Rockey – The Art Teacher


Rockey – The Art Teacher

By all accounts, Rockey was an outstanding Middle School Art teacher — good with kids, patient with and sympathetic to the outsider mavericks that didn’t “fit in.”

“I wanted to make my students realize that art is the most important class they’d ever take,” he explains. “I was less concerned with teaching them to be artists than with teaching them to be artistic — to really pay attention, to care. In my view, artistry is a basic life skill, a tool for problem-solving, a way of living life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bricklayer, mechanic or bank robber — if you bring attention and care to what you do, if you do it with finesse and class, that’s your art.”

Recalling his years of being an outsider at their age, Rockey devoted himself to reaching the kids who were hardest to reach. “I’d get all the last-chance kids no one else would take,” he says.

“I put all my energies into figuring ways to reach them and help them link up to life,” he said. “I would begin with a surefire success project that any student could perform, a project that would introduce him to artistry instead of convince him that it wasn’t in the cards for him. We’d all bask in his feeling of accomplishment. And then, slowly, I’d expose him to more challenging projects to increase his experience of reward.”

Rockey, meanwhile, never gave his students an assignment that he didn’t do himself, too. Some of his most beautiful and memorable works — a number of which will be on display at the upcoming exhibit — are projects that he did in class in company with his students.

One such work was inspired when he was assigned a student whose face had been terribly disfigured by a fire.

“None of the kids would interact with him,” he said, “so I came up with the idea a ‘double-image’ work wherein first glance reveals one thing, but closer inspection reveals something more interesting. The idea was to show the kids how there are different ways to look at things, and that surface appearance doesn’t hold what’s most interesting.”

As a way of imparting this lesson, Rockey created a double-image he entitled “Azalea Fairy” wherein first glance reveals a bunch of azaleas, but closer inspection reveals a libidinous nymph in a stunning state of undress.

The lesson apparently took. The disfigured kid went on that year to be elected class president by his fellow students.

The highlight of his teaching career, said Rockey, was “the privilege of having all four of my kids — Ivan, Noah, Sarah and Hannah — as students during their junior high years. They all got A’s. I was hoping one of them would eventually end up going out to sit with me and paint landscapes, but no such luck.”

Eventually, however, the classroom left Rockey frazzled and burnt out. “I love to teach, and I gave it everything I had,” he said, “but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Anybody who thinks teachers have it easy doesn’t have a clue. It’s one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Those were tough years,” he added. “They taught me humility, survival tactics and how to derive good from extremely traumatic events.”