Reflections on Teaching, Part 3

Aug 25 2013


After a month that was just one thing after another, leaving me only 4 days to be home in August, I'm finally able to slow down.  Right after I finished the Annual Craftsmen Fair, I only had one day off, and then I had to finish my last two classes in Lexington.  Then I spent 5 days being Cynthia Eid's TA ( teaching assisant) at Metalwerx for her Creative Hammering in Anticlastic/Synclastic hammering at Metalwerx.  It was very interesting to see how Cynthia taught, and we definitely think a lot alike in trying to streamline our working processes and finding ways to work smarter, not harder, for we women don't have the upper body strength that men have.  I also gain a new appreciation for the humble cameraman, for I had to spend 4 days manning the closeup camera that showed the metal being shaped on the big screen as Cynthia worked the metal with her hammers and stakes.  I had to keep track of a vast inventory of hammers and stakes, plus hand tools. Let's put it this way delicately - most of the students spent a ton on the tools.  I was the only one who spent the least, just one anticlastic stake and a plastic mallet that was for another school. The 3 pics above are of Cynthia's hammers and her samples, plus her students' samples.

The 3 pics on top, shows my growing hammer collection, my new forming blocks ( grooves carved in wood) made by a fellow Snow Farm woodturning instructor, Rick Angus, who is very funny, and my samples that I manage to do in between my TA duties.  The one odd pic is the ski lift control center at Mt. Sunapee Resort, and the way the sunlight reflects off the wavy glass makes for some very cool abstract images.  I was fascinated each day I was in my booth, looking out and above.   I tend to notice the odd things, and they can keep me in thrall just at the variations in colors, patterns, shifting patterns, so forth.

I could have splurged on some of the new hammers that Cynthia had for the students, but as it turned out, I had acquired a bunch of old hammers ( pre 1960) , and they turned out to be mostly perfect for anticlastic raising.   I just got a few more hammers from a tool swap, so I can do anticlastic raising pretty easily now.   As a trained silversmith, I was taugh to raise metal synclastically, so trying to do anticlastic was not going well for me, for over 15 years struggling.   My brain needed to be re-educated.    Metal is a wonderful material, however, asking it it move in directions it does not want to go is a lot harder than it looks.  That was an adjustment factor I had to take in, for I'm now going where I was not taught to go.

That's why we have to use very specific hammers and stakes to coax the stubborn metal to move in directions that would have been impossible a hundred years ago.  NC Black, Fretz Hammers and Allcraft had developed new hammers in the past decade, but when you think about the thousands of hammer variations that had been developed over the centuries, the older vintage hammers are almost the same as the new hammers.   Furthermore, some hammers can be regrinded into the specific shapes you need.   That is what I did with my vintage hammers.  For almost every new hammer available, I had an older hammer that just had to be tweaked a bit and presto, it functions just like the new hammer.   You can see we metalsmiths take great pride in our hammers and baby them.. They are not the kind you use for hammering a nail into the wall.  We keep them polished and cover them or keep them in special racks.   We love them like our children.  Call us crazy, but our hammers are our identidy for it is what enables us to create wonders in metal.

I had to go back to Snow Farm to teach over the Labor Day weekend.  Weather-wise, it was like a wet blanket covering everything - just miserable humidity.  I did learned a few things while teaching my Stonesettting workshop.  Newbies and intermediate/advanced students don't work well in an intermediate stonesetting workshop.   I had a total newbie student and 2 repeat students that had intermediate jewelry experience.  It was just too difficult trying to teach intermediate stonesetting techniques, and then teach very basic jewelrymaking skills to the newbie student.  I'm afraid I lost my patience a few times on the first day and didn't handle this very well.   Also the newbie student was very fragile and I was a nervous wreck watching out for her, plus trying to teach her for she did have a tendency to injure herself over two days.    Let's put it this way delicately, I couldn't hold my dinner down for two days due to stress.   I did put a skill level requirement for 2014 workshops - beginner, intermediate or open to all levels.  I don't think I want to go for EMT training on top of my heavy schedule for this fall/winter.

We teachers do learn just as much as students does.  That's why I TA when I get a chance - its a good way to see how other teachers teach, and handle awkward situations.    It's also a way to combat teaching burnout, for I've been fighting burnout in teaching for the past year.   I prefer not to teach beginning jewelrymaking classes, for it's just sheer repetition - did you flux?  Did you heat the metal enough?  Did you file a proper butt joint?  So much, that I go home and tell my hedgehog or dog what to do.  I know I'm in trouble.  At this point in my life and career, I have a lot of great skills to pass on, and I prefer not to waste my time teaching ( I hate to say this) mindless Jewelry 101 classes, where I have to repeat over and over, the basics, till I'm dead on my feet.  I'm good at seeing the weak spots in experienced students and pulling out what they need to improve, and helping them advance.  Therefore, I rather concentrate on students who are experienced and pushing them further along, and introducing advanced techniques.    I burned out on beginner jewelrymaking  long time ago.  Massachusetts has a large pool of skilled students and it's fun for me to take them and push them up to the next level.  NH, not so much, they seem to like to stick to the fundamentals, which is hard on me, mentally.

Another pet peeve of mine, as a teacher, is answering the hundreds of questions that invariably arises in classes or at mealtimes at Snow Farm or other students.  That's why I paid the big bucks for my website, so that the basic info is there for everyone to see.   I remember one time I sat down to eat breakfast and one participant asked me, oh, what is going to be the final bracelet design, what type of stones going in. At that point, I had a mouthful of sausage and eggs and started chokiing on it.  I got up, took my tray and relocated myself outdoors and told my new tablemates, "don't talk to me, don't ask me questions, just let me eat my breakfast in peace".   They did but I was still coughing up sausage for the next hour.     I can only do one thing - either I eat, or I don't eat, and just sit there while my food is cooling and just answer the neverending questions about my work.  It's bad enough that I don't even dare to wear my jewelry or show jewelry, otherwise, I have to spend a half hour explaining how this is made, how that evolved, so forth.  It's pretty pathetic, when you think abou it.  Being deaf, I can only focus on one thing.  So if I'm eating dinner, or trying to get ready for a demo, and someone is constantly talking, guess what happens.  I have to focus on the talker and lipread like crazy.    Nothing can happen when I'm listening for I have to give the speaker total concentration.  For the first time, I had to tell a student I can't do anything but lipread him/her at all times and I'm so jittery, I can't do anything for I have to watch you every single second.    That was a revelation in a way.   

However, I did get to hang out with Dave, my stained glass buddy and Rick Angus, a fabulous woodturner at Snow Farm.  The two of them kept me fascinated and laughing.    Rick was so great at helping me make the grooved wood blocks I needed for spicilim forming, and now I'm thinking, I should take a wood turning class to make my wooden forms for sinking.  Sinking is a way of hammering metal discs into a wood form that has a round bowl like depression, so that the metal sags into the depression, creating a bowl. 

Maybe I sound like I'm whining but I am burned out, kind of dreading the start of the fall session, and I really would love a few months off from teaching so I can just be at my desk, making new work.  I'm mostly doing custom work for clients, so I don't get as much time to create new work, and there is demand for new work.  I do what I can, but I can't promise I have fabulous new work every few months.  Maybe later this year or after Christmas.  I do need to find some new galleries to sell my work for I hadn't been able to focus on my galleries selling my work for a few years.

My agenda for September - get some rest, some downtime from August and do my classes.  Spike has already gone for walkabouts in the house and my dog misses me.  They have greatly amused me since I came home from Snow Farm.  Oh, did I tell you that I went on vacation and the only shirt I had was on my back?  I had to go buy new shirts, and at a thrift store, I bought a black tee, that I thought was in my size.  By the time I checked the shirt tag hours later, it said 6X.  I've never seen 6X for size, and man, that tee was a good 3 feet wide.  Fortunately, it was only $1.50, so I'm sure I can sew it smaller.   That is a story that will live on for a long time.






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