Last month’s article focused on the value of teaching to build your brand, establish your credibility and potentially (eventually) drive sales. But a lot of folks may feel like they aren’t experienced enough to want to teach. I’m here to tell you that isn’t true!
I taught advertising at several large universities, and I remember the advice that resonated with me. I was leaving Tandy Leather after several years working in their marketing department and I asked George Hurst if he had any teaching tips that might set me up for success.
George told me, “Don’t overthink it. Don’t let anyone psych you out. I’ve been teaching for over 50 years, but I remember my nervousness when I first started. But I quickly learned, as long as you are one day ahead of the student, you’re the expert.”
There were times that I was one day (or sometimes a few hours) ahead of the students that first year, but confidence did come with time. Now, I have a handful of lessons that I could teach with a minute’s notice…and I have! But it all started with that initial anxiety, “Am I good enough?”
On the other side of that, we have to have confidence in ourselves, but also be mindful that we’re teaching and not showing off. It’s an easy trap to fall into, with a captive audience listening to your every word, that we want to show them all we can do. But a successful class has students walking away thinking, “I feel confident I can do that!” and not, “They are so good…I’ll never be that good.”
Being confident that you are worthy of sharing your knowledge is an important part of being able to get in front of a handful of folks and tell them that you’re credible, but don’t forget why you are there: to make them better. There’s some pressure that comes with that and it can be a little daunting, particularly for the first time.
Working with Elktracks Studio the last five years has afforded me the opportunity to connect with a lot of phenomenal teachers in our industry, many of whom have done videos with us. I also feel blessed that I can call upon many of them, and others, to share some of their insights on teaching with you all. The list ranges from several Al Stohlman Award-winning instructors to some folks who have only been teaching a few years. Hopefully, a few of these tips might resonate with you enough to encourage you to teach your first (or next) class.
“When it comes to teaching, there are really two foundational things you need to be successful. First is that you need good, accurate and useful information if you’re going to teach. When I first started teaching, I’d always refer back to the Stohlman books to confirm what I was teaching was correct. Second, you need to have the right motive. If you’re looking at teaching as just a clever way to make a quick buck or to try to sell something, it can seem hollow to your students.
What’s even worse is that if you have bad information or you teach someone wrong, as soon as they figure out otherwise, all that credibility that you are trying to build goes out the window pretty quickly. But, being a good teacher comes with time and practice and if you have good information and the right motives, you’ll get there.” – Jim Linnell, Elktracks Studio
“Everyone has something to share, something that others have not even thought about. There are many people out there yearning to learn and will be entirely thankful for any information they can add to their resources.” – Kathy Flanagan
“You have to do leatherwork to teach leatherwork. Things may not go as planned, so you have to have experienced those same challenges to help the student work through them successfully. Your students are also going to have questions that aren’t included in what you planned to teach, and it’s helpful to know enough to be able to give them a good answer.
Teach appropriate content for your students’ skill level. So many artists want the Mona Lisa to be their first project, but they have to learn by sketching an apple first. If they don’t have the fundamentals, they won’t be successful in the ‘cooler’ projects they want to make. That’s part of why I enjoy teaching children. Adults try to make sense of everything and look at it practically. Children just want to have fun. We all need to have a bit more fun with our leatherwork.” - Jurgen Volbach
“I always try to tell the students why you’re doing the steps and why you’re doing them a certain way. That way they can understand the context of the techniques and apply them to their own unique work and style.” – Annie Libertini, Libertini Arts
“Every good teacher also learns from their students.” – Tony Allen Bernier
“Teaching is a necessity to continue any craft. If you love what you do, then it would be selfish not to share that with someone else. Very few people are experts in any given field, but if you are further along in your journey than another person, you are 100 percent qualified to share your experience with them and let them learn what they can from it.” – Joe Meling, 23+
“When I teach someone a new technique, I start by asking them to try and do it wrong. I hand them a piece of leather, and the tool, and just have them experiment. If it’s a swivel knife, I have them do it on dry leather, really wet leather, use a super-light touch, push too hard, tilt the blade, etc. See what the blade will do…both good and bad.
This does two things; it gives them permission to be really bad when they first start, but it also lets them see the limits, the capabilities and the effects they can get. Eliminating the mystery from the tool and technique goes a long way in building their confidence.” – Daniel Reach, Branded Bison Co.
“Whatever your passion is, share it. You never know what spark you might ignite in someone.” – Sheryl Katzke
“If you’ve been doing leatherwork for a while and learned from some good mentors, you likely know more than you think you do. Sometimes, when I’m demonstrating techniques, I try to remember what it felt like to be completely new to the subject and explain as if I’m trying to teach my younger self.” - Brandon Corral, Swift Hammer Leathercrafts
So, what’s the first workshop you’re going to teach locally? 4-H? Boy Scouts? At your local craft retailer? Who are you going to inspire? How will you contribute to the growth and evolution of this craft? What role will be teaching play in your business plan? Whatever your answer is to any of the above questions, I have to say, I’m excited for you to start this journey. I look forward to taking one of your classes someday.