What Makes a Great Student


Ask any student about an instructor and you will get an opinion. Students often get the opportunity to evaluate the instructors. The one thing I do not hear…is an evaluation of what makes a great student. Do the teachers know? You bet! Do we warn each other about problem students? Yep. This is a two way street and I think that it can only help if I identify the traits of a great student.

First, they actually take the class. My friend Lauren Kitchens tells me that people come up to her and say they aren’t skilled enough to take the class. What??!! People, the whole point of classes is for us to give you the skills. Unless the class description tells you that you need specific training before taking it, you just need to show up! Great students do not ask the teacher to send them the instructions without taking the class. (Yes, this happens to teachers all the time). Please sign up for the classes that interest you.

Second, they arrive on time. Students expect the teachers to keep a class on a time schedule, but often don’t realize how they impact that. Often I will have students arrive for class after I have given the introduction to class, so that the latecomers spend time asking all the questions I have already answered. Even worse is when you have started the class project and then someone comes in. The teacher now has to try to keep the bulk of the class moving, while essentially teaching everything a second time to try to catch up the late student. Please arrive early enough for class that you do not cause a delay.

Third, they are prepared. Part of the reason that I supply things for my classes is because I have taken numerous classes where the students do not bring the items on the class supply list. I always wonder how they justify not bringing the required tools. When this would happen at my shop where I was hosting a teacher, I felt as though they expected me to rescue them with the tools. Sometimes the “tools” were a half sheet cake, the required icing or even….everything on the list. Sometimes teachers have extras, but you should not bank on that! I personally think that if you show up without the tools, you should just watch the rest of the class. Participation requires you doing your job and that means bringing the tools listed by the instructor. Please be like a boy scout and Be Prepared.

Fourth, they are willing to learn the teacher’s techniques. I am amazed at the times I have taken a class or taught one only to have someone constantly telling the teacher how someone else does the technique. Why is that student in the class? Even if you never do it that way again, try the teacher’s method while you are in class. You might find your next favorite method! Please be open to the teacher’s methods.

Fifth, they listen, take good notes and ask thoughtful questions. This shows us that a student is engaged in the class. It means that you aren’t visiting with your friends in class, then constantly asking “what?” because you missed the instructions. This means that you actually bring a writing instrument to class. This means that you try to focus your questions on the class subject. I was in an airbrush demo once when one girl decided it was the proper time to ask the demonstrator about buttercream recipes. We lost easily one quarter of the demo time to this person’s repeated questions. Please pay attention.

Sixth, they remember that class is for LEARNING the technique, not for PERFECTING it. Classes are created to pass certain knowledge on to the students. The students need to then go home and practice the technique to work on excelling at it. It breaks my heart when I have to watch a student beating themselves up if their first attempt at something isn’t perfect. Oh my goodness! Seriously, people, why do we put such pressure on ourselves? Give yourself a break. Remember that this is your first time to do the technique with that particular teacher. Please be patient with yourselves and agree to practice when you go home.

Seventh, they do not get competitive with the other students. This is not a challenge to see who does it best…it is a class. If a teacher compliments someone’s work, do not take it as a sign that you need to step up your game. Sometimes we compliment the people we can see are insecure about their work. Sometimes we are trying to get you to relax like the person we complimented. Sometimes we run into students who, quite simply, have a gift for the particular technique. That doesn’t mean your work cannot eventually surpass theirs. Only that the stars aligned for them that day and they caught on really fast. Please refrain from competing in class.

Eighth, they are respectful of the teacher and other students. This means that you don’t take this as your opportunity to share every story of every cake you have done. This means you don’t try to dominate the teacher’s attention by seeking approval of every single move you make in class. This means you put your phone on silent and refrain from texting as much as possible. I taught a class once where the student texted the entire class AND left the text ringer going full blast. It was funny the first time or two…it was downright rude by the end of the day. Please be the type of student you would like to sit next to.

Ninth, they don’t rewrite the lesson plan. If you take a class on orchids, don’t expect to make a daffodil. I hosted a teacher once who was teaching us to make monsters. One student decided she wanted to make a person instead and proceeded to complain about not having the colors she needed for her vision. Come on folks, that is something you do at home! You took the class to make what the teacher designed. Please don’t expect the teacher to work on your private agenda for the class.

Tenth, they approach the class with enthusiasm. They start with a smile on their face and the thought that they can do this. This means that for just a bit, you stop listening to those doubting voices in your head. This means that you leave your family drama outside. This means that you come in rested enough and fed enough that you do not melt down or lose energy halfway through class. This is especially true at mini class events when you over schedule yourself and become weepy because you are so tired or hungry. Take care of yourself and the fun will follow. Please tell yourself this is going to be the best class EVER! It just might be!

Eleventh, they do not take things that don’t belong to them. It is true. Sometimes students steal tools. This is really hard on the teachers because they are now left shorthanded for upcoming classes. I know you love the teacher’s tools, but you have to release your covet and leave them with the teacher. Please leave the tools so another class can enjoy them.

Twelfth, they are helpful. They straighten up their area at the end of class. They throw their trash away. They offer to help the instructor clean up or set things out if they have time. If things are given to you in a package, return them to the package. Please be considerate to the teacher.

Thirteenth, they follow the class rules. If you are told that there is no videotaping, you need to NOT video tape the teacher. I personally allow photos but no videos. I repeatedly find people taking videos on their phones and cameras. I struggle with whether I should draw attention to the rule breaker, whether I should remove them from class or whether to silently scream inside and do nothing about it. So far, I have chosen the latter. I believe I will react differently in the future.

Fourteenth, they do not steal the teacher’s class. I have heard of numerous instances where people start teaching a project made popular by recognized teachers. Some students are bold enough to use the teacher’s own handouts to give to their students. Some pass the project along as though they thought of it. Please don’t abuse the teacher’s creativity.

Fifteenth, they are not gross. Yep. I said gross. Do not lick the buttercream tips that the teacher gives you to pipe with. Do not lick icing off your fingers in class. Do not put paintbrushes or pens in your mouth if they do not belong to you. Please don’t forget that you are not in the privacy of your own home.

Sixteenth, they honestly evaluate the instructors. Many shows and mini classes hand out evaluation sheets. Take the time to fill out these forms. They are invaluable to the people who host classes. They help them decide what classes work, which instructors should be invited back and what they can improve for students’ experience the next time. If you are not given an evaluation form, you can still give feedback to the show or class organizers. I have had numerous students tell me they had issues with a class by someone, but almost every one of them failed to inform the people in a position to correct things for the future. It doesn’t make you whiny to complain if the information you relay is honest. We all want to do the best job possible. Your comments could help a teacher become better at their job. Please share your feedback constructively.

On behalf of the teachers, thank you to the students. None of us get to pursue our dream of teaching unless you take our classes. Thank you to the vast majority that are great students. Your smiling faces and great attitude make the classes a joy to teach. If you saw yourself in any of the less great student moments outlined above…remember that this is your chance to do better going forward. As Oprah says, “when we know better, we do better”. And just because it might be true, don’t forget to tell yourself that the next class is going to be the best class EVER!

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12 thoughts on “What Makes a Great Student

  1. I love the way they do the classes at ICES….close the door, no one comes in after the class has started, and if you leave, you don’t come back in. Do what needs to be done before the class starts, turn your phone off and pay attention! I wish all classes would run that way! Thanks again Ruth for a great posting.

    • I agree with the rules; however, some people have personal issues or medical issues that require them to go to the restroom from time to time, even during classes …. nature calls for goodness sakes!

  2. These are all great! I wish everyone followed them (as far as I know I do, if not, sorry to any teachers!). I especially like number Four. I always tried to keep an open mind when taking a class, and then suddenly learned a new/better way to roll out fondant. I was skeptical while learning/do it in class, and now it’s my preferred method!

  3. Great post! I find it funny that we expect our children to do all these things but SO many adults forget the rules of being polite and attentive – When I taught – though staff meetings and professional developement could be boring – teachers were the worst!! It stunned me at how rude some were – they would have never allowed their students to get away with that! This was a great follow up to your previous post on what makes a good instructor!!

  4. Love this blog Ruth! I teach Wilton classes and see alot of what you mentioned. I also take lots of classes and always try to be a good student. Thanks for posting this!

  5. Love the way you are straightforward about all this. While in public, we should certainly behave that way and respect others. Do what you want to at your own home! šŸ™‚

  6. Oh, this makes me cackle. These are instructions that I would give my college English students. They thought I was just a picky English teacher. If they would only learn that certain rules (99.99%) are based on the principles of basic courtesy.

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