Be a Better Craft Teacher Part 1: Know Your Stuff

on September 10 | in Be a Better Craft Teacher, Sewing Classes, Small Business Ideas | by | with 4 Comments

It’s time for Part One of our six-part Be a Better Craft Teacher series with instructor Deborah Moebes of Whipstitch. This series is perfect for both new and experienced craft teachers and follows the full teaching process, from the preparation stage through reflection on what works and how to improve. A former high school teacher, Deborah has years of experience teaching sewing both online and in-person. She cares about quality instruction and is an effective, fun and skilled teacher. Learn more about Deborah and the series in the Be a Better Craft Teacher introduction and join us each Tuesday for a new post from Deborah.

Related links: Series Introduction
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With the huge growth of demand for sewing instruction over the last five years, we’re seeing more and more classes pop up all over— and it’s becoming increasingly important for all of us, teachers and students alike, to be sure that when we take a class we’re getting quality content and the best available instruction from experienced teachers. Even if you don’t see teaching as your life-long calling, the power and influence that you can wield as an instructor really ask that you do your part to prepare and teach in a way that reflects your passion for your subject.

The Importance of Planning in Advance
Quality class content is important on both sides: to the teacher and to the student. Students naturally seek out the best classes they can find, and they should. We’ve all taken sloppy classes or workshops that didn’t have the thought and effort behind them that we hoped. Sadly, I have my own memories of those kinds of sewing workshops, and I really got the sense that the instructor wasn’t even all that concerned about how the students felt— that if we struggled or weren’t “getting it” right away, somehow that was our fault. Good grief, talk about a miserable two hours: not only was I not learning anything, but I was getting guilt to boot! I could have gotten that for free someplace else, and not lost a whole afternoon in the process. Class content is just as important for the instructor; as teachers, we want our students to leave our classes with clear memories of what they learned, and of how they FELT while they were there. How well-planned and structured your class is directly affects the love and passion that each student has for crafting in general afterward. It’s a big responsibility, and I can’t express strongly enough how important it is to go into the whole thing with your head pointed in the right direction.

How do we do that planning, then? What does it take to build a class with the level of content and organization necessary to offer the very best influence and motivation and experience to our students? That’s what this series is all about, and we’re going to start with the foundation: begin by teaching what you know. Your classes should be built on your own experience. You don’t necessarily have to be an “expert,” but students do and ought to expect that you know your stuff, that you’ve practiced what you’re teaching, and that you have the background and foundational knowledge to answer their questions; you should be prepared to help them really explore the topic in a way that will inspire and guide them to additional learning when the class is over. I love that sewing offers me so much to learn and explore that I’m in no danger of running out of ideas or inspiration, but classes are best built out of skills and techniques that you have mastered rather than ideas you are still exploring.

Begin by Determining What it is Your Students NEED to Learn
Before you ever teach a class, sit yourself down and determine what it is that your specific community needs and how that intersects with your own skills and experience. Your goal at this point is to analyze the needs of your community, and seek to meet them. There will always be time– as you and your students grow– to introduce more breadth to your classes, but you must begin at the beginning, and teach people where they are. For example, let’s say you really, really (REALLY) love macramé. Like, REALLY. You were doing macramé before macramé was cool— and that’s saying something. You keep getting requests to teach classes, in crochet. Folks figure since you love macramé that you’ll know how to crochet, too. Right? Because it’s all the same thing? Of course it’s not all the same thing, but it is important for you to HEAR what folks in your community are telling you. Maybe they hate macramé (don’t take it personally), and only really want to crochet. Do you KNOW how to crochet? Are you pretty good at it, in addition to being the best macramé-er ever? Then start there, teach them what they want to learn, and you’ll convince them of the beauty of macramé over time. Do you know NOTHING about crochet? Then see if you can’t refer them to someone else— and take the class with them! You’ll learn something new, and meet a whole group of people who might want to crochet AND macramé. Do they even know what macramé IS? Maybe they’re totally unaware that something as awesome as macramé even exists, and now is the time to start sharing the joy that it gives you! From there, you can build a base for the class you hope to teach.

Don’t Learn as You Go
As you listen and analyze the needs of your sewing community, we’re not even worried about HOW you’ll teach the class… We’ll get to that later. Right now, we’re thinking about WHAT to teach. The answer is: teach what you know, know what you teach. It’s as simple as that. As instructors, we may not be Experts (with a capital E) but our students certainly expect us to know more than they do. A LOT more, quite honestly. You don’t need to have an answer for every crafting question that comes your way– how could you possibly?– but when it comes to the topic of your class or workshop, be comfortable answering a wide range of questions or pointing students in the direction to get answers. Let’s say you’re teaching a workshop on a particular sewing pattern. If a student has a question about a step in that pattern, they want to hear from you how you would address that step. That means you should have sewn the pattern before. What? I know, I shouldn’t have to say that, but there it is: don’t teach a sewing class on a pattern you have never sewn before. People can tell. And if you tell yourself that they won’t know, you’re really showing a lack of respect for them as your students and for yourself as a crafter. I’m telling you from years and years of experience in the classroom, in the trenches with high school kids who ran in packs like jackals (and adults who weren’t much kinder), the time you “save” by not preparing and knowing your content ahead of time will not be worth it when you are faced with a room full of students waiting to hear your answer while you’re flopping on the deck, gasping for breath. (It will haunt you, I’m not kidding.) Practice ahead of time. Practice more than once. Have samples to demonstrate how you achieved your results, and refer back to them with your students. They’ll be wowed by your skill, and your class will be that much more practical and effective as a result. Avoid the temptation to teach that crochet class yourself if you’ve never crocheted before— it’s just not worth it to you, and can damage your chances of ever teaching that macramé class (which you would totally rock) because you’ve lost credibility by attempting to teach a topic you just didn’t know enough about.

Along the same lines, there is a difference between a student taking a class to learn content, and a student taking a class to “sew along.” I think both are completely valid and both contribute to the fullness of community that we’re all so fortunate to be sharing. Making a distinction between teaching and sewing-along, though, is important for your students; it gives them a clearer picture of how much preparation you’ve given to the time you’ll be spending together, and allows them to form more clear expectations for what they’ll get out of it. I’m all for “crafting with a celebrity,” taking a class with a personality in the sewing world whom I admire and would like to spend time with; I don’t ask much of a class with that format except that they give me their attention and insights, and maybe some guidance for how they got to be so awesome. On the other hand, if what was billed was a WORKSHOP with the same individual, my expectations are much higher and I arrive to the scheduled time looking for a planned lesson with specific skills, taught in a way that I can take home with me. If you’re not skilled enough to teach a class yet, maybe you can offer to lead a “sew-along” or “crochet-along” where the stakes are lower and everyone gets to learn something— including you— without placing you at the helm as an instructor.

Next: Know Your Student
In the next part of this Be a Better Craft Teacher series we’ll talk about WHO you’re going to be teaching, and how that understanding will help you plan a better class– a class that does the best job of meeting your students where they are and fuels their passion to know more.

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4 Responses to Be a Better Craft Teacher Part 1: Know Your Stuff

  1. Amy says:

    Awesome! Love it!

  2. Carolyn says:

    Thank you, Beth, for your clear and very helpful insights. Your approach of first finding out, specifically, what the student wants to learn is so very helpful. I am looking forward to learning how to Be a Better Craft Teacher. A young lady has recently asked me to teach her how to sew after she saw some items that I made; I’m applying your step-by-step approach! I am very grateful for all the wisdom you are sharing.

    Carolyn

  3. Maga says:

    Looking forward to your next installment. Food for thought here. Thanks

  4. anna says:

    this is such a great series! Can’t wait to read more. :)

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