Thesis Update:Teacher-led assignments and student-driven choice in the high school art room.

Hello Art Ed’ers! My name is Ben Russell. I’m a graduate student in CCNY’s Masters of Art Education program and after almost 3 years in the program I’m in my final semester at City College and working hard on my thesis.
In my previous life I was a commercial photographer (you can see my work at: but I’m glad to say that I’m super happy in my 2nd career as an art teacher. I have been teaching for the last 3 years at The High School of Fashion Industries in NYC but it was a long and winding road getting to that spot. Several years ago I joined the NYC Teaching Fellows and trained as a biology teacher (I have an undergraduate degree in biology) but being a science teacher just wasn’t a good fit so in 2015 I applied to CCNY and started all over again.
My days are teenager-filled, working with 120 students at my job and then returning home to my 16 and 13 year-old sons every evening. Sometimes it all seems a bit crazy but I really love my job, my students and mostly even my sons.
While doing my coursework at City College I feel like we read a lot of papers about how important student-choice is to effectively teach art but my own experiences in the classroom have been more nuanced. To me teaching is a balance of teacher-driven assignment and student choice, not as simple as one or the other.
In my research I want to investigate what NYC public school art teachers do to strike this balance. How important is the balance to them and how important is the balance to their students? We all want to offer choice and encourage creativity but we also need to plan lessons, teach technique and check those boxes that are so important to the administrators. The interviews I’ve conducted so far have been very revealing and helpful to my own teaching practice and when my research is done I hope to pass on plenty of helpful information to others in the Art Ed world.

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