To Teach is to Listen

photo by David Welter

photo by David Welter

In the summer of 2014 I had my first two teaching experiences. My ice breaker was teaching a five day summer class in upholstery at the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking School in Fort Bragg, CA, followed by just a half day cameo introducing power tools as part of a five day,  Ladies Basic Carpentry class through Wild Abundance in Asheville, NC.

For me, to learn is a very introverted thing. I am listening to everything around me- not just listening with my ears, but listening with my eyes, my hands, my heart.

My fear in teaching was that I would fail my students by not knowing enough about my topic; that my job was to be this bottomless fount of facts and that I would inevitably fall short. I was also concerned that I would have to do a complete personality flip and take all my quiet listening and introversion and flip it around into being some flamboyant extrovert in order to get my lesson plan across. I was wrong.

Although my voice ached at the end of each day from so much talking, I found that I was "listening" harder than ever and that the thing that all makers learn to do is to "listen". Exchanging facts is important to learning, but as a maker I listen to every situation. I try to "hear" all facets of the complexities around me. In the circumstance of upholstery I am listening to my materials, balancing the aesthetic and physical tensions amongst them. When I am teaching I am listening to the struggles and triumphs of my students, to the questions that are asked, and to the questions that go unasked yet need answering.

I was self conscious in my entry into teaching upholstery because I am entirely self-taught in that skill set. Yet as I engage in all my varied topics as a maker, upholstery, woodworking, leather, farming, and now teaching, I am continually discovering the total sameness that underlies these topics. To learn and grow in one area is to expand in all other areas. I fully credit my time studying fine woodworking at CR for my ability as an upholsterer because I learned about process and how to set sight on something complex, see it for its many parts, and work those pieces carefully, attentively, and in the right order to an end goal.