Table of Contents » Chapter 3 : Being Professional » Chapter 3 : Being Professional > In Person

Chapter 3 : Being Professional > In Person

Things to think about when assisting a workshop for the first time:

Assisting a workshop is a great way to take a workshop, be more involved, and learn about teaching and leadership. Often there are great benefits to assisting – both financial and personal. It can be a wonderful way to work that closely with a teacher, and be part of their “team” rather than a student – this is your job as an assistant, you are part of helping the workshop run smoothly. Some places assign workshop assistants, others select an assistant through an application. Often it is a combination of both. A really good assistant can make the difference between a good workshop and a great workshop. The following are suggestions from workshop teachers:

  • Email the instructor before the class starts so they know a little bit about you.
  • Arrive before the instructor so you can help them unload their car or offer to pick them up at the airport.
  • Help the instructor set up the studio based on what they are teaching.
  • Have the class list ready for the instructor.
  • Check over the inventory for the class to make sure all of the needed materials are in stock.
  • Check with the staff of the organization about any missing materials and the condition of the equipment.
  • Before the class, check with the instructor about what they need for the first day of class, and have all first day materials ready.
  • Pay close attention to the instructor, what do they need? Clean water for throwing? Clay wedged? Wax resist? A heat gun? Water? Coffee? Handouts copied? Projector needed? Try to anticipate what the instructor and students will need based on your observations. You are there to take care of them; they are not there to take care of you.
  • Each morning look around the studio before class, what is needed? (Once a instructor told me that their assistant cleaned the clay off their tools every morning, and it made a huge difference for her – how she felt about the workshop, and it helped her focus on the upcoming day)
  • During the workshop, there is often one student that needs a little extra special attention; if you can, help the instructor to not be monopolized by this student.
  • If there a sensitive situation, ask to speak with the instructor about it outside of the classroom.
  • Be clear with the instructor about when you will be making your own work, and when you are working for the class.
  • Ask for help if you need it, you are assisting, not a cleaning machine or kiln-firing robot.
  • Look for solutions to situations through research and conversation, figure out the traditions and rules of where you are working – for example, at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, instructors and students generally do not load and fire kilns, while at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, kilns are often loaded and fired by students and instructors.
  • Students are often paying a lot of money to be at a workshop. Are there things that you can do to be supportive of their learning experience?
  • Try not to form a “clique” with the other workshop assistants. This can be intimidating and alienating to the students in attendance.
  • If kiln firing is part of the workshop, realistically plan this out on a timeline. Be honest with the students about realistic expectations. Make it clear to the students where finished work goes, and for what firing.
  • Mix up the slips and glazes that are needed. Try not to leave a ton of buckets of whatever, or stacks of dry leather hard clay in the studio when the workshop is over.
  • Think about whether or not students will need boxes to take their work home in.
  • Remember to thank the organization that has “hired” you to be the assistant, and share your experiences with them.

Things to think about when teaching a workshop:

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when teaching a workshop for the first time:

  • Before you arrive, find out about the facilities, maybe call someone who has taught there before you for tips. Plan heads for needed materials and equipment needs. Not having the needed material can really be a show stopper – on the other hand – can you work with what is already there?
  • You may have sent the workshop description up to a year in advance; make sure you are teaching what the workshop description says – this is what the students are expecting.
  • The workshop is for the students, what can you do so that they have a good learning experience?
  • Be flexible so you can change your curriculum, approach and techniques based on the level and interest of your students.
  • Tune in to your students needs and wants. Some students will really want techniques, others may want larger life guidance, you never know what’s walking in the door – prepare yourself for anything!
  • There is often one student in the class that can be a little difficult, or does not “fit in”.  Figure out how you can best help them as soon as possible, while still being fair to the class.
  • Often students have gone to great financial expense and commitment of time to study with you; what is the best way you can honor that?
  • Very often a student will want to study with you, to learn how you do what you do. Figure out for yourself how you feel about people copying your work. If this is how you are teaching them, then they will want to do that.
  • Don’t sleep (have intimate relations) with your students. It’s confusing and unprofessional.
  • Lay out a day-by-day plan for the workshop if possible.  This will help with glaze mixing, firing and the student’s expectations.
  • If there are conflicts in the class, or trouble with the facilities, try to work it all out in private so you do not undermine the student’s confidence in you or the place where you are teaching.
  • It helps to have a blend of long term and short term projects ready. It also helps to have some alternative assignments or slide talks ready and “in your pocket”.
  • It’s helpful to focus the learning in the workshop, rather than on the finished product. Working with unknown clays, glazes and kilns can wreak havoc on finished work expectations.
  • For workshops that are “away” (like at Haystack, Anderson Ranch, Penland, Arrowmont – to name a few, there are many) students can have a very interesting and complicated reaction when they step out of their daily lives for a focused art experience. For many, this maybe the first time in years that they are not crazy busy, or responsible for other people (kids, spouses, jobs and so on). This away time can lead to much contemplation and sometime profound life reflections. Teaching a workshop can often be more intense and personal than teaching a weekly class at an art center of school.

Things to consider when giving a public (slide) talk:

These are some suggestions for giving a public “slide” talk for the first time. Very few people are naturally good public speakers. Giving a meaningful and interesting talk usually is rooted in a good deal of thought and practice. A rookie mistake is thinking that your instructors from school could just “speak off the cuff” so you can too. Here are some suggestions:

Remember, we live in very busy times, and if someone is attending your talk, they are giving you an hour of their day. How are you going to spend their time?

  • What have you enjoyed and learned from in previous slide talks – and is this a good role model for you?
  • What has not worked in previous slides talks that you have attended – are you doing those things?
  • When watching a public presentation, evaluate the presentation as much as the content – these can be good clues for you for your next talk.
  • Plan out your talk ahead of time – figure out a beginning, middle and end. Practice to your roommates, pets, and family – practice practice!
  • Make sure that your images are appropriately sized so they are not fuzzy or so big they take forever to load.
  • Bring your slide talk on a disc, a flash drive and in your email (or somewhere online) so you can access it many ways.
  • If things are kind of falling apart (projector is down, door to lecture hall is locked, wrong time is on the poster) – be cool, help our host out, figure out some kind of solution, it makes a big difference for everyone if you can turn a disaster around.
  • Check with your host – how long are they expecting you to lecture?
  • Don’t assume that the place you are lecturing has the equipment that you need (especially cables). Call before hand and check with them, and show up a little early so there is time to make technical adjustments before the public arrives.
  • Who is this lecture for? Try to target your audience. The lecture is not for you! It is for the people listening.
  • If you are reading a lecture, remember to be animated; pause and look up from time to time.
  • Just be yourself and speak from the heart.
  • Don’t go over your time limit – really really really – don’t do this!!  It can be very annoying.
  • Have fun! If your having fun, the audience will have fun also.

When you go to give a public lecture, or assist or teach a one day to twenty one day workshop. It really helps to plan ahead.