We each have our own unique style of presentation and interaction with our attending students. That being said, I believe that there is a set of principles relating to the teaching process that might be useful to review and clarify so that they are readily available for future reference.
You and your students will benefit if you ask them to bring either images or actual samples of their work. You will need to identify the point where each one is in his or her career so that you can work to move them forward from that point. Each will be different, and the more informed you are, the better youll be able to serve their needs. Do this as early in the class as possible, if not before.
I also find it helpful to communicate via e-mail prior to starting the class with an encouraging note. Check the class listing in the catalogueit is common for the host to miss something or misstate something. You can give a bit more information in the e-mail.
Be sure to mention what it is that you want them to bring to the classsamples of work, images, objects to work from, specific questions, or projects to work on.
Decide in advance what the focus of the class is going to be. Most teaching artists have enough depth of experience to offer multiple, different classes. Youll need to consciously strive to stay focused on your topic. Beware of mission creep. Students signed up for the class as it was described. Should we make the mistake of following too many tangents, especially if desired by a small minority of the class, we risk alienating the rest. This is not to say that theres no room for spontaneity, but I believe that it is best to stick with a clearly defined set of parameters.
Start the class on time, even if all the students arent there. It isnt fair to those who came on time to lose class time due to the few who are late. If missing some critical information would severely handicap those of your students who arent there on time, be sure to have extra information to share with those who are, in fact, present. You can specifically state that by saying something like, I have something special to share with you while we wait for the rest of the class.
Separating the Corporate from the Personal Do not allow your personal life to interfere with the class. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Personal phone calls. Put your phone on vibrate or turn it off. If its not an emergency, make and return calls during meal or break times.
- Selling your product in the classroom during what should have been instruction time. Many teachers are guilty of this. Its fine to have and bring educational materials, tools, and materials to sell as a service to your students and as additional income for yourself. Be very sure, however, to schedule these sales during clearly defined meal times, break times, or outside the scheduled hours of the class.
- Eating or smoking. Your students should not be paying you to go outside and smoke or to eat outside of defined meal times.
- Making arrangements with the host about other classes or activities. Again, do your own business on your own time.
- Talking to other teachers who are there the same time as you. This can be a highly valuable aspect of teaching, but dont do it when it interrupts your class time.
- Arrive firstleave last. I always want to be the first one in the room so that I can be sure that everythings in order and ready for the class. That way I can feel that everythings under control. When
- the class is over, I always stay as late as the latest student.
- Dont work on your own pieces unless its a demo that illustrates a concept covered by your class.
- Do everything with kindness. Make this a conscious act of will, a persona that you adopt for the duration of the class if that does not describe you already.
The Power of Words
Be very, very careful about everything that you sayit will be taken seriously and personally. Ive had several experiences where what I said was taken completely differently than it was meant, and the people involved had their feelings hurt. You need to be constantly aware of the power and significance of your role as educator.
Students will frequently sign up for a class due to the reputation of the teacher, because they look up to that person so much. Imagine the psychic trauma that could be caused by a careless, thoughtless, offhand remark. Be careful!
Giving criticism is one of the most important and delicate aspects of teaching. The teacher has immense power to wound, even without being aware of doing so. You should tread very softly on the fragile egos of the novice practitioner. There are several ways to approach this that have worked well for me.
- When teaching, the presumption is that the teacher will be instructing students on how to improve their methods. In so doing, it will be necessary to bring to the attention of the students the things that might be done differently or better. When youre in the midst of giving instructions to your students, you should:
- Find good, true things to say, and say those first. I like the way you do this. I can see that youve spent a lot of time developing this. I like the way that these aspects work together.You have a good eye for this.
- Depersonalize any criticism. That didnt work, did it?
- Accentuate the positive. Instead of saying, Dont do that (negative mode) say, Do this (positive mode).
- Be sure to give specific, objectifiable reasons why something isnt working. If you cant back it up with a reason, dont say it!
- Share your own journey. I like to share specifics of how I learned this or that, where I learned it, and from whom. This helps to counter the unconscious assumption that teachers just know or didnt have to go through the learning process themselves. This way, students can observe my own process of exploration and know that my own mastery was not a foregone conclusion but required me to make the same effort that theyre making now.
Honing Your Presentation Skills
You need to become comfortable with the whiteboard or flip chart as a means of sharing information with your group. If youre not, then practice at home until you are. Its a key skill in presenting information. If you provide handouts thats good too, but sometimes youll find it very helpful to back up what youre saying with diagrams, sketches, or bullet points. I usually bring my own dry erase markers with me to be sure that I have fresh ones to work with. I will mention specific points relevant to specific students as I become aware of them. I find it useful to summarize what we have covered at the end of each day. As the class progresses, your knowledge of each students situation and progress should inform your presentation and demos.
The classic model of communication/presentation is:
- Tell them what youre going to show or tell them.
- Tell or show it to them.
- Tell them what you showed or told them.
You dont have to adhere to this formula completely, but its a useful concept to have in mind when beginning and ending each day. I generally find that each class exhibits a theme, and that summarizing it as you go along is very helpful.
When youre helping a student with an issue that is common to all students, or that you think all students would benefit from being aware of, call it to the attention of the entire class. Ask them to stop what theyre doing for a moment and make the explanation to the whole class, not just the one student who brought it up. Youll find that this helps keep the focus on the class squarely on the specific needs of the students who are there and helps you to present more information than you might have otherwise. Its an excellent way of covering more ground.
You may or may not begin the class with a written curriculum. Its not a bad idea to have one when youre starting out. This will help you stick with your plan and be sure to cover everything that you wanted to. Its also a really good idea to make notes as you go along so that youll remember what worked well, what didnt work at all, and what came up that you hadnt planned on that you want to work in for future classes. This written record will be of tremendous value to you.
Up Close and Personal
In one of the fields where I often offer instruction, flameworking of glass, developing good hands skills is of paramount importance. I find it occasionally helpful to stand behind students and hold their hands to assist them in learning the correct movement and balance, the dance of the liquid glass. While this is very helpful as instruction, it does place me in the position of having my arms wrapped right around the upper body of students, leaning over them very closely and speaking directly into their ear. I have never had a complaint about this or even a comment. I might say something such as, Im already married, or You know Im not hitting on you, or something like that. This makes it humorous but also makes the point that Im totally not interested in them in a romantic way at all. Its also in full view of the rest of the class, which is typically eight to ten students.
Be careful about this. Theres a powerful attraction that exists between men and women, and if you spend time in very close proximity to another person, whether or not you feel attracted to them, they may perceive the situation differently than you do. Its probably best not to be alone with members of the opposite sex for extended periods of time. Leave the door open. Be careful.
Copyright 2009 by Profitable Glass Quarterly.
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