On laughing at student work - or not

A student asked me last week if I secretly laughed at student pots. The answer is definitely a 'no'.

I could say simply that no-one has ever made a pot that funny.

But silliness aside, there are several reasons for taking student work seriously.

  • Some years ago I did a tutor training workshop over several weeks that boiled down to one question: "Where is your attention?" Whilst teaching my attention needs to be firmly on the students, where they have come from, where they might want to go, and how best I can help them. Laughing at them is not a constructive part of supporting their learning.
  • Obviously some students are more used to working with their hands, or the stages of the design process, or better prepared with ideas of what to make. The ideas and inspirations student bring can be surprising and eye opening. Others have less transferrable skills and may initially find themselves in uncharted territory struggling with unevenness or wavering profiles, weak joints and a multitude of cracks. whatever their prior experience, not many students will make professional-standard work in a short course and I don't expect them to or judge them for not achieving such a standard. And that's totally fine, students are there to learn and their work is looked at and responded to accordingly.
  • All of them had the energy and the courage to try something new, all of them make some progress - and I commend them for that!
  • Whatever point people come in at, if they manage to progress technically or creatively, or simply relax and enjoy playing with clay after a challenging day at work or with children or whatever, then I am happy and feel I have done my job. 
  • The most gratifying thing for me is to see people's creativity activating, the moments when the flash of new understanding happens, the proud glow when a technique is mastered after sessions of struggle. 
  • I have certainly learned more about ceramics from attempting to teach it, attempting to provide instruction forces me to be clearer and more explicit about what I actually know. For a physical process it's easy to otherwise skip this step! Plus working through a whole range of methods has encouraged me to think about ways to bring different techniques and materials into my work.

Privately I am also conscious that I am only a few years out of evening classes myself and still have plenty to learn. Seeing student work reminds me of the distance I have traveled but I know the main difference between us is not innate genius or whatever but simply the amount of time I've spent practicing - if any student put a similar amount of time in they would see a similar degree of progress.

 It's therefore an honour to have people wanting to learn whatever I can share with them.