It’s been over three months now since I’ve been at Warren Wilson as the current visiting artist with the Fine Woodworking Crew. We are well over half way through our time together and I think I am finally starting to find a rhythm to this teaching thing. I think the trick for me is threefold… teach what I know, admit what I don’t, and be open to learning from those that do. In teaching what I know, I am reminded constantly that there are many ways to approach even the simplest of tasks in the wood shop. Whether it’s how to cut a dovetail joint, where to apply pressure while running a board on the jointer, or even something as mundane as dividing a sheet of sand paper, there is no right way that applies to every person in every situation. There are the basics of course, some facts that don’t change. Wood moves, it has characteristics that are important to understand in order to work successfully with it. As I teach the techniques that I know and am familiar with, I am trying to remember that real knowledge comes from trial and error. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about which direction to feed a board through the planer, or how to create a square edge, but the most effective teacher is experience. My first mistake has been to try to help the students avoid the consequences of making those mistakes. I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty sure that this style of parenting might be referred to as hovering.
Lesson #1: Pass on what I know as best I can, and then Let Go of Control.
When I got the initial call regarding the position at Warren Wilson, my first reaction was excitement. Whew! What an honor! Then, once the adrenaline settled down and my brain kicked in, my excitement was replaced by that old and familiar fear. “They are going to find out that I’m a fraud. What if I really don’t know what I’m doing?” Over the course of my life, I have learned to listen to this voice, but more as information, and as a source of comedy, not instruction. Fear robbed me of much in my life. I refuse to give it anymore. So, when I am afraid of something, I usually choose to walk in it’s direction (spiders excluded). Since one of my larger fears is being judged an idiot, this has been a hard one for me to face. Of course I want to appear knowledgeable, but the truth is I don’t know everything about working with wood. I’m discovering though, that I know more than I think. And, as I become more secure in who I am, I am finding that I don’t have to prove myself to others. So it’s getting easier to not have all the answers. “I don’t know” is a reasonable response when it’s true.
Lesson #2: I don’t have to know it all. What a relief!
If I can remember this little lesson, life gets a great deal easier and a whole lot more fun. By not fretting over the fact that I don’t know everything, I get to learn more. I believe in some circles, this is referred to as having Beginner’s Mind. These students have had the privilege of learning from many skilled artisans. By letting go of my own insecurities I am finding that they also have a wealth of knowledge from which I can draw upon. They may not know it, but I’m learning as much from them as they are from me, probably more. I have changed a few of the ways I do things in my own shop based on some of the techniques I have learned from them. When I am insecure in my life, I become more concerned with defending my position and I miss out on these opportunities to learn.
Lesson #3: Be teachable, always teachable
Thanks to the teachers in my life! That includes my parents, probably my greatest teachers of all.