Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Teaching Classes

Annie Modessit is not feeling up to teaching classes any more - at least at the moment.

Which is sad, because the class she taught on Mother's Day at the Shepherd's Harvest Festival was very inspiring, as well as being a hoot. Annie has a unique approach to knitting and to teaching that is challenging and interesting and that encourages you to really *think* about not only the mechanics of knitting, but about WHY you do what you do, and how that works, and whether there might be a different way to do things that would work better for you... even if it doesn't work for the person sitting next to you. It was very empowering, and there was a lot of laughter and chatter in that class, even though it was very short (only two hours) and there wasn't a lot of time in which to both learn and bond with your fellow students.

I left really wishing that I could take a class from Annie that went over a period of days/weeks - how wonderful to get to learn from her *and* to socialize with the sorts of people who I met there!

But even in that class, there was one student who made it clear that Annie's challenging style was not a great match for her.

Which made me think about teaching. I have spent a great deal of the past 20 years in teaching kids, in one way or another, and I love it. It's a very satisfying thing to see understanding and excitement dawn in a student's eyes, and to know that you have given them a tool that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives. Learning is a very exciting thing, when done right, and it's fun to inspire that excitement in others.

But teaching adults, I suspect, is a different matter. They have a different relationship with the teacher, something more like a peer relationship than like the Student/Authority relationship that most of us had with our teachers when we were at school. Adults bring different expectations with them to a class; different expectations than children have, and different expectations than each of their fellow adult students have.

That change in relationship and in expectation brings its own rewards, but also its unique challenges. How do you serve the needs of students with such disparate expectations and styles? How do you deal with a group of people in which some are quick and some are slow, some want creative freedom and some want predictability, some are independent and adventurous while others want careful step-by-step instructions, some want to be challenged and others want to be nurtured?

Which leaves an interesting notion to ponder, for both students and teachers -

As a teacher, can you be both inspiring and reassuring? Can you be both challenging and nurturing?

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