Instructor Spotlight | Rachel Dorn
For as long as Rachel Dorn can remember art has been a part of her life. “I always liked art and I grew up around all teachers and basically didn’t know anything else. In high school I had an epiphany that I didn’t have to be a teacher just because both my parents, two of my grandparents, and a whole slew of aunts and uncles were teachers of some kind,” states Dorn.
While Dorn continued developing her art throughout college, by the time she graduated she was teaching kids art classes for the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and selling ceramic boxes, fountains and sculptures at art fairs around the Midwest.
“I realized I love teaching and talking about art, but don’t really like selling it. So, I went to grad school so I could teach art to people who chose to be in the class.” Rachel Dorn
While she was in graduate school she applied for teaching positions all over the country. When she was offered a job to teach in Yakima Valley College’s Department of Visual Arts in 2006, Dorn made the decision to move to Yakima. She credits the respect the faculty on the interview committee and staff and administrators she met on campus had for each other and for students as the reason that YVC stood out among other institutions.
Currently she teaches all of the clay courses at YVC including Functional Pottery, Clay 1: Handbuilding, and 2D Design. She also teaches all courses in the Western Art History series and has taught additional art courses in the past.
“[Teaching] pretty much came naturally because I grew up with and around teachers,” she said. “It’s really exciting when students come up with something I didn’t expect or anticipate. Or when they master a skill or a concept. Studio classes are a blast, because students can come in and kind of feed off of each other’s ideas and energy. The students see each other working and it inspires a kind of local exploration of that idea.”
Dorn also loves to help her students become teachers themselves.
“I really enjoy it when students learn from each other. This happens in on-campus classes when one student shows another student how they do something. It actually helps me teach, because I show a few students, then suddenly they are teaching others. But it also helps them learn, because to teach it, you’ve got to understand it, and teaching it to someone else helps you learn in a new way.”
Like many instructors, Dorn’s teaching methods and offerings were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and she had to adapt to help students learn using new approaches.
“When my Clay 1 Handbuilding class was moved online we sent students home with a studio kit consisting of clay, tools and glaze. I recorded video demos from my home studio, though luckily, I had a lot already recorded because I had spent the last few years ‘flipping’ my studio classes to put my demos online. Students worked from home and had the option to drive their work to campus so I could fire it for them.”
While Dorn said some students did very well, she also noted how many things happen during class that are hard to capture online.
“There is a lot of support I can give if I can see students working (and if I can touch their clay to check for wetness, thickness, etc),” she said. “And there’s a lot students do to support each other when they can see the other student working across the table.”
Outside the classroom, Dorn remains active in the local arts community.
“I still show my work regularly. I have some functional items for sale at Oak Hollow Gallery and just participated for the first time in the annual Tour of Yakima Artists’ Homes & Studios over Labor Day weekend. I also have work in various art shows in the area throughout the year.”
Dorn also maintains a blog where she writes about events her teaching and student work.