A Message From the Front Lines

After my last blog on the realities of teaching, I started hearing from many of the organizers of mini class events and those who host teachers at their shops. These folks are on the front lines of the teaching world and have a unique perspective. Since I have already addressed things from a teacher’s view and from a student’s, I decided that we needed to hear from the folks who make these classes possible. After all, I have been on all three sides and remember well what went smoothly and what did not. This blog is for everyone who teaches and anyone who thinks they want to teach.

There are some very common mistakes that many of us who teach make – and fixing these could make a host’s job so much easier. Additionally, I will tell you a bit about how they decide who to host and what helps you be invited back.

The first common mistake is writing a poor class description. The sins committed in this arena could keep English teachers busy forever! People must write these late at night, after several drinks or one minute before they are due. The worst things? Sentences that aren’t real sentences – they are two thoughts combined with a couple of words accidentally left out so that it makes no sense whatsoever. Poor grammar and spelling are the next most mentioned issues. I am sorry, but if you are in business, you MUST learn the difference between your, you’re, to, two, too and other words that spell check will let you use improperly. The hosts often cut and paste the descriptions onto their sites, but cannot save that time if you failed to do your job properly. Then we come to punctuation. Not! Every! Sentence! Needs! An! Exclamation!! Point! Or! Three!!! We understand you want to convey excitement for and about your class, but step away from the exclamation point.

If you are craptacular at punctuation, spelling, grammar or anything like that, please cultivate a friendship with someone who excels at those skills. Have someone else read over your class description before you send it to a host. I promise that a well written description receives more favorable attention over an incomprehensible one any day. Are you wondering if this is something you are guilty of? Look at class postings and see if the host had to change your words, spelling or more. This will tell you that you need to pay attention to this aspect of your business, just like you do the skills you teach.

The second common mistake is the understatement. These teachers must believe that the title is enough. For example, if the class is Royal Icing Piping, the description will say that you will learn to pipe with royal. Wow. That is helpful. I know just what my project would look like leaving that class! Seriously, you MUST promote the class with an enticing description. Read restaurant menus. They excel at making a hamburger sound gourmet and making you feel like you can taste the flavors. The words you choose will determine whether people want to sign up.

The third common mistake is the over promise. I love these. You will be assured that in this two hour class you will learn everything there is to know about this technique. Really? Everything? That is simply not possible. So let’s be realistic with the students and tell them what the project is, what techniques they will learn and what they can expect to leave class with.

The fourth common mistake and one raised by every host I spoke to is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Good picture quality of a good project sells the class. Too many teachers are like me and offer classes that are designed in their head, but not in actual sugar. When there isn’t something photographed, people tend to keep promising to send the picture, but it never arrives. Class enrollment is typically lower for any class without a photographic sample.

What makes it a good picture? Look in any sugar art book. The item will be well lit, with a clean or complimentary work surface around it. The picture will be in focus (don’t laugh!). The picture will not be from a cell phone. The picture will not be cluttered with everything imaginable in the background. Are your photos good? Compare them to these guidelines. Your camera comes with a flower (macro) setting. Use it. It allows you to get crisp, clean detail shots up close.

The fifth common mistake is last minute planning. Everyone forgets something sometimes, but if you show up for class without numerous supplies, you may not be ready to teach. If the host needs a supply list from you so that they can provide things for the class, you need to get those to them by the deadline! Your failure to plan well can wreak havoc on a class and the costs for purchasing the supplies. And for goodness sake, don’t have supplies on the list that you do not even use. I truly hate that!

The sixth common mistake is to rest on your laurels. You might be the great and mighty Oz, but Oz needs to get busy with Facebook, twitter, emails, instagram and word of mouth promoting the class for the teacher. Part of the reason you were chosen is to help draw new focus to the class or event. You cannot and should not rely on the host to do all the promotion. If you are not savvy with social media, please take a class or learn from a friend who does it well. This is an integral part of marketing in today’s society. This is part of your job as a teacher.

The seventh common mistake is to think that the host is there to cater to you. You should never waltz in as the “talent” expecting that your class prep has been done for you. The hosts want to see you involved and committed to your classes. I have seen some celebrity teachers working their butts off to set a room and I have seen some newbies who thought it should be done for them. Of course, I have seen the reverse of that, as well. I don’t think it has anything to do with celebrity. You are either a hard working, industrious person who will get things ready or you grew up with a sense of expectation that things should be handled for you since your time was too valuable to do the menial things. I have made lots of promises so far in this blog, but venture one more. If you do not work as hard as the host, you will likely never be invited back again!

The eighth mistake is to think that the host is an ATM machine ready to disburse funds to you continuously. Unless room and air are part of your negotiated deal, forget it. Do not expect to be hosted for extra days so you can sightsee. How on earth does that benefit the host? Do not think that you should be paid up front or a month before class. Most classes are paid to the teacher at the conclusion of the class. Some venues or cake shows mail it within a week or two after. Know the standard and stop trying to buck that tradition.

The ninth mistake is forgetting that your hosts have lives. Don’t call when it isn’t business hours. This is your job. Late night calls are creepy and intrusive Don’t expect them to ignore their families or businesses in working with you. Yes, you might be the coolest thing since sliced bread, but their kids still have homework, the shop has graduation cakes , etc., and the host is juggling as well as possible. Be considerate. I think this one carries on after the class, also. You need to help clean the room. Wipe down tables, clean up spills on counters and floors before the stains set, put things back where you found them. People, this is all Golden Rule stuff here! Please make the hosts know that you appreciate them. The easiest way to do that is to use your magic words, “Thank you”. Thank them for inviting you. Thank them for bringing in students. Thank them for the use of their space and the graciousness of their employees.

The tenth mistake is to say that you provide everything, but you really don’t. If the students will need a box to carry home the project, they need to know that. Be realistic on what is included and help the host and students out by telling them up front what they will need to provide.

I am sure there are more things we do wrong as teachers, but let’s start by working on these 10. Next, we need to know how they decide who to bring in. I will say the widest variety of responses came here. Some hosts focus on international artists and want to bring in people that are not “regulars” in the US. Some hosts have built a name from hosting celebrity classes. A few hosts focus on established professional teachers. To a one, the hosts told me that they are hesitant to book a class with a newer sugar artist. The reasoning is simple…lack of worldly experience. Something will come up and that teacher will be less likely to know the answer because they have not seen that situation before. An experienced sugar artist has an entire arsenal of “if you do this, this goes wrong” stories. Most have earned their knowledge the hard way and the students get the benefit of their years of successes and mistakes. I brought in celebrity teachers and then started bringing in fundamental skill teachers also. I liked the mix.

Newer teachers also tend to lose a lot of class time telling you about themselves. I heard this a couple times from hosts and have witnessed it. The newer teacher wants you to understand that they are talented or ready to teach, so they want you to know their whole story. The old pros assume you know who they are and that you trust them to teach you.

One final note from the hosts. If they sell supplies, help promote their products. Look in their store to see what they carry and what you could promote related to your class. If you have products, allow them to sell them and give them a discount. If they do not want you to sell at their shop, then don’t do it! Most hosts make little to no money hosting classes. They do this to bring new folks into their store, to promote their products and to build a relationship with an established teacher. Your kindness in promoting their sales will forever be appreciated.

So, in the end, my advice is for the teachers to remember that you and the host are both running a business. Write well. Use proper photos. Thank the host. Be prepared. Be considerate. Be the type of teacher YOU would like to host.

From my selfish standpoint, I want to thank the mini classes, shop owners and cake shows that have allowed me to teach. Thank you also for sharing this advice with me and my readers. May we all do better in the future!


4 thoughts on “A Message From the Front Lines

  1. Wow…I love all that you had to say. You are describing things that are mainly common sense, but are most likely not thought of on many fronts. My particular pet peeve, that I see everywhere, is the improper use of punctuation, namely…your, you’re, etc. I am in no way perfect, but that one just gets my goat, lol.
    Well done!

  2. Ruth, again, you put it all out there. I have had disappointment at classes I’ve chosen without the benefit of a useful class description or a photo. Some times I get to see a display piece for the class on-site and think, “Wow, if only I had known this is what was offered in this class, I would have LOVED to take it!” Many teachers have complained about their classes not filling, but you can bet they’re the ones who didn’t give a proper description of their class or the items needed for it. I once had an instructor who said we needed to bring an “apple cup.” I live in a small town, and things are more difficult for cake decorating students to find anyway. I couldn’t imagine what an “apple cup” was, much less find one to bring to class. When I got there, I found out it was a portion cut away from the purple cardboard used to ship apples. It was to be used as an inexpensive former, but being a newbie at the time, I had NO idea what it was.

  3. Ruth, you are awesome! (As always) You have the absolute best blog out there, in my opininion, in this business.

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