So you have a passion for your craft and have decided you want to have a go at teaching.
Perhaps you have been approached by a community group to give a demonstration. Or your local craft shop is keen for you to run a class. Unfortunately passion alone does not make us good teachers, nor does having a high level of skill in your particular craft. Don’t be put off; with a little planning and a few extra skills you can have class participants lining up at your door.
For the purposes of this article I’m going to concentrate on classes at Craft shows. Craft shows offer a wonderful opportunity to teach your chosen craft, they encourage crafters of every interest to try something new. There’s nothing a craft teacher likes more than a room full of eager learners. A room full of people you’ve never met before or likely to meet again. This means that this class is your one and only chance to build a rapport, teach a skill and drive ongoing sales. No pressure? This is where the time spent planning before hand is worth its weight in gold.
Teaching in a craft show environment can be challenging. If you’ve only ever taught in a shop classroom or a community meeting room then you may find this environment a little daunting. By being aware of the difficulties you will be well on the way to a successful session.
Room layout: If you are lucky the show organizers have designated rooms for classes. At the smaller regional shows you may only have floor space. Either way, the tables and chairs have been set up for multiple crafts. The area may be quite large with tables set up in an u-shape with space for you in the middle. If you wish to rearrange the furniture please check with show organizers first. At most shows rearranging the furniture won’t be an option. Don’t panic you will cope. If your class isn’t fully booked you could start by requesting participants to sit in the same general area. Explain why, most will understand.
Room set up: Some craft shows allow for set up and pack up time between classes, lots don’t. Check with the organizers before the show. I would recommend that when planning that you allow time for setting up and packing up into your allocated teaching time At best you’ll always be organized at worst you will have some extra teaching time.
Noise: Your voice will be competing with general background noise, PA’s and other classes. You can wear a microphone but in my experience they are notoriously temperamental. Seating participants in one area can lessen the strain on your voice. Check with participants that they can hear you. You may need to project your voice above the din but be careful that you aren’t yelling at participants. Protect your voice between sessions. If you are unsure if your voice will hold up consider revising your class load e.g. 1 session per day instead of 2. Remember: you can’t teach a class with no voice.
Lighting: Again, this is something you may have no control over. Check with organisers before show. Will they be providing suitable lighting? Can you bring your own? Don’t just assume. Check!
Okay we’ve covered the basic stuff that as a teacher you may have little control over. This next section is all about you, the craft teacher.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that running classes are a license to print money. Before you say yes to conducting a class stop for a moment and consider your primary purpose. Pretty obvious answer? To make money? Pretty obvious, well yes but it’s how and when you make your money that things get less obvious.
If you are hoping that classes will offset your show site fees then you will be tempted to have too many participants and risk them not learning. If you are hoping to drive sales back to your stall then you may set your price slightly lower and teach a base skill thoroughly. Participants are more likely to feel confident purchasing a kit or equipment to take home. If you are hoping to drive after show sales your purpose is different again. Carefully consider your class size. I’d rather limit the class numbers to 10 and be confident that they have all thoroughly learnt a skill that they can continue at home than book 20 and have only 5 get it. The rest leave feeling stressed and disillusioned, so do you.
The one thing that is consistent across all purposes is that you really need participants to learn what you are teaching. After all that is why we are here. This next bit is perhaps the most important component of teaching craft and the most likely to be skipped when planning. Taking a few moments during planning to consider these points and you teaching will improve.
Learning Styles: People learn differently. Some learn by hearing what you say, they can easily follow verbal instructions. Others learn by seeing. With these participants you can demonstrate once at normal speed, once at step-by-step pace then again at normal speed. Still others learn by doing. This might involve some trial and error but these participants are happy getting stuck right in. The difficulty is that at a craft show you won’t have any time to work out who learns how. Aim for a combination of strategies.
Take time to create good handouts. Handouts with written instructions combined with diagrams and photos will assist your visual and tactile learners. Creating handouts is a skill that takes time to develop. You can easily overwhelm participants with too much information. On the other hand we can skimp on detail. Listen to the questions your participants ask consistently across classes. It’s a hint that something is missing from your notes.
Personalities: Another factor in any teaching environment is different personalities. Adults come to the learning environments with lots of baggage. While it may be easy for us to dismiss these past experiences, for the participants it might still be fresh in their mind. Some have always learnt easily, others have struggled. Both can be challenging. Participants who ‘get it’ quickly need to be kept involved. They will be looking to move onto the next step, the next challenge before the rest. If the class is large, teachers can struggle to move 1or 2 people at a faster pace. Beware also of favouring the fast learner. It is easy to gravitate toward people who ‘get you’.
In any class the majority of participants will be working and learning at the same pace. However, you may also experience 1 or 2 who are struggling. This maybe because they don’t have the core skills, they fear of failing, difficulty seeing/hearing, disability or any number of other issues. At this stage of the class the reason probably doesn’t matter much. Again this group can dominate a class. They can slow down the learning of the majority when the teacher becomes engrossed in catching them up. On the other hand, if the teachers fails to check back, they can cause difficulties with their near neighbours by using them as teacher aids. There are many other personalities within a class environment. Just remember that they all paid the same money and deserve the same amount of attention no matter how we as teachers may personally feel.
Consider using a Lesson Plan. The benefits of a Lesson Plan are many; it helps organize your thoughts, is a resource if somebody else needs to do the class due to unforeseen circumstances, is a Risk Management Tool and can also be a Marketing Tool if you wish to promote your class to others. In short, a Lesson Plan will help ensure that you have covered everything discussed above.
Conducting a class at a Craft Show can be challenging however with a little planning you can also find that it is a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
For readers in Brisbane I will be conducting a 4 week course at Brisbane North Tafe on "How to Teach Your Craft". Course starts on Thursday 29th July.