Thursday, May 11, 2017

Five Lessons Learned by Failure

Well, it has taken me a while to fully process my first attempt at teaching.  It was interesting, and VERY educational.  I do not know if I want to further pursue this or not at this point.  But I am going to write down what I learned, so I can remember it for myself, and so maybe you too can learn from my mistakes.  I made a healthy bunch of them, but maybe had a little success too.

The Upper Midwest Bead Society hosts a "Demo and Do" event every spring.  This event is an opportunity to learn from other members in the society.  Some members are wonderful, experienced teachers, teaching their own designs, like Diane Fitzgerald (Beautiful Beads), Doris Coghill (Beads by Dee), Maggie Thompson (Maggie T Designs, who sells her beautifully designed portable Kumihimo stand), and Barb Knoche, who taught the first class I took ten years ago, a wonderful Peyote bracelet of cube beads.  And then there are other members who demonstrate techniques in which they are proficient, or the designs of others.

I had never attended the event, but it's a friendly, kind group of beaders, and I thought I might be able to test the teaching waters in a low-stress environment.  Here's a link to information about the event. Each class was 50 minutes long, and cost $5 for members, which I expect paid for the rental of the space at the Textile Center.

I took two classes in the morning, which was a very good thing.  The first was a Netted Pearl technique, and I had fun playing with the stitch.  I tried 4 drop, 3 drop, and 2 drop, which I thought was a little thready for my 4mm round.  Then I did a little Chenille break in the netting.  Very fun!

My second class was a Micro Macrame class.  We were told to learn some knots in preparation for the class, but I was CRAZY busy last week prepping my tutorial and kits, so I watched a video, but did not actually try the knots.  I thought I would manage, because I usually catch on pretty quickly.  BOY WAS I WRONG.

I charged off to what I thought was a great start with my cord in neat little knots, until I was told I was not doing the knot correctly.  The right knot was demonstrated, but I had the other thing in my head, and it would not leave.  I foundered for the rest of the 50 minutes.  I never got the first knot.

So here was LESSON #1.  SOME CLASSES HAVE PRE-REQUISITES.

I know if I took the time to go back and look at the online video of the the great guy with the gigantic cord demonstrating what I was supposed to have done, I COULD do it, and I probably would enjoy it.  BUT, again, too little time, and too many pressing obligations in my life.  I didn't mind not catching on in the time I spent.  It was a good introduction to something I might like to pursue later on.

Then I had a free period before teaching my class, the last session of the day.  I sat at a table for half an hour, and wove about 3" of what I planned to teach, using Chenille stitch in a pattern to create a spiral.

OK then, time to teach.

But nothing went quite the way I expected it to go.  I did anticipate that I would probably be nervous. I thought my hands might tremble, but that didn't happen.  What DID happen was, I could not control my thread.  It tangled repeatedly.  I untangled it repeatedly. That is really rare for me. Two lessons here.

LESSON #2. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.
AND
LESSON #3.  FINGERS WORK DIFFERENTLY WHEN BEING WATCHED.  

I think this is why at the shoe repair place there is a sign that says "Price triple if you want to watch."

Despite the difficultly with my uncooperative hands, I did manage to get the stitch demonstrated. But flustered as I was, I did not explain the techniques I use to manage my beading mat and rotating the cord around which I bead, because my mind was much too busy making up for the sausages standing in for my well-behaved fingers.

So my six students set off to try doing the stitch, and I realized immediately that Lesson #1 from my earlier class was in play too.  If you have never done Chenille stitch, it multiplies the difficulty of working it in a pattern by a factor of a gazillion.  SO, for the ladies who had never done the stitch, I demonstrated how to do Chenille with just two colors, so seeing how the stitch works is easier. Fortunately, they all got that, I think.

And one very clever friend of mine, quietly understood the pattern,  Although she had never done Chenille, she was able to get an inch of the pattern done by herself in really good colors she chose.


LESSON #4. EACH STUDENT WILL HAVE DIFFERENT ABILITIES AND NEEDS.

Just like when I taught dancing for Arthur Murray studios, and when I taught Costume Design and Stage Makeup at Purdue University, everyone comes at learning from their own place, and in their own style. Some people have innate ability, and some people work really hard at comprehension, and everyone has a different frustration thresh-hold. Good teachers can adapt.

I really want to believe that for a first timer, I managed to  help everyone get SOMETHING out of the class.  I felt badly about those who did not get their Chenille to spiral on the first try, until I remembered my own inability to tie a knot earlier in the day.  I got something out of that experience, even though it was not a bracelet.  And there was one more lesson too.

LESSON #5. TIME FLIES WHEN THERE ARE 6 STUDENTS AND 50 MINUTES. 

Will I try that again?  I don't know.  I am still processing the experience.  I am almost 64, and I have SO little time, and SO much I want to do and try.  I feel like I am still new to illustrating and writing tutorials.  I just don't know.  BUT it was a great learning experience, and for that opportunity alone I am very thankful.

If you happen to have been one of the 6, thank you for hanging in there with me.  Thank you for your patience and kindness.  I felt some of you actually supporting and calming me, and I will be forever grateful for that.



17 comments:

  1. It is HARD. I've taught twice. I don't think I will again, despite lovely students and supportive staff. All of your lessons are dead on, and if you add an anxiety disorder to the list it's kind of impossible, lol. I'm so glad you tried!! :D

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    1. I was proud of my effort, and I am glad I tried too. I completely appreciate anxiety disorder. I suffer myself. Hugs, Nancy.

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  2. Great article Marsha. I am still learning how best to teach and probably always will. I will say the first hour in a class can be quite chaotic as people are learning something knew and often ask lots of questions. The students own methods of learning also come in play, as you mentioned above. Then the class settles down as they get the stitch, giving the teacher a breather and time for individual checking. Doing just a 50 minute class was maybe too short for a first experience.

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    1. Yes, Patrick, in my beforehand imagination there was enough time, but in the situation, I felt very rushed. I think experience is a great teacher, and I think when we stop learning, it's because we stopped trying. I'd love to take a class from you some day!

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    2. Thanks Marsha, I am in the throes of preparing my home for sale and want to downsize with a sea/tree change. I am not so sure when I shall teach again but it would be great to have you in a class.

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    3. <3 Happy house hunting and moving, my friend.

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  3. What an interesting article, my friend! I don't know if I would be a good teacher. Those who come to visit me say that I am, but that is not so sure, for when I am with one person alone, I find it very easy to teach. But 50 minutes is indeed not a very long workshop.

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    1. Yes Cath, I think that is exactly the issue. Teaching many is quite different from teaching one. One on one it is easy to see both understanding and confusion, and to suss out experience and ability. I taught groups, both at University and groups of dancers, but over a much longer period of time, and got to know each student personally. It's easier if you know the individual group members. And I really knew only one of them. It was certainly a very valuable experience for me. Thanks for reading and commenting dear Cath.

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  4. Many good things learned. Teaching is definitely a different challenge than designing/ beading for yourself. I learned quickly that short threads are absolutely necessary when demo-ing. Also, large beads are helpful. I usually use those perler beads and embroidery floss when doing demos because it makes it easier to see for the people in the back of the group. I can't believe you taught chenille stitch in 50 minutes! I wouldn't teach anything in less than 90, and preferably 2.5-3 hours. Students never cease to amaze me with the misinterpretations and mistakes they make. I always think I have anticipated all snafus, and they come up with new ones! But it makes for fun stories, and makes me think differently. --Francie

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    1. I was both mildly disturbed and fascinated as the lesson unfolded. I have seen other teachers use giant beads for demo purposes and that probably would be a great idea. I felt personally responsible for each person's results. I had not quite fully thought that through. And listening to people like you respond to my experience is a further gift of learning for me. Thanks for weighing in!

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    2. OH, and of course, I generally work with the largest thread I can manage, and I can certainly see how a shorter one for demo would have been a better choice. Thanks for that too!

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  5. I can so relate! I led an "easy" healing doll-making workshop for the healing circle I was in. I knew I could make this doll in less than the 2 hours we had to work on it. It was simple, right? Not much actual bead embroidery required. NOT! 85% of the attendees didn't finish. Some of the folks had never sewn anything, ever... others decided they wanted to do a much more complicated embroidery stitch around the edges. It was a great learning experience.

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    1. Lesson #2, Expect the unexpected, lol! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me. :)

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  6. I loved this blog. I've been on both sides, and your observations are spot on. Couldn't agree more with the idea that more than 50 min. is required. I've always been floored by instructors that can work with a group of over 30 women...how could they possibly?

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    1. Yes! I have been in a class with thirty plus of our Upper Midwest Bead Society members, taught by Diane Fitzgerald. Now that I have made my first attempt I wonder, HOW ever did she DO that? By the same token, I have taught group dance classes with that many students. I think experience is a big factor. I also think you just adapt. You realize that a group class will not produce the same results as individual instruction. My mind is challenged. I am not sure my spirit wants to follow along. :)

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  7. I took a silver smithing class at the local community college. The instructor did not come with projects and only demo'd techniques. She did have a demonstration plan for the run of the course and was available for hands on help. I thought this was an effective plan and although I would have preferred a bit more hands on help there is no substitute for practice makes perfect. There is also no substitute for studio time with new tools.

    I work slow and am a bit picky so I never understood how anyone could finish a project in the typical classes offered at bead shows and shops.

    As always I am glad you shared your experiences and the same with the people making comments. I would add that I like being able to scribble notes on printed guides with tips so that I do not have to remember everything.

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    1. You are a faithful reader KY! I have been thinking about the teaching of beadwork for years and years. I am not a project gal so much. Like your silver smithing teacher, I prefer to learn a technique. I did take in a copy of my tutorial on the project for each student, so hopefully, that was helpful to them, and provided a place to take notes. Always good to hear insights from both those who have taught and taken classes!

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