Rethinking A Teaching Philosophy

For the 15 years I’ve been a traveling fiber arts instructor, I’ve tried to provide most of the materials for workshops I teach. As a student, my personal pet peeve is getting an extensive materials list for an event and not needing those things after I’ve carted them through connecting flights. And I know people appreciate materials and preparation that show respect for students’ time and money.

Handwoven fabric for Statement Seams workshop.

I’m almost packed for a two-week road trip that will take me to two conferences. The first is the Midwest Weavers Conference. I’ve been teaching at this biennial event since 2005, and it’s one of my favorites. This time I teach three different workshops — one full-day, two half-days. They’re topics I love, or I wouldn’t have proposed them. But they’re short teaching time frames.

Student samplers basted to stabilizer for fiber art workshop with Donna Kallner.

Short workshops often mean more instructor preparation. Like basting fabric to stabilizer and pressing seam allowances so 16 students can focus on stitching and possibilities in the three hours they have with me. As a student and as an instructor, I know the disadvantages of having prep work done for you. But I understand why short time frames are standard at many conferences in the United States.

Sorting and packing for fiber art conference workshops.

I had planned to remain the instructor with the short student materials list and the long instructor preparation to-do list for as long as I can manage it. Or at least, that’s the plan for events I can drive to and classes for which materials can reasonably be shipped. But I may rethink that on my way home from the second conference.

Eva Seidenfaden teaching at the Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa in 2014.

That’s the Willow Gathering at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. I’m not teaching there. My friends Jo Campbell-Amsler and Lee Zieke Lee organize the event, and I’m going to act as Conference Auntie. That way Jo and Lee can take workshops without the frequent interruptions that come when a bunch of people are living and learning in unfamiliar surroundings. And I can study other instructors’ teaching methodology. The Danish basketmakers I met there last year gave me much to think about.

But what about you? What do you see as the pros and cons of short workshops, longer workshops, instructor-supplied materials, student-supplied materials, different teaching models… Hit Comments and give me something to think about on the drive. I always appreciate your input!

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

2 thoughts on “Rethinking A Teaching Philosophy”

  1. Holy cow do I have thoughts on this one! Probably because I just got back from teaching at the Michigan League of Handweavers Conference and sending in a proposal for another conference with only 3 and 6 hour workshop slots. That is a tough call for a tapestry class. That second conference is one that is 30 minutes from my home and I figured I could do the extra prep to manage the short classes. But I completely agree with you on the teacher prep/class time ratio. Though we get paid much less for teaching shorter workshops, they often require many more days of prep so the students can get the most out of their time. Even though that is how it is, I will still continue to do the preparation as long as I can stand it. I am frequently tempted to have the students bring a long list of materials, but it isn’t fun for them if they buy the stuff and don’t use it. So I bring it. I think it makes the best workshop experience though the luggage for us can be monstrous! The joy of teaching a well-prepared class is great and the time is worth it to avoid the frustration created when students don’t bring the right thing or didn’t get the materials list or just thought you’d have extras. Have a great time teaching! I bet your classes will be fantastic.

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! And it’s so true about the frustration students can feel when they don’t have the best materials for the class. I think many people don’t quite realize how much time is diverted from the learning experience when students are trying to make do with not-quite-right materials, or scrambling for what they forgot.

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