SHARING YOUR KNOWLEDGE IS A GIFT.
It is an opportunity not only to pass on important information about your techniques and your chosen media to your students but also to educate them about important topics such as safe working practices and artistic ethics.
LEARN FROM THE BEST
If you are new to teaching, it’s a really good idea to learn from a more experienced teacher whom you admire. Try to find one (or more) who might be willing to let you be their “teacher’s aide” in a few classes. Even if you’re just setting up, tidying and breaking down the classroom, you’ll have an opportunity to give your full attention to observing his or her teaching style and techniques for keeping the class on time, on track and engaged, and for dealing with disruptions or needy students. Then try tandem teaching with another experienced teacher. Guild meetings also are a great place to learn and to share teaching tips and methods.
SET UP A SUITABLE CLASSROOM SPACE
When you are ready to host your own classes in your home or studio, even before you set up a teaching space (and certainly before you hang out a sign or advertise or otherwise promote your classes), the first step is to check with your local authorities to find out the requirements for using your home or studio as a place of business. You may need to get a license or certificate, have your proposed classroom space inspected, and/or obtain business liability insurance before you can teach students in your private home or studio. There also may be local zoning ordinances concerning the business use of your home. Next, check with your insurance adjuster if your home and or studio insurance will cover classes and the liabilities that could entail. And you may need a vendor permit, so check with the tax collectors so you don’t have any surprise letters come your way! Once you know the legal requirements and financial investment involved and are sure you want to proceed, make sure to get your neighbors’ buy-in before committing to anything. Having neighbors who are disgruntled about extra cars, noise, and being uninformed about what you are doing is guaranteed to sabotage more than just your teaching aspirations!
DECIDE WHAT TO TEACH
Once the logistics have been squared away, the next challenge is deciding what you are going to teach. Ask yourself the following questions about any class project you are considering:
• Did you learn this technique in another class?
• Is (or was) this project designed by another artist?
• Is this class project from a tutorial in a book or magazine?
If you answered yes to any of those questions you must get permission from the originating artist. Don’t be surprised if they say no! “Teaching artists” (which is what you are aspiring to be) work hard to come up with unique projects and new techniques to create a niche market and demand for their classes. While a technique cannot be copyrighted, the design is the property of the artist. Why copy a project from a class or magazine? Not only is it a dishonest way to start your teaching career (unless you have the artist’s/designer’s express permission in writing), which will destroy your credibility, it is stealing. Shine as an artist and design your own original project!
Here’s what some of the teaching artists with whom I discussed this issue had to say about it:
“I stress that I am teaching them my technique and would appreciate them not teaching it because it is a form of income for me.”
“I tell my students that all of my designs are copyrighted as I make them. Make them for yourself or gifts but NOT for sale. I let them know if they want to say ‘inspired by…’ that is cool.”
“If I have put a lot of work and effort into creating a technique and state in my notes that it should not be taught without my permission, it is very frustrating to find that someone has ignored this and is profiting from my hard work.”
“Once you have decided what you are going to teach, make sure you have practiced and perfected it really well. You need to know your project inside out so you are ready for any problems your students might encounter with it.”
If you have developed an original technique (or an original twist on an existing technique), you may choose to teach the technique rather than a particular project. However, most students prefer to come away with a finished (or mostly finished) project at the end of a class or workshop, so it’s a good idea to let them create something during the class that they can wear or use afterward. You can either have them practice the technique on a simple class project or allow them to pick their own class project from a few basic options (e.g., a pendant or pair of earrings), with the understanding that you will need to allow more time and individual attention if you allow students to design totally original projects.
DEVELOP MATERIALS, TOOLS, SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT LISTS
Once you have determined what you will teach, you’ll need to figure out the materials, tools and supplies lists. If you want your students to bring a particular piece of equipment, such as a pasta machine for a polymer clay class, make sure to bring some extras in case some students either cannot bring them or forget to. Determine what students can bring and what you will supply or sell.
Last but not least, check with your suppliers as to the lead time needed for an order to be delivered and arrange to have your supplies in hand at least a week prior to your class. I have been in a class or two where the teacher has done a lot of dancing and apologizing because materials were not there on the first day. Even if there are unforeseen circumstances beyond the teacher’s control (e.g., snowstorms that caused shipping delays), that creates an impression of poor planning and lack of professionalism on the teacher’s part and does not bode well for repeat students! Make sure you have a “Plan B” local resource for essential materials, tools and supplies in case of emergency, even if they end up costing you a bit more and cutting into your profit margin. Better that than not having the things you and your students will need for class.
IDENTIFY ANY OTHER EXPENSES AND DETERMINE THE CLASS AND MATERIALS FEES
Once you know what supplies you need, think through all the other expenses involved in offering and delivering the class, such as credit card or PayPal® processing fees (and equipment, if applicable), any snacks or bottled water you are providing, added insurance coverage costs, advertising and promotion costs, studio wear and tear, and all of the extras that come out of your pocket (including allowances for the occasional broken or not returned tool). Work on your budget to arrive at a per-student fee for the tuition, materials, etc. that is in line with the going rates for equivalent classes and also provides enough of a profit margin to make it worth your while. Figure out the minimum number of students needed to make the class financially viable, then evaluate realistically the maximum number of students whom you can teach effectively at one time and who can work comfortably and effectively in your classroom space. Note that the maximum number of students may be dictated by local ordinances or other regulations.
ANNOUNCE AND PROMOTE YOUR CLASS
And now, finally, the time has come to tell the world about your class! Marketing classes is an art in itself. The more classes you offer and promote, the better you will get at it. The internet is one good way to get the word out, although well thought-out traditional advertising and promotional venues often provide even more effective ways of targeting your desired niche audience. This could mean advertising or placing a promotional offer in a jewelry making magazine or putting up ads or posters (with permission!) at local community centers, schools and in shops that sell materials, tools and supplies used in your classes. This allows you to get your message in front of the people you are trying to reach: metal clay artists, jewelry makers and crafters.
WHEN CLASS DAY FINALLY ARRIVES…
Enjoy it! Be honest about what you know and don’t know. If someone asks a question you can’t answer, you may well be able to tap into your students’ expertise and talents, too! If not, promise to find out the answer and get back to the students. Then do it, either during the class or within a day or two afterward.
SOLICIT HONEST FEEDBACK
And finally a great idea to help you grow and improve as a teacher came from a teaching artist: “I have my students fill out an evaluation form at the end of the workshop. I tell them not to hold back because the truth will make me a better instructor AND improve the teaching environment… if needed.” After all life is about growing and learning—especially for teachers!
Thank you to the following teaching artists for their input and ideas on this topic: Lorrene Baum-Davis, Pam East, Joy Funnell, Margaret Schindel and Gordon K. Uyehara. As well thank you to Ann Davis http://www.laruchedavis.com/ and Celie Fago http://www.celiefago.com/ for studio images. My next class will take place: http://parttime.stlawrencecollege.ca/stlaw/course/course.aspx?C=81017&pc=433&mc=&sc=
Jeannette holds a Master’s degree in education as well as several bachelor’s degree’s in history and arts. Her years of schooling have given her lots of time to figure out how she would like to set up and run her classrooms. When she is not teaching, Jeannette makes jewellery in her home studio in rural Ontario. She is inspired by nature and her life as a mother. To see more of her work: www.SassyandStella.com and follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella/