About a year ago I received the incredible CQA/ACC Teacher of the Year award. Soon the new Teacher of the Year will be announced and this realization sparked within me a need to reflect not only on my last year, which has been a very busy one, filled with fabulous teaching opportunities across North America, but also on how I reached this personal achievement.
Maybe these thoughts were a side effect of the repetitive tasks associated with packing up kits for upcoming workshops. I suddenly realized that if I don’t get started immediately I might not have enough time to get them assembled and shipped to their destination in time… who knows. The fact remains, I was lost in thought and refection.
The quilting and fiber arts world is full of teachers, some established, many in their mid-career looking toward slowing down and maybe returning to the studio on full-time basis. And then there is the new generation of teachers climbing the rungs of the ladder. I am excited to see younger teachers following in my foot steps and I am all for mentoring. I do it regularly but not everyone is looking for input.
I digress, let’s get back to the topic on hand: Before I embarked on the teaching circuit I took many workshops. I have a broad background in textiles ranging from knitting and basketry to spinning, some weaving and later dyeing and quilting. During these years of gathering knowledge I carefully observed my workshop leaders. I was trained as a teacher, and I had a strong conviction that if and when I crossed over from workshop participant to workshop leader I would be fully available to my students throughout the teaching day. A teaching outline with objectives really helped in the early days of teaching. I even went so far to create each sample, timed myself and then added on more time to ensure everyone could complete the sample in the time provided. A little anal – well, I don’t do this anymore as once you have done the timing exercise a few times it becomes part of you, you internalize it.
I had attended too many workshops where the teacher was busy working on her own sample or project and made students wait when they needed input. Or, the teacher was sharing material straight from a pattern or book. Most often the pattern or book was not by the teacher, and she/he had not really internalized the material to answer questions with confidence and enough background knowledge.
My resolve to only teach my own material, something I knew by heart and inside out came early. I also realized that being available to the student group and the individual would be my primary focus. To this day I enter a classroom and no matter how many participants are eagerly awaiting input I treat each person as an individual. I am able to assess quickly what the experience level is of each person. This enables me to guide the person gently and without feeling overwhelmed.
Eventually (in my observation phase) I came across the teacher who was charismatic and enthusiastic, got the class set up and soon a participant wanted to know about a particular technique or a design feature in the class sample. The answer was “Well, this is not really part of this workshop. You would have to sign up for another workshop to find out more about it.” That same teacher often had set up a large table with sales items, some pertaining to the workshop, many not really relevant to the content of the class ( I am referring to clothing and household items here). Much time was spent promoting these items, in fact most of the workshop time was spent selling these items completely taking away from why everyone had gathered. Learning became secondary to purchasing. Teaching was displaced into the background for the sake of selling…
My resolve grew stronger as I moved more firmly into my position of quilt and textile arts teacher over the years. For a long time I didn’t even supply kits for workshops, but the request for kits became greater and more urgent when I agreed to teach one-day workshops at conferences and quilt shows.
Those who know me can attest to my reluctance to make anyone aware of the Kantha e-book I have created even when I teach the Kantha class. When providing a kit I pass around an envelope for the kit fee, the primary reason that I do not want to spend unnecessary time on collecting payments. When providing kits I do so to save the workshop participant time and money. I provide specific materials not easily found in most stores. It ensures that we all start out on a level playing field and don’t have to experience stress when certain supplies are not available close to home. When I teach an art quilt and design class the students are supplying their own fabrics as we all have a stash…
My philosophy of focusing on my students, their personal journey and successful outcome of the workshop has served me well for the last 20 + years. I am proud of how I slowly and steadily built my teaching career based on my core knowledge acquired over time, explored and pushed further to make it my own, and then take one element to share with those interested in learning.
And yes, I do still take workshops myself. I choose my teachers carefully, but I keep a low profile to observe and learn. I want to know what is available to quilters and textile artists. I so often get asked by guilds I teach and lecture for who I would recommend. I look at the participants, and their facial expressions tell my whether the workshop content is appreciated and internalize, whether they feel the teacher is approachable and able to communicate with each learner. I am an observer first and foremost – but I am deep down a teacher. To be a teacher one must never stop learning and sharing.
It has been a privilege to be named CQA/ACC Teacher of the Year 2014. I am committed to take this title seriously and will continue to follow my path of sharing and mentoring. Thank you for sticking around to read about my thoughts this week. Feels good to have them typed out.
Enjoy your weekend, everyone. If you are Canadian – it is the first long weekend of the warmer season. Hope your weather is as great as ours’ here are the lake.