More on Teaching

Cropped-Robert-Curiosity cabinet blog B large image

Another “gift” from students is how they respond to your way of teaching. The woman who sent the lovely book from Australia asked if she had my permission to teach it to someone else. That is a very considerate and thoughtful thing to ask. Some students will take whatever is being taught and offer it to their own students the following week as if they had worked it all out over several attempts in as many years and filled waste bins in the process of getting it down.

I don’t get many of those types in my classes because I try to stay away from product and technique based workshops. There are times when that can’t be helped, when it is a specific technique that needs to be learned to take it to the next and more interpretive level. I will introduce them to the tools, materials and steps that they need to be familiar with and how to use them. And in so doing I also show students the tricks that I learned along the way to help in the process. It is how I learned what I am showing them. First I took an introductory workshop, read a book, went online, made something up, then spent copious hours in the studio perfecting and personalizing and practicing. All of that time goes into what I am teaching, how I am going to answer their questions, make suggestions, give encouragement and share ideas.

Quite often I begin a class by asking what they want to do. What do they really want to do in this particular class. How do they want to spend their time. Then I tell them it is my job to get them to those goals or at least on a focused path toward them. The more varied the goals are, the more exciting the class is for all of us. The more everyone is going to learn and remember.

There are many students that require easily read handouts and only goal is seeing similar end results for everyone. If I do get asked to teach something like that, I suggest that the potential student go on the internet and find what they are looking for and save their money. There is so much out there in the way of instruction toward mastering a technique or making something that not only will give them the desired product but the pleasure of learning how to do it. No instructor need be present or paid.

I received this “gift” last week as well:

“Hi Sandy,
I hope you’ve been well, and continuing to wow your students with your wonderful teaching style.
Already so much time has flown since the 4 lovely days I spent doing your workshop, but you’ll be happy to know that I have frequently used one of the two field kits I made. It’s the one with the handles, and the cover made from a charming old map of the Grampians. Got the picture?  I made it specifically for the pen and wash class I started last month, and it works a treat. It’s so compact and lightweight, it’s easy to pop it into my backpack whenever I go out, “just in case”. As a consequence, I’ve done lots more sketching and painting than I’ve ever done. Thanks to you and your encouragement, and not being prescriptive in your teaching.”
Isn’t that a lovely thing to have happen? And wasn’t she kind to take the time to let me know.
That letter arrived last week in the middle of teaching another four day class where I was teaching a workshop on “marking place” with a group of students who shared stories, enthusiasm, poetry and new ways of seeing. They have helped immensely on how to add to the experience the next time I teach this class. I come away learning so much more than I teach and thank those students for that.

The Gifts of Teaching

Toni' class=

I received gifts this week. I sent some as well. The egg tempera painting of the shearer’s kitchen went back to Australia to the woman who had a childhood there. I gave some of these sticks that I bought from an artist in Australia to members of my art group. There are more in my collection that she had given me many years earlier and are tucked into a corner on a shelf with even more gifts of extraordinarily woven forms that were simply given to me by a student in Australia.

Dick' class=
One of the members of the art group brought this amazing clay bottle he had formed and wanted me to have. I love this bottle. It is large enough to hold a full bottle of wine and it feels wonderful in my hand as I tip it toward the glass. It sits well on the counter where we serve guests.

Also this week a package came from another student in Australia. It is a book she made from her own handmade papers. That alone is very generous of her. I don’t think I could part with paper I made after all the work to get it to even look like paper. But she did and then called the book she made for me “Sandy’s Bible” because of a binding I taught her that hides how it was done and leaves a nice flapped edge like the old Gideon Bibles given out in school parking lots by somewhat misguided elderly believers.

Barb Adams' class=

It is a generous gift, like the bottle above is.

I gave a book away recently simply because I was so excited about how it felt when I was working on it. The pages felt like cloth and fit perfectly with my idea of doing a book about mending. The spine had a darning pattern over the long stitches and you needed to hold it in both hands because it just felt so good. So I took it with me and invited people to just hold it and asked, “What do you think? Isn’t it lovely?” And someone said, “Oh, yes.” and smiled just so. I told her she could have it as soon as I finished it. Just give me her address so I could send it to someone who responded with all the enthusiasm that I felt for the book. She owns it and I made myself another.

Sandra Brownlee' class=

Sandra Brownlee' class=

On the subject of students and books, below are images of what I call my Evidence of Learning book. It was made from papers tossed out in workshops at John C Campbell Folk School. The pages are the table cover papers that the students saw no value in once they drew and made notes on. I turned them into folios and made lines and copied images from the catalog on them. Some I gessoed and tea stained. All were bound together and wrapped with a cord and a small wood carving bought in the craft shop. It is filled with class descriptions, notes and evaluations from every class I have taken or taught since at the folk school. I opened it to teach last week’s class and it now has haiku poetry in it for the first time. One student wrote a poem a day on the board. His gift to all of us.

JCCFS notebook open