Sunday, July 26, 2015

I Got Checked :o


     A few weeks ago I instructed my first group, unexpectedly and fairly solo. The group was a family of 4, 2 daughters, 1 son, and the mother. The oldest child was 14. I’m going to preface this post by honestly saying that I generally don’t like to teach people. I think it’s just because sometimes I genuinely lack a certain patience for certain things. Teaching can be a fast process or it could be a slow one, some people just pick up things faster than others and are more independent. So, in short, my perfect student would be someone who takes to the task very easily and is confident in their abilities. 

     Now, as I’ve mentioned before, Abbie has a huge heart and she loves to help people, so she gives out vouchers for free or reduced sessions to affiliate programs for them to give to their low income or disabled patients/ participants. So this family called the studio and they wanted to know if they could still use an old voucher for a free session that they received from a partnering program. Luckily for them, we only had one other student in the studio so we had more than enough space for them- of course Abbie said yes! When they arrived they an odd uneasy expression on their faces and I could tell that they were extremely skeptical, they didn’t know what they had gotten themselves into haha. We all introduced ourselves and used name tags so that no one seemed like a stranger (this goes a long way and really makes the students more comfortable asking questions and conversing with you).

{This was the type of bowl they created but this
particular one didn't come from that session}
     Quickly they settled in and began to warm up to us. We began to show them a few sample projects that they could get done in the time that they had and they all decided on making bowls with tree imprints inside them. This sort of bowl is super easy to make and has a really pretty outcome once fired and glazed! At last, we broke out the clay and Abbie left me to it! Again, they all had a strange expression on their faces as if I had whipped out a Raxacoricofallapatorians (Dr. Who fans anyone?)! They sat staring at the clay with apprehension, anticipation, and amazement, which completely bewildered me. To me it was just clay, a lump of mud that I had become overly familiar with. To them it was a mushy mass, that somehow shape-shifts into an art piece. Immediately I was forced to recall whether or not I had reacted that way when clay was first presented to me haha! As I was dividing they clay they just sat there and so finally I said excitedly, “You can touch it! Grab it, get used to it!” The last thing I would want is for someone to be scared to manipulate the clay or have fun with it. I wanted them to dive in! Interestingly enough, in that moment it dawned on me that I was their instructor, I was in a position of authority so they would wait for instruction. As I mentioned, I don’t teach often, so this was something I had to keep reminding myself of. 
     They grabbed the clay and we got started! I showed them all how to wedge the clay to get all of the air pockets out of it (if there’s air pockets in the clay it can explode when it’s being fired and all the hard work would be for nothing). This somehow became a mini competition between 2 of the children and the mother, I guess a little game of “Who Can Get Their Air Bubbles Out the Fastest” never hurt anyone…This did lead to a minor issue as one of the children finished wedging about 6 minutes before the others. This left him sitting and waiting until the next everyone was ready to move on to the next step. I had to make a decision to either make him wait for the others, or allow him to move on, I let him move on (asking a 8 year old to have too much patience is difficult O.O). The next step was rolling the clay out flat so that we could place it into the mold of the bowl. Once they all had their flat slabs of clay, they went outside to to pick leaves/ branches off the trees so they could make the print in the clay. After they made the prints, they pressed the clay into the molds, and finished decorating by painting (applying underglazes to the clay). 

     When it came to the decoration of the pieces, I discovered that the 14 y/o and her mom had a slight issues with thinking their work was acceptable or that it was “good enough”. They lacked a confidence and they didn’t trust themselves. They each would ask questions like “what do you think about this?”, “does this look nice?”, “am I doing this right?”. While internally I was annoyed by this sort of behavior from the two oldest in the group, I never let that show and gave them positive affirmation. A few times I would reply with “Well do you like it, do you think it’s nice?” to try to get them to see that their personal happiness with their pieces matter more than what I think. At one point Abbie to the 14 y/o that her bowl was beautiful and she responded with “don’t just tell me what you think I want to hear!” (in a respectful tone with a slight sassiness. Not enough to cause an issue). 

     Overall I think they had a great family experience. To be able to experience something new as a family and bod over it is special. They all said that they plan to use their bowls and so I hope that every time they do, they remember the fun studio and the time that they spent with each other. Hopefully they get another chance to work with clay and create things that they enjoy, whether it’s at Say It With Clay or somewhere else. I’m happy that I got to share my knowledge and be a part of their growth. I think I made a positive impact. And even though this group wasn’t “disabled”, the studio definitely gave them a place to escape some problems or tensions that they have in their everyday life. The mom didn’t want to leave lolz!

     As a personal reflection, this experience gave me to the opportunity to examine my privilege (or what I perceive as a privilege). Throughout my entire life I have carried myself as a very confident person that is “capable of anything”. When faced with a new challenge or task I attack it with the mindset that it will get done and it will be absolutely amazing because I did it. I’m not completely sure where this positive personal agency began, but I definitely recognize that it has been with me for as long as I remember. I rarely find that I feel defeated and that I “can’t”. I also rarely find someone else that doesn’t enjoy what I do or what I produce; if I do I take their criticism with an open mind and find ways to incorporate it positively  instead of harping on the negative feelings and ideas. I think at the core, this is why teaching can be tiring and uninteresting to me. As I described above, not everyone has this attitude and I don’t think that it’s something that people build up overnight. Sticking through the rough and uncertain times with a student can be daunting and it may make you want to just shake the self-assurance into them, but I recognize the great reward in the end. I’m grateful that I got the chance to check my privilege.

Until the next post,

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