Not To Teach ~
That Is The Question
Not To Teach ~
That Is The Question
Reading through many of my favorite blogs in the past few days, I’ve noticed a similar thread ~ concerns about teaching. Whether your field is beading, doll making, quilting, collage art or painting, if you’re good at it, sooner or later you’ll face the question of teaching. Someone will ask you to teach, or someone will tell you that you should teach.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. Would teaching be fun? Would you enjoy teaching students how to do what you do?
2. Would you be a competent teacher? Do you have the ability to explain and demonstrate what you do in such a way that your students could get it?
3. Do you have time to write proposals and handouts, prepare samples, make up kits, pack it all up and travel? Will your earnings justify this amount of time away from your studio work?
4. Do you want to share your creative process, techniques and designs? What if some of your students become your competition ~ copying your designs, selling items they make based on your designs, or teaching your class?
I’ve been teaching beading for 19 years, and I’ll tell you one thing from experience, it’s hard to say “no, thanks” to a teaching offer. But it is OK to say no. Your reputation will not take a dive to the bottom of the muck. You will still be admired and loved for what you do.
In my experience, teaching takes much more time than you might expect. Preparation and travel time before teaching, plus travel time and time to put everything away after I return generally adds 5 to 10 days to the actual teaching time. To teach a couple of classes will take me out of my studio and away from my own work for about two weeks. If it’s a new class, there’s an additional time commitment to write handouts and make an adequate number of class samples.
In 1986, when I quit my “regular job” and began doing beading as a business, I took a long hard look at just what my new career might be. In the ‘70s, I had been a part-time metalsmith for five years. I made gold and silver jewelry to sell. The making part was way, way fun. The trying to design what people might buy, trying to second guess the market, and the actual selling of it was a drag. So, I decided not to go that route with beads. I made a conscious decision to do beadwork for fun, and to make my living by selling beads (and beading supplies) and teaching.
For the first few years, I taught workshops in my studio. I decided that I didn’t want to teach specific projects so much as to teach technique and design process. So my classes tended to be at least one full day, many of them two days or more.
At the time there was no competition, no web, no bead magazines, no beading books in print. My classes filled (or didn’t fill) by word of mouth and a little newsletter I sent to my growing list of students and customers. The bead shop craze of offering 2 and 3 hour make-it-and-run classes with good cash to be made from selling the supplies was not yet known. So I got to teach exactly what I wanted in the way I wanted to do it. Those were the most fun and rewarding years of teaching!
Out-of-state Bead Societies (and various guilds) began to get word of it, and soon I was being asked to travel to teach my workshops. This was a little more stressful than teaching in my own studio, but still lots of fun and very personal. I loved the travel aspect of it. Often I would have two long-weekend classes, with days off in the middle – time to see a little of Hawaii, Anchorage, Santa Fe, etc., under the gracious guidance of whoever was hosting me.
As bead shops sprouted everywhere in the mid 90’s, they began to fill the need for local classes. Yet, they seemed to gravitate toward offering shorter, more project-oriented classes. Many of the more experienced students seemed to crave longer, more intense, more design-oriented workshops. And, I set about to fill that niche as much as I could.
I call the period from 1998 to the present “The Proposal Era,” the years when I was always writing proposals to teach at national conferences, art schools and regional events. Often these venues do not pay the expenses of the teachers, only a small per-student stipend. To make any money, one has to have large classes, teach as many classes as possible, sell kits and stuff (beads, supplies, patterns, books, etc.) I tell you it’s exhausting to the max. And to prepare for teaching at an event, such as the Quilt Festival or the Puget Sound Bead Festival, takes a tight schedule, careful planning, and several weeks of steady work.
In the beginning, I felt special. I got to know my students and to be somewhat of a mentor to them. I felt important. It fed my ego to be asked to teach in a state where I knew nobody. It fed my passion to think I was contributing to the spread of beading as an art form. It fed my art, as I strove to make more and better examples of the techniques I was teaching, unhampered by the need to sell my work. It fed my creativity, as I was inspired by my students and learned from them in countless ways. And, it fed my pocketbook by providing a reasonable living. Eventually it led to writing my first book, One Bead at a Time, which practically wrote itself because I’d already learned how best to teach what I know, how best to inspire and give confidence to my students.
But, here’s the bitter pill about what’s happened with me. In recent years, I’ve found that teaching has gotten less and less personal, less rewarding, and takes much more time in proportion to the amount earned. It exhausts me, drains my creative force. The truth is, I can stand apart from myself as I’m teaching, and notice that I’m not giving it every ounce of my energy as I once did. This, I fear, is the time for me to wind down the teaching part of my career.
What will be ahead to produce income, I really don’t know. It’s “new beginnings" for me, a time to be open to possibilities, to be conscious of the passions and yearnings from within.
To those of you considering teaching, I hope my experiences may help in some little way. To those of you who have already been teaching, if you’d like to add questions to the list at the start of this essay or tell about your experiences teaching beading or other art forms, please feel free to make comments below or link your blog to this post.