Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oh No! She's Been Thinking Again!

There is much work to be done, yet here I sit, pondering the imponderable. Sometimes the meditative aspect of spinning is a little too, well, meditative...WARNING: Personal Rant content ahead!

But first, a random picture of my garden to put you in a happy place...

I am working on the Colour With A Twist workshop for the Gibson's Landing Fibre Arts Festival. This is work that should have been done weeks, if not months ago, but I allowed myself to be sidetracked by life. I have redesigned the workshop and its exercises half a dozen times since I sent in the proposal, and I am still adding and editing, exactly a month away from the workshop. And I am wallowing in philosophy, which is almost counter productive.

Here's what I'm bogged down in: What makes a good workshop instructor? What makes a good workshop? How can you meet the needs of everyone in a workshop group?

There are no easy answers, and I am hardly the first to ask these questions, but so many recent experiences have raised these questions again and again in my mind. Over the past four or five years, I have seen the full gamut of teaching and learning at a series of conferences, festivals and gatherings and I am trying to find my place within it.

The one thing that I am really wound up about is the teacher-oriented versus student-oriented approach to teaching. When I took the Instructor Skills Workshop at Olds College this spring, the instructor emphasised a student-oriented approach. This was fine by me, because it supported my personal philosophy. I believe that I am there to teach the student what they want to know, or what they need to know to be successful at what they are doing. I believe that my role as an instructor is to inspire and mentor. I will share my personal opinions on the craft, but I will allow room for debate and exploration. I am not there to boost my own ego, but to boost the confidence of my students. I learn as much in each workshop that I teach as my students do. This is my very strong personal philosophy and I'm stickin' to it.


I am really getting re-started at this teaching thing after a couple of years of laying low, so I am still feeling like the new kid on the block. So, over these past few years, I started observing and talking to more experienced instructors. And I was amazed and, frankly, horrified by some of the things that I heard. I heard people say that they had been teaching the same thing so long that they could do it in their sleep. I heard people say that they didn't have to teach certain techniques because, while the technique was useful, they personally did not like doing it. I heard people say that if you talk to your students outside of the classroom, they lose respect for you and you no longer have any "authority". I heard people say that students who did not have state-of-the-art equipment weren't serious and were wasting the teacher's time. I heard people say that they didn't like it when people took their workshops and then went home to share it with their guilds because "it cuts into my revenue" (!!!) I heard people say that if you criticize a student's less-than-stellar work, it will motivate them to do better next time to avoid the criticism (!!!!!!). I heard that laughter and conversation in a classroom means that no one is learning anything.

On the other hand, I heard that if only one person in the class goes on to practice what was taught, the class was successful. I heard that teaching to the level of the most challenging student in the group taught everyone in the group the technique more thoroughly. I heard that great friendships could be made in the classroom. I heard that there is great wisdom amongst people who take workshops and that sharing this wisdom goes both ways for an instructor. I heard that changing up workshops to keep them fresh and up-to-date is a lot of work, but always makes you learn something new so you don't fall into a rut.

These comments came from a variety of instructors--I have spent time with over 40 different individual instructors from a wide range of fibre crafts over the past couple of months alone. And most of them were wise, gentle, and supportive of both me and their students. But I am alarmed by the number of negative comments. Why were there ANY negative comments? Sure, people are entitled to a bad day or a slip of the tongue, but the comments that upset me were within context and seemed to be a part of a whole attitude on the individual's part. So it's not really the negative remarks I don't like, it's the negative attitude. It's the sense of "it's all about me" that these remarks betray.

What we do is not hard. This wee craft of spinning has been done for millennia by people of all ages, races, and creeds. Cultures without written language and those with highly advanced libraries of lore have all relied on spinners. It can be done with the crudest of tools--you do not need the top-of-the-line, newest, shiniest, trendiest wheel/spindle to make a good yarn. You need two hands and a lick of common sense. And a little gentle guidance in technique.

What we do is not crucial to our survival. Before the industrial revolution, without spinners, there were no items of clothing, no household linens and blankets, no sails for sailing ships, no string for bows and arrow, no nets for capturing food. The economies of entire civilizations rested on the shoulders of spinners. Now we do it for relaxation, for personal expression, for the sheer joy of the craft.

So we take classes, workshops, seminars. We seek inspiration, support, help. We do not seek authority or criticism. Most people who take workshops are not seeking to be the greatest spinner in the world (that's my job--you can't have it!), they just want to try something new and have fun spinning. Why not go into a workshop, as the teacher, with that in mind?

Let's make teaching an "it's all about you" thing, and forget our quest for personal glory. That's what I'm going to do.

Whew! Now that I have that off my chest, I can show you a picture of last night's amazing sunset and get back to work building THE BEST DAMN WORKSHOP EVER!!

No comments:

Post a Comment