I’m sure you’ve had many experiences of the good, the bad, and the indifferent in various workshops and seminars. As I’ve begun to do some teaching, I’ve started to try to figure out what exactly the good teachers do (or don’t do!) that is different.
Organized. Good teachers are well organized, they arrive on time, they have the right materials with them, they have a lesson plan for each day and they tell you what the overall course plan is (whether it’s a couple of days or a couple of weeks).
Focussed. Several times I’ve been in workshops where the teacher has been addressing some private interest of their own..there was one who spent every morning explaining some obscure yoga theories to us! a brief aside on some topic that illustrates a point is good, 5 x 3 hours of esoteric, obscure, arcane theorizing is not!
Well Informed. Good teachers either know the answers, or know where you can find the answers – they don’t make up rubbish off the tops of their heads! (or from anywhere else for that matter!). They are also well educated in their subject and can not only tell you something but give you the context, and examples from many areas in art – or whatever is appropriate. Those teachers who have obviously never looked at a decent painting and know nothing of art history are so limited.
Relaxed . I do dislike those very tense, humourless obsessive teachers who insist that everything be done their way: “throw out all the rules!! now you Must do this and this and this….”. Eeek..I’m running! One lady even burst into tears because I was unwilling to do every single mind-fogging example of stitching that she required.
Focussed on the class. And then there are those who are on their own private narcissistic ego trip and see the class only as a chance to gain more acolytes: “Let me show you just how wonderful I am!”
Greedy. I don’t like to have to buy (other than essentials not obtainable anywhere else) over-priced supplies in class – especially if the teacher spends all his/her time laying out a shop that overtakes 50% of the workroom (yes, folks! I’ve seen that – unbelievable). A small selection of interesting things that can be perused when the muse is failing, yes…that’s good. But requiring me to buy…not good.
Sober: it is nice too if they’re not drunk, high or hung over! that slurred speech and falling about is not very conducive to learning! and I’m not sympathetic if they’re sitting there with bloodshot eyes clasping their foreheads first thing in the morning when I’m ready and eager to learn.
Open about their own work. One of the reasons we take workshops from working artists is to learn from them; people who are secretive about their work just shouldn’t be teaching. You feel very embarrassed when they respond “oh I can’t tell you That! that’s a trade secret”. Also frustrated! AND…even more curious. It’s fine not to want to show the newest work, or current issues with which one is struggling of course. But learning about the process that was involved in work that is public is one of the best ways of applying information to actual practice.
Respectful and egalitarian. As I see it everyone in the class has saved up and paid to be there, therefore no matter what their level of talent they deserve equal time and attention and care from the teacher. It’s easy to go wrong both ways: giving too little attention or too much attention. Two ladies told me one time that because they were quite independent and experienced many teachers gave them no attention saying “well you two don’t need my help!”. I was amazed – if they didn’t want something from the teacher, they would not have taken the class. On the other hand the teacher must be respectful of the class needs, as a whole, if some person is constantly wanting attention (and thus taking it away from others).
Able and willing to give individual help I’ve been in classes where the teacher gave 30 minutes instruction then spent the rest of the time sitting at a table doing their own stuff. I think that’s cheating! Everybody in the class deserves a little private time with the teacher. Some have questions related particularly to their own work, others are too shy to ask in question in front of others. I like to allot gradually more time as the workshop progresses to spending individual time each day with everyone in the class. I don’t like to just respond to the needy ones who constantly ask for help, I much prefer to divide the time available by the number of people and work my way round in a relaxed way (not a ward sister flashing past- “okay dear?” – and before you can reply… gone!) but instead actually sitting down right by the person and giving them my full attention. This has happened to me rarely in workshops, but I think it’s absolutely crucial. I remember the times it did happen years and years later; those few words of clarification or encouragement are precious and have a lasting effect.
so…write and tell me what you think is important! You never know, I might be in a workshop with you sometime and be able to add…or subtract!…the required behaviour! also any funny stories would be good (but don’t use names). And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth