I spent ten happy hours this holiday weekend teaching four adults in a beginning mosaic class at Glencliff Art Studio. I’ve spent countless hours in the classroom with 11 to 18-year-olds, but until now, zero hours teaching adults.
Here are my preliminary observations- see if they fit your teaching experience, or your experience as a student.
1) Adult brains have had a long time to build pathways and travel in them. You can see the tire tracks.
2) Adult brains have had decades of bad experiences related to showing up unprepared for life, so they are comforted by bringing something recognizable the first day. Whether it is preconceived ideas about the extent of their capabilities, or an actual project they’d like to finish, bringing something is better than coming empty-handed.
3) In a class of adults, the teacher needs to be prepared to shore up sagging self-worth. Although it is possible to relieve classroom tension by repeatedly reassuring uncertain students that they are doing a good job, it is only a temporary solution. Adults in the habit of gaining self-worth through others always experience a void when left to themselves. A better solution to the problem of self-worth is to treat each student with complete respect and show them tangible ways to teach themselves after they have left the classroom.
I teach this beginning class in such a way that each student makes a number of sample tiles of her own design, so that her mind has a number of experiences to build on, and options from which to choose the next time she decides to take nipper to tile.
Here are sample mosaics I made for the class. I include them not because they are sterling examples of fine mosaic design, but because they are the simplest concepts made of the most pedestrian materials, yet each has the lovingly handmade quality that a beginning student can expect to develop in his own work.