Troy Taylor is a multidisciplinary artist that grew up in Germantown, Philadelphia. He recently finished his Master of Arts in Teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art, and this year landed a job as a studio art teacher at the Baltimore Design School. Taylor’s personal studio practice has taken him to New York and back to Philadelphia for curatorial ventures as well as a residency at Space 1026. For Troy, priorities in the classroom right now are about the process of making over conceptual concerns and contemporary art discussions. I spoke with Taylor after a school day about the transition from student to teacher, navigating his own studio practice art and how to nurture a sense of community both in and out of the classroom.
Interview between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Troy Taylor
Where do you work and what is your title ?
I work at Baltimore Design school as a Design Studio Teacher for 7th and 8th grade.
A: What does a typical day look like for you?
I hit snooze like four times before I get up. For school days I try to get up around 6:15 – 6:30 everyday since I’m pretty close. The school day starts at 8:45 and we get out at 3:30. Luckily my day doesn’t start until around 9:50. My first period is a lesson planning period which gives me time to get my head straight before class. Next semester that may change, but I have no complaints right now.
Sometimes I have them do a warm up or a discussion. If I’m introducing something new, I’ll spend a lot of time talking which they hate. Other than that, we just make stuff and get our hands dirty.
I tried to start a weekly design challenge every Wednesday. A two-day design challenge turned into a four-day design challenge for a bridge making activity. I gave them ring pops as an incentive.
But most days are spent as instruction and work time. I have three classes total and try to keep everyone on the same schedule because it throws things off for me and the students if the days and classes are offset.
I have a lunch planning period that is around an hour and a half long where I can rest and plan, which is nice.
I have one more class after lunch that is a lot smoother for some reason. I got into the habit of making them line up outside my classroom and then go in calm which sets a really good tone for the class period. At the end of the day we have this thing called Intervention. Since the pandemic hit, the school wanted to make sure students were still meeting their math and reading requirements. So every day students stay after school for about 45 minutes extra and they have to do online school. They hate it, but I had to tell them this year it was graded. For the first half an hour they work on Intervention and then they can do other work as long as they’re quiet.
I try not to take any work home, which is really difficult, but then I head home.
A: Can you talk about what learning about education does and doesn’t prepare you for?
One thing MICA really prepared me for was conceptual art. MICA was very skill based, but with the curriculum we have there is so much theory, and some of that doesn’t translate well to the classroom because it’s real life. I had a class called Art and Human Development at MICA that explained what students at each age level will be able to do. It was interesting, but that’s not real either because some students do not align with the projection of their age group. It’s interesting to see how differently it is applied in a classroom as opposed to reading about it. MICA prepared me for how to scaffold a unit; how does this skill turn into this that which builds onto this, etc.
Classroom management is something I didn’t really learn about. I had one class about what you should do if something happens in your class, but those are some of the things you can’t really be prepared for. Luckily at this school I haven’t had anyone bring weapons or anything, but you’re not really taught how to deal with that anyway. There are some very real things that school doesn’t teach you. You have to base it off of your gut reaction and instincts. Our school actually has three security checks; metal detector, bag check, and lock their phones up in pouches that only the teachers can unlock. I don’t 100% agree with that since there can be emergency situations and students want to be prepared for that and I respect that. But as a teacher, if I see it I have to send a student to the office.
A: (How) has teaching changed your studio practice?
Honestly I have no studio practice right now which is unfortunate. My plan was to go every day after school since it’s right across the street, but right now I’m trying to figure everything out. I have a lot of ideas for projects I want to do, especially after having my show in New York and MAT. I need to keep that fire lit, but it’s tough. I have summers off so I’ll be working then and trying to squeeze in making personal work in my free time.
A: What is your favorite part of your current position
The kids. Being around so many different personalities, even on the days when the kids get on my nerves, I always walk away learning something. Some kids really give me a tough time and I learn to step away and not take things personally.
Being able to make art and have fun and be weird with them is great. Being able to chat with them is really fun. The faculty here is awesome so it’s great to discuss ideas with them.
All in all, the best part is seeing kids have fun making art.
A: How much freedom do you have in lesson planning or framing discussions?
So far I haven’t brought too much Art History into the classroom, especially because the Art History I was taught I don’t care for very much. Conversations around problematic subject matter are uncomfortable, but it’s important to break apart why something is not okay. Even though we were taught this and fed this for so long, why and how should we think differently about it?
I surprisingly haven’t talked too much about Contemporary Art in my classroom which is really strange for me. I thought I would show them some David Hammons or Kerry James Marshall right off the bat. It has been more about the process of making. The conceptual part of it will come later. Right now they just have to figure out what they like to make and what it means to make.
But the school does not tell me to teach any specific artists or time periods, which I’ve been thankful for. I have classrooms full of 13 and 14-year-old black kids from Baltimore. They don’t care about the conventions of Classical Art. I don’t care about that. What am I going to show them that they will care about? If I learned some of the stuff I know now at their age, my world would have been so much more opened up.
A: Anything you’re working on that you want to promote or any artists you think we should be watching?
I just curated a show in Philly at 1026 called Synapsis Universum by Reuben Francois over the summer which was my first time curating. But other than that, I do not have any upcoming shows. But be on the lookout for some more work soonI want to shout out my brother Trae Taylor, my girlfriend Sage Smith, my roommate and good friend Isabelle Valcarce, Reuben Francois, David Correa, Torrance Hall, and my dawg from Philly Mukhtar Stones . But the biggest shout out to my #1 supporter, my mother. I wouldn’t be where I am now without her.