Before You Teach (Art or Anything Else)

You’ve been accepted to teach at an art retreat–Congratulations!  Your ideas are fresh, you can’t wait to demo this new technique, so you are all set, right? Not so fast. Even if you have done demos and taught small groups, an art retreat is a different thing entirely. Here are some tips to make the experience good for you and for your class.

Plan Before You Apply to a Retreat
An idea and a way to teach it are the most important part of applying to a show. Right after that comes the business side of teaching–how much money do you need to charge to make a profit? If you think you don’t need to make a profit, you are just doing this because you love it, then please feel a kinship with the many artists who make a living teaching. When you don’t care what you charge, you automatically drop all art teachers’ incomes, and relegate artists to the bottom of the income heap. Some questions to consider when pricing:

  • What do participants need to complete your course?
  • How much will you provide? (for free)
  • What do you expect them to bring?
  • Do you need to provide a kit?
  • How much does each kit cost you? (This is hard to figure, but important)
  • How long does it take to assemble the kits (time is money in all of America, including your studio)
  • How long did it take you to design the class?
  • How many times can you teach this class (the more you can teach, the bigger the base to spread the cost)
  • What does the class cost you? That money is gone. How much profit do you need?
  • The best way to control how much you earn is setting a minimum number of people in the class.
  • Set a maximum number, too. There is a number over which you are not teaching, you are amusing a crowd. Don’t cross that line.

Teaching Art at Key Stages by Nigel Meager

Read and Ask Before You Accept the Contract
Don’t get so excited that you sign the contract without reading it. You’ll need to know

  • How many hours are you expected to teach? What time of day (if you are a morning person, those midnight classes aren’t for you.)
  • How much will the promoter mark up the price of your class?
  • What percentage of the total cost is yours? (This is very important. If the promoter doubles the price you want, you are receiving 50% of the price of the class, and the class may now be overpriced for the audience. This does not mean you have to accept the fuzzy end of the lollipop.)
  • How soon after you teach do you get paid?
  • What are your administrative duties? Do you have to clean the classroom? Pass out and collect evaluations? Appear at a “Meet the Artist”?
  • What is the role of evaluations? (Will you not be asked back if you get one bad eval? Two?)
  • What are the rules about eating and drinking in your class? Phone use? Disruptive behavior? (Most promoters cater to clients, not instructors, so know what your rules are and how you will be supported in them).
  • Recognize that you will have administrative work, set up and clean up. It adds time to your work hours. Make sure you get paid for this time.

    Derwent Inktense color swatches

Find out Before you Teach

  • Know the location–the food service, the bathrooms, where to purchase water, what the classroom contains.
  • Know how long it takes for you to get there, including rush hours.
  • Know how long it takes you to set up.
  • Know what you need to demo–whether you have 4 people or 2o in the class. Having a small class makes standing around your desk easy. A big class needs something else–a white board, a projector, an easel. You will have to bring these.
  • Run through the class in your studio, making a list of everything you need.
  • Keep your eye on the time. Don’t plan a class that is too long or too short. People pay for a class of a certain length. It should be that long.
  • Figure in time for questions, chatting and administrative time–evals, sign-in sheets, gathering email addresses from participants, room check.
  • Control time use in your class. Selling your book, your work, your classes takes away from learning time. Participants resent it.
  • Be mindful that your main purpose is to teach and give participants an experience  that equals the hefty sum they paid to come.

Time moves at different speeds for client and freelancer. Image: Trade King, http://tinyurl.com/7pvapn3

Manage Your Time While You Are Teaching

  • Are the participants equally skilled? If not, how you will you handle the difference? (Plan for exercises during which you can help the slower participants.)
  • If there is a sign-in sheet, wait to pass it around until everyone is there, otherwise you’ll be passing it around forever.
  • Start the class with housekeeping–your rules for phones, leaving the class, bathroom breaks, food and drink, asking questions.
  • Let the participants introduce themselves in some way. If the class is large, find out who came the farthest, their favorite class so far to avoid spending a lot of time on introductions. You can also ask them to tell them their name and why they are taking this class. Manage the answers to keep them short.
  • Introduce yourself and why you are teaching the course. Make your reason something that fills a need, not a list of accomplishments.
  • If you are allowing students to use your equipment, explain what they are expected to do with it and how to care for it.
  • Explain what is in the kit in front of them and how they will use it.
  • Give them the big picture of what you will teach and then start your class.

Act After Your Class

  • Return administrative papers
  • Write a thank-you email to the promoter and anyone whose email address you gathered in class. Be positive.
  • Spend some time evaluating your class and take notes on how to improve it or change it.
  • Keep class notes, materials list, and lessons learned for the next planning session.
  • Update your mailing list with new names.

Quinn McDonald realizes this is a super-long post. She’s hoping you will print it out and use it as a checklist as you go teach anything from art to zookeeping.

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8 thoughts on “Before You Teach (Art or Anything Else)

  1. This is a fabulous list. Very thorough. I agree with Pete that you need to make sure any equipment in the room works properly (sewing machines, irons, drills, etc). I am definitely keeping this list handy.

  2. I can add one prep stage: if your class has anything to do with computers, make sure all the computers work and have the right programs and demo files loaded. Also, find out how to contact the tech support guy to fix them!

  3. Great tips! I have to agree with Wendy–I am a former teacher and now in training for an assist. director position at a preschool–it can be a zoo!

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