By Natalie Sit
We all remember that special teacher: the one who turned math and science into an education instead of mindless memorization. After all these years, the bad and mediocre faded away while good teachers still linger.
University of Calgary Communication and Culture professor Max Foran wanted to write about a top teacher but the lack of a subject stopped him–until he met artist and teacher Stan Perrot. Many years later Foran completed The Chalk and the Easel: The Life and Work of Stanford Perrot. The book is a living biography of the influential Albertan artist. As well, the release of the book coincides with a retrospective at the Triangle Gallery.
"I needed a topic, I needed a subject," recalls Foran. "Then I heard from my wife about Stan Perrot–really good teacher. So
it out with some of his students and he had a superb reputation for it. Then I saw what a fine artist he was, a big time painter. Now, a biography of a teacher who was also a painter–that’s a different kettle of fish."
Foran has plenty of experience defining the characteristics of a good teacher. He spent years in the Calgary public school system as a teacher and a principal. To Foran, Perrot is the consummate teacher and it’s no wonder why Foran is adamant that only a fellow teacher could write Perrot’s biography.
"A good teacher is one that can build relationships," says Foran. "A top teacher is master of a subject and can break it down so a kid can learn. They embody their subject. They empower their students. They teach the kid, not the subject."
Perrot spent 37 years teaching students at the Alberta College of Art and later the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Perrot influenced an entire generation of Albertan painters. Before he began teaching, European artists heavily influenced Albertan art. Perrot changed that and moved recent generations towards modern art. However, he gave everything to his students and denied his own artistic pursuits.
"The really best teachers, they leave everything in the classroom when they’re done," emphasizes Foran. "They burn out–they’ve got nothing else to give. I realize that the painter
inside him was denied to a degree
left everything in the classroom. Teaching isn’t purest of the arts for nothing. He was the perfect embodiment of the purest of the arts."
While the actual writing took three months, Foran researched Perrot from 1988 to 1996 using formal and informal interviews with Perrot and his students. But the protracted research period only enhanced Foran’s understanding of Perrot as a man.
"By the time I was getting to writing, I’d seen multi-facets of Stan where if I’d just interviewed him and wrote, I wouldn’t have seen him," muses Foran. "It was good it was protracted. I would argue anyone doing a living biography should make it protracted so the different facets come through."
Foran admits it was difficult to write. The need to balance the writer’s desires and the subject is complex. According to Foran, when the subject is dead, the task is easier–one can write whatever one wants.
"I don’t know whether he liked the book to be more anecdotal, probably he would have. I would have liked it more academic," says Foran. "He’s a very modest man. I think the Methodist boy in him is somewhat uneasy with being focused on–being the center of attention."