Last week I wrote two posts on how instructors can handle difficult students. (You can read the first one here and the second one here.) In all fairness, I should add a post about less-than-idea instructors and what students can do to get some help when they are in a class with an instructor whose class feels like
cruel and unusual punishment.
1. The class is way beyond your expertise. The best way to avoid a class you don’t understand is to read the catalog description carefully and don’t reach beyond your ability. If the class says “participants should have completed at least three art journals” and you’ve done one, don’t think, “Well, I’ve done one, so I know what I need to know. After all, it’s just more of the same.” You learn techniques and skills over time. Read the equipment list carefully. If you aren’t completely comfortable with all the equipment, the class is over your head.
2. The teacher works too fast, talks too fast, or demos too fast. Instructors who have taught a class several times may talk fast because they are familiar with the material. Look around the class. Does anyone else look confused? Are they all frantically taking notes? Raise your hand and say, “This is a little fast for me, could you repeat that last sentence, please?” If other people agree with you, you did everyone a favor. If you are the only one who is constantly lost, speak to the instructor at the break. Find out if there is a basic class you missed. Maybe you can ask for a refund or to re-take the same class later. This is harder at a retreat. Ask to exchange seats so you can sit next to people who are keeping up and follow their lead.
3. You have special needs. Come early and talk to the instructor if your request is simple–you need to sit up front or you have to leave at a certain time. The instructor cannot drop everything to help you, s/he is setting up the class. Do not ask the instructor to carry in your equipment, borrow her supplies, or make demands of the class that don’t take everyone into consideration. For example, if you are highly allergic to peanuts, do not expect the instructor to stop all other students and ask if they have eaten peanuts in the last day, then forbid them from coming into class. If you have special needs that require pre-planning, contact the instructor ahead of time. Come prepared with a plan. An instructor can’t know what to do for medical emergencies, or even what constitutes an emergency for you. Explain and ask for what you need weeks ahead of the class, not the morning of the class.
4. You want feedback on your project. If the instructor says she’ll come by everyone’s table, make sure you are at your place when the instructor comes by. If she skips you, raise your hand and ask her to take a look at your work.
5. The instructor seems to hate you. It’s easy to assign emotions and motives to other people. Often, we make up what we expect to see, then follow through as if it were true. Ask for what you need. Do you need something repeated? Ask. Don’t assume the instructor is purposefully skipping information to confound you. Do you have a question? Ask. If the instructor says that’s the next step, make sure you know what this one is.
6. The instructor insults you, tells racist jokes, or behaves inappropriately. Express your concern to the instructor first. If no help is offered, no explanation given, then go to the promoter, or office manager and explain the situation calmly and ask to take the course from another instructor or ask for a refund. Do not wait till the class is half over to do this. You may have to represent justice for a whole class.
Communication is the culprit in most cases. An instructor has a class with a wide range of talent, skill, patience, and ability. She has to try to keep everyone going at the same pace without knowing their preferred learning style or processing time. Asking for what you need and being patient is a big plus in a student. Without clear communication on both sides, no teaching takes place.
--Quinn McDonald is an instructor, writer, and certified creativity coach. She has been a student and an instructor and knows there are two sides to every encounter.