After being in the design field for almost fourteen years I received a phone call from a fellow designer friend, Joe Eiler. Joe is someone I have known over the years and we often hit it off when meeting at networking events, etc.
So when he called my office at a direct marketing agency I was working at he did somewhat surprise me. He asked me if I had ever taught before. (“Taught what?”, I asked myself.)
He stated that he was teaching at New England School of Art and Design (or NESAD) for a few years and they were looking for more teachers. This school reminded me very much of the art school I had attended.
I graduated from Vesper George School of Art on St. Botolph Street in the Back Bay of Boston. In it’s day it was THE design school to go to. A lot of people in the industry, which included advertising, went to Vesper George. The school was almost primarily taught by working professionals. We had some well known artists that taught everything from painting to sculpture to life drawing to fashion design. The Graphic Design courses were taught by people working in the advertising and studio worlds.
So when I was asked by Joe if I was interested in teaching at NESAD I just had to check it out. This school was taught by working professionals also. This is an important distinction. People working in a field that go to a school or college to impart their experience and knowledge of that field are sought after . . . often. That’s because they are working IN the the trade rather than imparting information from a textbook. I don’t mean to denigrate professors that teach from a book. But I have found over the years that students who want to learn to be designers need that extra push that someone else’s experience can offer.
So after much thought I agreed to teach one class. But now I had to figure out a way to tell my boss that I had agreed to this.
I basically had two bosses; the Creative Director, Bill Allen, was my immediate boss and a person that I respected and liked very much. The other boss was the owner of the company, George Zahka. This man scared me. He was very taciturn and scowled a lot. His office was at the very opposite end of the office from mine so I didn’t run into him very often (thank heavens).
So I naturally went to Bill first to tell him what I wanted to do. At that time I was one of five art directors. But I was also in charge of all the other art directors. Not that I was their boss but it was my job to check on the status of jobs, etc. So I thought it through and approached Bill with an offer I hoped he couldn’t refuse. Basically I offered to come in early each morning and stay late each night to make up the time that I would need to get from Post Office Square in downtown Boston, up to the Back Bay and teach a three hour class and get back to Post Office square.
I would basically be taking off about five hours on a Wednesday in total and offering my boss to stay a total of 15 or more hours added to my work week with the plan I was offering. Seemed like they got the better of the deal as far as I could tell.
When I presented this to Bill Allen he just shook his head and said that wasn’t fair. I was giving much more of my time and not getting the credit correctly.
“So what do you suggest? Are you telling me that I can’t do the teaching?”
He said that I had to “think like George Zahka.” What? I didn’t even want to come close to him much less think like him!
But I went home that night and thought about it. A lot!
As far as I could tell, George was a self made man and he was very proud of his agency. He’d held what people thought of him and his agency in the highest light. So I came up with a plan that I thought would work.
Going to see Bill Allen the next morning I knocked on his door and asked him if I could speak to him for a minute or two. He had a questioning look on his face and said “What have you come up with. And wipe that snickering smile off your face.” When I started to speak he interrupted me and said “Am I going to like this?”
I told him my plan. He approved and gave me his thumbs up.
So this is what I wrote and put in an envelope and left on George Zahka’s desk early the next morning.
Dear Mr. Zahka,
I have been asked by a local art college to teach a class to their seniors who will be graduating in the spring. This school has been in existence since the 1940s and is very much in high demand because of their quality of teaching.
There are a number people who teach at this school that represent the following business types in the Boston area; design studios, advertising agencies, publishing houses and illustration studios. I feel that it is high time they give credit to Direct Marketing and Direct Response as well.
I would like your permission to teach this class on Wednesday mornings from 9am to Noon. I have already spoken to our creative director and am willing to work with you both in making up the time here at The DR Group.
Your quick reply would be appreciated since they are speaking to other professionals about teaching this class as well.
Virginia M. Just
Well, it worked. I had appealed to George’s vain side. Made him feel like I was doing something for his agency (which I was, I guess). I taught varying classes at NEASD for seven years and then went on to teach at Cape Cod Community College for another fifteen. I have to admit that I miss the students and their fresh ideas. I loved seeing them reach their “Aha Moment”; the one where they actually understand what I have been teaching all along.
Hopefully, a few of them went into the business due to my encouragement.
the older, funner, more adventurous Granny