a core of them gather now to prepare what is promised to be an excellent send-off party, a conversation among them is likely to be all the things they learned. What none of them know is all that they taught me.

            I entered this career hoping to become a famous artist. However, I knew within five years after starting it, this was not going to happen. My work did not fly in the marketplace, I became a failed artist. The problem, then, was how to stay on in a field about which I knew a great deal but within which I was a pariah. I wanted desperately to leave it, to do something else, but I had a debt to pay: my education had saved me from a tormented childhood - didn't the next generation deserve that same chance? And so I stayed at the community college, and taught, and watched many of my students become better photographers than me ...  and I learned.  I learned to have faith in the small bits of accumulating knowledge I gained from teaching myself what I had to know to teach them. Learned from the odd and colorful things they did. Learned from the struggles they survived. Learned to believe the future would be brighter than the present. Learned to accept what I was being offered every day in the classroom, from enthusiasm to indifference, and know that someday, somehow, it would all fit together.

            And it has. As I leave teaching and enter baking I stand on a mountain of information which a life of learning and art has enabled me to synthesize into new and wonderful food. But I’ve been had the strength to do that only from watching generation after generation of young, usually confused, always struggling men and women gather up their strengths and surpass …. everything.

What I've learned from them? Pure and simple: courage.

So to you, my students, this week and every week – my deepest thanks. 

The cake they gave me...


joanne cobb photo said...

Congratulations Charles!!! enjoy your retirement, thank you for your inspiration and dedication. To say I learned alot from you would be an understatement.

Gluten Free Foodies said...

Bravo Charles! Bravo!
Now on to some baking - Gluten Free Baking!!! Lisa

Ginger said...

... And now on to other things close to your heart - bread, photos and mushrooms - still hoping you start up that company