from the bindery: thoughts on teaching

it is difficult for me to explain to someone that i can't show them how to bind books because i don't have the time or energy. because i'm saving what time and energy i do have for my own work, which i'm only now just finally getting started on nearly one year after graduation.

it is difficult for me to explain that if i were to give some instruction beyond simple consultation on something or a couple hours of this or that, that i would need to be compensated for my time. (after all, i did spend thousands of dollars and hours myself to learn and will continue to do so over the years.)

it is difficult for people to understand that a few hours is not enough to learn and remember something very useful and that an intense interest in bookbinding is not enough either.

this is all difficult because i care deeply about responding to others' interest in this craft and in learning. i don't want to turn people away or discourage them. i want to be like the mentors i've had who are actively encouraging and responsive. it's difficult, also, to be approached as an expert when you're not. certainly i have years more experience than many who approach me, but still i'm a baby in the field. i need to continue broadening my own experience to better answer the questions and needs of those i teach. i know this will build bit by bit over time, but in the mean time it feels disingenuous to be asked to play the part.

with these thoughts in mind, it struck me the other day that i now understand the craftsman in stories, who, when approached by a motivated, energetic youth eager to learn, turns them away and says he cannot or will not teach them. in these stories, the youth must somehow demonstrate that she has the will, the drive, the energy, and the work ethic, and the ability to pay close attention to detail to make teaching her worthwhile. one wants to be sure that the time and energy that goes into teaching will be well spent--not taken for granted or thrown by the wayside.

i have been that youth and have proven myself, i think, through persistence. i would like to be that teacher. i think.

but not yet.

i recently helped a student in a bookbinding class repair a book for his father. he had very minimal binding experience and who knows if he'll remember much of what i taught him (rebacking a book was confusing to me when i first started learning it, i can only imagine what it would seem like to one with no book repair experience whatsoever). tho it was on my own time and with no monetary compensation, it was so rewarding taking those few hours to help him out. to see his enthusiasm and delight as the repair progressed, and the satisfaction with the finished product. i feel similarly as i help students in book repair. as i work with them, i draw heavily on my own experience with instructors and realize that not only did these instructors give me good instruction regarding the binding of books, but they taught me a lot about teaching. i would like to focus more on this aspect of my job and apply more of these teaching techniques.

and so i gather these experiences one by one. i acquire a skill here and a skill there. i sharpen what i already have at a much slower pace than i used to when in school (still getting used to this). and eventually, i hope, i will be able to make the time and energy to invite people in and not turn them away--to be the craftsman who welcomes instead of rejects and can offer expertise and instruction of a greater depth.


Amanda, Curtis, Ellis, Hugh said...

I love the way you articulated these feelings, Bid. You are perceptive about the processes going on in your life work.

It sounds like you need a business card for those who would bid for your services and a lab with a picture window for those curious and appreciative observers. Maybe these things seem like walls that separate you from others, but they can actually be tools for communicating, connecting and educating.

Wendy said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this, since I, too, have been thinking a lot about it lately.

I am scheduled to teach an intro to BB class at a local arts organization soon, if we get enough enrollment (which isn't looking likely at this point). If it runs, I will absolutely not have enough time or materials to seriously teach anything. Still, I decided that even if it's just a fun thing for a bunch of wealthy ladies to do on a Saturday afternoon, passing on a little bit of what I know is never a bad thing. Who knows what it will lead to... a greater understanding of what a rich and challenging field it is and a better appreciation for the craft, maybe? I got into BB by taking a class that wasn't very serious, at least on the craft side of things.

And as for being a newbie, I have no doubt that I know more than everyone in this town, with the exception of maybe one or two people, while also realizing that I don't know very much. I have decided I just have to dive in. Plus, the class pays fairly well and I could use the money. :)