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A Welder's Way Of Teaching

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Art teacher Terrance Wong gears up for a welding class at the Stonybrook Fine Arts school in Jamaica Plain.
Sara Frazier/WGBH News
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Signing up for a class with Terrance Wong takes a certain degree of bravery.

Not because the 29-year-old artist is harsh — he’s a pretty nice, soft-spoken guy. And not because his welding classes require you to handle equipment that’s hot enough to melt metal (although a little courage in that department doesn’t hurt).

The bravery needed to excel in Wong’s art classes is for expression. He teaches at the Boston Public Schools and the Stonybrook Fine Arts (SFA) school and encourages students to be confident when they’re fleshing out ideas.

But bravery alone isn’t enough. As a teacher, Wong says he always tries to create an atmosphere where students aren’t afraid to talk creatively.

“A lot of people are quick to shut down ideas or not try to understand them,” Wong said. “So [it’s about] creating the culture that’s just saying, ‘That’s an interesting idea, can you show me more and can you tell me more about it?’”

Wong emphasizes that this type of brave creativity shouldn’t just be reserved for the art world.

“I throw ideas out as a teacher and bounce them off colleagues, and sometimes they are truly absurd, and sometimes they’re much more grounded,” Wong said. “But part of it is just trying to find that in-between. I think the absurd exists so we can find a place to push ourselves toward, whether it’s realistic or not.”

From philosophy to application

It’s a Friday in October at SFA. It’s warm enough that the doors are wide open and some light hip-hop pours out of a few speakersand fills the studio.

Today, Wong’s class is working on steel pencil holders. It’s a small project that encourages students to flex their creative muscles, while also balancing practicality. He’s hoping students will find that sweet spot of “the absurd” that’s tough to nail down.

A few students have already welded their pencil holders together, but they are having a hard time with the practicality part. Their holders are able to hold six pencils, which is an assignment requirement, but the pencil holders are too tall. So instead of quickly nabbing a writing tool, a user would have to reach all the way in.

This issue is a quick fix. The students created pretty basic rectangular holders, so all they need to do is grind down the metal until the holder is an appropriate height.

Another student wanted to make a hexagonally-shaped holder with circular basins within it that hold the pencils. On her written design, it looks like a honeycomb. Wong is interested in the creative aspect of the project, but based on the student’s calculations, the holder would be too big to fit on a desk. So it’s back to the drawing board to resize it.

This type of free expression is exactly why Wong enjoys his job. He knew early on in his career that he wanted to be a teacher, and he encourages his students to push boundaries.

“When someone comes up to me and asks me if they can do something, I ask them, ‘What did I say you couldn’t do?’” Wong said.

Wong hopes his students take the brave creativity they unleash in his classroom and apply it to real-world situations. He encourages them to mess around with everyday items — even though in today’s market, most manufacturer designs, like Apple’s, tend to stifle tinkering. Most importantly, he wants people to have the ability to make things fit in their vision, just like in his class.

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