It’s hard to see what exactly is happening in this picture. Two of my students are untangling a clump of wires, the wires that are used to cut pots off the wheels. They just spent the last hour teaching a roomful of adults how to center clay on the wheel, and then to throw small pots. As I snapped this photo, one teacher – and by teacher, I mean sophomore in high school – commented, “We need to untangle these, because… well, we didn’t expect that we’d get far enough to use them.” The students – and, by students, I mean parents and teachers – all laughed. And as soon as the wires were untangled, my students helped their students to cut eleven perfect first pots off the wheels.
There is nothing related to my teaching that I love more than the Practicum class that my Ceramics II students teach to adult students. An evening class makes for some long days, and as I write this, I’m exhausted – but high on the sense that something really magical happened tonight in our studio.
The basic structure of the program is that two teachers lead each class, and two other students assist each week. The students work together in class to build the sequence of lessons and plan out their individual sessions. This is week two, and, going in, I was a little nervous about tonight’s teachers. They have terrific creative energy, but are still developing their organizational skills and focus. But as soon as the class started, I was overwhelmed by the warmth, generosity, and concern transferring back and forth between the teachers and students. The (student) teachers really wanted their (adult) students to succeed on their first tries at the wheel, and structured everything about the lesson so that they would do so. They cut the clay carefully in advance, pre-set the wheels with all needed materials, and worked around the room during the lesson, making sure that everyone got equal individual attention. Demonstrations were clear, concise, and presented with warmth and humor. For their part, the students were patient, engaged, and focused, and asked the teachers some great questions. It was so clear that each group wanted the other to succeed.
At one point, I actually started to get a little emotional, and had to take a step back from my notes and photos. It’s strange to hear someone you’ve taught present their own version of content – but these boys presented this lesson better than I do. They used the parts that work for them, changed some parts, and omitted others, with excellent results. It all seemed so fluid. I couldn’t have been more proud.
I wonder what would happen if teachers and students approached every class with this same sort of untangled mutual will to succeed? Maybe we say we do… but we get distracted by all sorts of things, exhaustion and overcommitment high on the list. Seeing a scene like tonight’s class makes me want to work harder to overcome those obstacles. It also makes me wonder if the concept of practicum is a transferrable one? The whole impetus behind this program is that we learn something best when we have to teach it. What would happen if we tried this idea in less messy subjects?