Recently someone posted on Facebook that the teaching field in the sugarcraft world was flooded with hundreds of teachers who range from poor to good. The writer was contemplating joining this flood of teachers to bring some qualified or, in their mind, superior teaching skills to rescue the students being taught by the lesser quality teachers.
This started me wondering…are we really all poor to good teachers (those of us actually out sharing our love of sugar on the teaching circuit), or are there only a few bad apples? What makes a good teacher? How do students know if the class will be worth it or be a huge waste of time and money? As your self appointed sugar guru, I decided to take on the Facebook comments and take a closer look. (In a future blog, I plan to share with you how to start teaching and demonstrating – don’t look for that info in here).
I believe there are several signs of a good teacher. First, the teacher is organized. Whether they provide everything or you have to bring some supplies, the teacher should have everything ready to go for class. If you are working with fondant, it should already be cut and portioned, ready for use. Tools should be lined up for you.
Second, the teacher should have time management skills. They have to know when to push the class or move along with the project. They should have a sense of how much can be accomplished during the class and help keep the class focused on the task at hand. There is always a chatty person who feels inclined to tell all about their experiences the entire time of the class – the teacher has to not lose the class to this person.
Third, the teacher should assist the students. I personally hate the classes I have taken where a teacher never moves from the front table. How can the teacher know if the students are understanding? The teachers should be able to both explain verbally and show physically how to do the technique. The teachers should look for signs of frustration and move quickly to assist those students before the tears start. (Yes, this happens!). Teachers often have to be able to show something left and right handed. Teachers have to watch for language barriers and help the people move their hands in the right way if they cannot understand the teacher’s words.
Fourth, the teacher should be knowledgeable on the subject and related subjects. Students rarely limit questions to the class at hand! Teachers have to be willing to share their experiences and sufficient information to make the class worthwhile.
Fifth, the teacher should provide informative instructions for the students to take home. Step by step instructions are best. A sheet with the teacher’s name and bio is not helpful later. Telling the students the information is in your book (which they can purchase) is just wrong. The students paid for the class and have already purchased that set of instructions.
Sixth, the teacher must be enthusiastic about the subject. Students can tell quickly if a teacher is there to share their love of sugar or there for simply a paycheck. Teachers should happily pose with students, sign aprons and engage the students into the project. The entire class takes its cue from the tone the teacher sets.
Seventh, the teacher should give certificates. Students love them. Reward the students for their hard work in class!
Eighth, the teachers should be available afterwards for questions. Whether through Facebook, email or phone, the teacher should provide at least one line of communication for questions that arise when the students attempt the project again at home.
Ninth, I personally think that teachers should do their best to keep classes affordable. I know that some of the tv personalities who teach can command a higher rate, but I encourage all to make sure that they are giving value for the class fee.
Tenth, I personally believe teachers should supply all or most of the tools and equipment for use in class. This gives every student a level playing field for learning and makes sure that no one is short a vital tool. I believe that no more than two people should have to share a tool.
Eleventh, I believe that being famous does not mean you can teach. I believe that having written books or having designed award winning cakes does not mean you can teach. The skill sets are different. As an education major in college, I can tell you that knowledge of the subject is insufficient. You must be able to teach. Teaching takes practice and understanding of the ways that students learn and retain information.
Twelfth, teachers must keep projects fresh. While some classes are timeless, teachers should freshen up their repertoire from time to time. Do not beat the dead horse. Keep reinventing yourself and your classes. Take classes from other teachers to learn what makes them successful.
Ok, so that’s my main list for what makes a good teacher. How do you know if the class will be good? Look at pictures of students’ work from this class at other locations. Ask for input on Facebook. There isn’t an Angie’s List for cake classes yet, but perhaps there should be.
Back to the comments that started this blog…do I think that the hundreds of teachers are only poor to good? I do not. I have actually taken classes from many of them, assisted others in classes and have watched demonstrations with many more of them. As someone with ACTUAL experience with many of the teachers, I find the comment puzzling. There are very few people that I have experienced as less than great teachers. The ones that I personally feel need work on teaching skills or organization…that is actually unrelated to how I feel about them as authors, personalities or decorators. They just need to hone their teaching skills. Not everyone had the advanced education classes I received. They are doing the best they know how to do at the moment. As they grow and learn (as we all do), they will be better teachers.
How do I feel about the person who made the comments moving in to the teaching world again? I have absolutely no problem with it. I have attended several demos by this person. They have knowledge to share. Besides, anyone can offer classes. The market and demand will bear out whether any person is a good teacher.
People offering tired, stale classes will see their numbers fall. People who fail to teach what they advertise will face demands for refunds. People who do not encourage their students and assist them in class will find their enrollment declining. Like in business, where many companies fail in a short period of time, the best stay in business for a long time.
There is a reason that some teachers are in demand. There are reasons that some people consistently have classes with a large number of students. While less famous people may have to work harder to get known and recognized, teaching skills will always be the determining point. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The people you see all over the country are almost always strong in the twelve areas outlined above.
My final word today is, let’s not label people indiscriminately as poor to good teachers. Let’s celebrate the good ones, quietly let our friends know about the not great ones and welcome the new ones. Isn’t that a much better approach?