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09/23/2023 at 8:51 pm #4710Laura BerlageKeymaster
The world is a-flood with ever-increasing ways for students to learn how to do a craft. Remember, craft is the “doing” of any pursuit. Writers study their craft, actors study their craft, those in handwork of all kinds study their craft. YouTube “University” abounds with videos, and more and more books with beautiful photographs are available. Other instructors are offering take-it-yourself online courses that walk students through videos on a subscription basis. But, none of these offer something in particular: live time with YOU as a human being.
This is an absolutely critical ingredient, and one that you might accidentally undervalue on your journey of teaching online. Living, breathing, caring YOU cannot be replaced by any sort of media.
In the live online environment, you are choosing to be with your students, in that moment. Be there. Be ALL there. Be present. Be there because you are there for them. Be the example you wish you had when you were in their shoes.
Sure, your students may think that they signed up for your class because they want to learn how to do or make something. That is only the surface reason. I’ve seen over and over again that while my course descriptions focus on techniques or mediums, the real purpose and work of the class is actually much deeper, and being aware of and feeding this deeper reason is what will keep your students coming back to the well of your educational practice. They will feel it, even if they don’t have words for what “it” is.
The “it” is part of what pushes this practice beyond just being a craft and into being an art, for art cannot exist without deep intensions and full engagement of head and heart, as well as hands.
Human beings have fundamental, basic needs. Among these are the need to feel seen, heard, and have belonging. The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic cut the knees out of many of our former ways of nurturing these needs, making the situation desperate enough for us to reach for a whole new model of socializing and finding our tribe. This new way–e.g. classes via Zoom–for many of us has stuck as part of our “new normal.” We may find that the loneliness of not living near our tribe melts away with the addition of new options for creative community. This option can literally save our psychies, even our lives.
As an educator, this means that you are the potential vehicle for the cultivation of tending this deep need in your students (and yourself!). This calls for deep engagement, for true caring of your students. It means actually being interested in each one of them, in their lives and their pets and their creative journey. It means growing your comfortability in social vunlerability, transparency, and humility in your own humanness. It means showing deep compassion for the humanness of your students and concern for their wellbeing and self-actualization. Let’s be honest, art is a form of therapy. Some days, you’ll be the therapist.
If you choose shallow engagement with your students, that’s what will be reciprocated back to you. You class might be fun, but it has less potential to be transformative. How you “show up” to your class sets the tone–you are the maker of your class’ culture. Sometimes, your depth will not be reciprocated, as not all students are comfortable in their own vulnerability, but it won’t be for lack on your end. The deep friendships and meaningful connections that you do make with students has a tremendous energy that will feed you through the rough spots and the self-doubt that are inevitable along the way.
What your students really want is you. Quirky, unique, caring you. They are interested in what fires you up about your medium, your backstory, your adventures. Don’t be apologetic! Be there deeply for them, but also be there authentically as you. There’s no need to pretend to be someone else or what you think they want you to be. That’s neither fun nor sustainable. As the saying goes, “Be yourself: everyone else is already taken.”
Really see your students. Really listen to them. Let them know that you value them and their choice to be in this class with you. Show how you care about their learning journey, their process of becoming and healing and thriving–even more than you do about how well they complete a project or execute a technique. Be there, fully, in the time that you have with them.
This, in truth, is what students really want. Few will have words to describe it this way, but this is where the real work is.
Pause a moment to breathe, and let that settle in.
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