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Rob Tamboline, a longtime Earl Marriott Secondary teacher, is no stranger to working with his hands.
With a background in the trades, he has been teaching glass work since 2000, when it was known as a "locally-developed course." For the past 18 years, Tamboline has been updating and revising the glass work course; this year, it has been re-worked for the new curriculum.
Few teachers run glass work courses at all, and Tamboline says those who do tend to combine it with Art Metal or Jewelry classes. When he and Krista Robinson, a teacher at Salish Secondary, re-wrote the Glass Work 11 and 12 course outlines, they hoped more tech teachers would take it on. Tamboline's courses at Earl Marriott are currently the only in the district that focus strictly on working with glass.
As per the course outline, students practice the design process, how to safely use and care for the facilities, tools and equipment, while learning the processes, procedures and historical and cultural aspects of glass working.
What the students might not realize, says Tamboline, is that they are learning valuable skills and not just creating art.
"You might think they're just working with glass, but by introducing tile as a way to lead into working with the glass, the tile work is something you can do in your own place, tile backsplashes, tile flooring, or any of that… The measuring and making things fit is very valuable, that's a life skill. They don't know it, but they are learning something they could use later in life."
And when the students are provided with the skills, they can then focus on the design aspect. Typical projects include concrete and glass stepping stones, soldering, wire structures, stained glass and glass etching.
"With glass etching," Tamboline says, "it's about designing with positive and negative space in mind, and etching highlights onto both sides of the glass so the light refracts differently. There's quite a bit of science in it."
The course also forces students to think both critically and creatively, which aligns directly with the new B.C. curriculum core competencies.
Tamboline notes that over the years he's seen many incredible projects from students who choose to highlight their cultural backgrounds.
"Kids will do a lot these types of projects, so that when they take them home they can share it with you know, granddad or grandma, and that's cool," he says. "I've had a lot of excellent First Nations projects, the students just thrived on that, creating something so cool made of glass."
And although the students who take the glass work courses are enthusiastic, multiple factors have contributed to enrolment declining, such as scheduling conflicts with mandatory academic courses. This semester, Tamboline teaches two blocks of glass work, whereas in the past he has taught five straight blocks, some junior and some senior.
"As a hobby in the public, [arts and crafts] has declined in favour and people are more into technology stuff rather than working with their hands," Tamboline observes. "The arts and crafts movement was big in the 60s and 70s, everyone wanted to make their own stuff, then it sort of died off and then in the 90s there was little bit of a resurgence."
But courses where students can work with their hands are invaluable to students who need a creative outlet, or to students who might one day work in the trades or go down a non-traditional post-secondary path.
"I think arts and crafts is extremely valuable, for just the different types of connections it makes in your head," explains Tamboline. "I think it's so important. We can't all be talented at things, but we can still be creative. Even if you're not using your own ideas in your designs, there's still a creativity involved in getting it down for other people to see and then sharing it with us. That's important."
~ story and photos by Laura Johnston