So I'm more than a little surprised by how much I've loved teaching. I wrote about some of why I love it a while ago on my own blog, and it's undeniably been a huge part of my own personal and artistic growth over the last several years. But when someone asked me a couple of days ago what made a good teacher, I thought I'd rock the boat a little by sharing a few of the harder lessons I've learned from teaching over the last three years.
- Why do you want to teach? Your motives as a teacher are going to inform everything you do in the classroom, whether it's conscious or not. Teaching is certainly about making an income, and there's nothing wrong with that. But do you love helping other people get better at what you do or does that idea - that your students may outstrip your own ability - make you feel defensive?
|Soldering students at Roadhouse Arts|
- How well do you know your stuff? One of the biggest challenges of teaching is troubleshooting problems on the fly for students. I promise you that in almost every class, there is going to be one student who goes "off the reservation" and will insist (sometimes passively, sometimes overtly) on doing things his or her way. Are your technical skills up to the challenge of getting a student out of a jam or engineering a creative solution to a problem - even when it's of their own making? There is nothing more painful and embarrassing than to find yourself - as the instructor - staring down at a failed student project and have nothing to offer in the way of solutions. At a minimum, can you help a student understand where they went wrong, just by looking at their work?
|I loved this student's focus and commitment!|
- Do you love the medium you're teaching? I'm going to tell you the truth: teaching is hard. There's a lot of prep work and planning involved, and not one single class is going to go exactly the way you planned it. Why? Because there is a factor every single class has in common, and you have no control over it: students. They are unique, individual, and - sometimes - really, really challenging to deal with. If you don't absolutely love what you're teaching, it's going to turn into a grind.
|I love teaching metal techniques - and etching is among my favorites!|
- How well do you handle failure/rejection? This is a tough one. As much as I'd like to tell you that every teaching experience is full of golden light and positive outcomes, the truth is that it's sometimes... the opposite of that. (I taught a class not too long ago that - at the end of it - had me questioning why I ever thought teaching was a good idea. My sweet husband had to ply me with wine and talk me in off the proverbial ledge - it was bad.) Here's another truth: your classes are going to wind up becoming as much about you as about the techniques and projects you're sharing. Not everyone is going to take to you or your style, no matter how tight and snapped in your technique may be. How well will you be able to manage that dynamic? Because teaching is never as easy as making your favorite project in front of a group of people who are hanging on your every word.
|Student work from a recent fold-forming class. I confess that these cuffs made me feel a little envious and a little inadequate - they were much more beautiful than the demo piece I made that day!|
- Do you have something new to offer? Let's face it: for whatever reason, there are lots of people out there who think this "jewelry thing" is a no-brainer, and teaching it (whatever "it" may be) is even easier than that. The result is that there are a lot of teachers out there, some really good and some really (really) bad, and many of them are teaching essentially the same stuff. What sets you apart? How are you different? Where and how are you able to leave a mark?
There are wonderful teachers out there, and I am grateful to have encountered some of them. Good teachers are life changing - but unfortunately, so are bad ones. A few years ago, I was very close to just giving up on jewelry altogether, and it turned out to be mostly because I just didn't know any better. So if you're planning to include teaching as part of your creative life, purpose to be a really good one. Plan for it, do your homework... and then give yourself away. In so doing, you may just find yourself. I did.
Until next time -