I will be teaching my first class in basic metal fabrication in a
couple of weeks at Creative Metalworks in Kensington, Maryland and
was hoping to get any advice from my fellow Orchidians as to what to
do and not to do as an instructor. If you have taken a class, what
did you like and not of your instuctor. Any and all insight is
welcomed. Thanks, Paul Brackna
I will be teaching my first class in basic metal fabrication in a
My first soldering was done with lead solder and brass discs and
rods. I had to solder the rods in the center of a disc, then solder
that to another disc to make a “train wheel set”. If one does not use
flux quickly enough after soldering it will collapse. It was a great
experiential lesson in soldering. All the principals involved, heat
control, solder flow, etc. apply to hard solder. I am glad I worked
on several projects from which I learned to draw wire.
If you have taken a class, what did you like and not of your instuctor.
The one thing that has always irritated me the most is when I’m
having a challenge with something, instead of coaching me through it,
the teacher takes the item away from me, and does it for me. I don’t
go to a class to come out with an item, I go to learn a skill, and if
the teacher made my piece, I didn’t learn the skill.
I’m sure there are people who would rather have the teacher do it,
especially when the frustration reaches a certain point, and, truth
be told, I have reached that point myself on occasion. So I think the
key is to find out what kind of help the student wants before taking
over. If you need to “show” in order to teach, “show” on something
else, not the student’s piece.
My first metal jewelry class instructor let each of us make whatever
we wanted. I wouldn’t recommend that, as we were all working on
totally different things & not learning all of the steps outlined in
the course description. I heard that a different instructor had
several projects (belt buckle, ring, pendant) that everyone worked
on at the same time. Much better route, in my opinion.
One of the worst habits I’ve seen in a teacher is when I took a lost
wax casting class. I asked for help or advice on what I was working
on, and she took it from me and started doing it herself. Students
won’t learn if you do it for them. Show them, but then let them do
it the rest of the way, guiding them as needed. It really bothered me
when she would take it from me and just go ahead and work on it
while I stood there watching but not doing it for myself.
When I was teaching basic electronics a few years ago, I verbalized
each step that I was teaching and why I was doing what I was doing.
Knowing the reasons behind the process is very important.
Why does an metalsmith hold a saw a certain way? Why does the flame
on the torch look a certain color and how to control it. What is the
student watching for when they are using a torch? Why is the
soldering area clean, clean, and clean. What would or will happen if
they area isn’t super clean?
Now, If I could just put this all to practical use for myself, and
perfect my own soldering problems. LOL
Make yourself notes to start so that you don’t forget something
Good luck with your class. Somewhere I have a CD made by Tim
McCreight and Bruce Baker on how to teach classes, not sure which box
it’s in. I believe that it was available through Brynmorgen Press but
I didn’t see it on their website. You may want to call Tim and ask
about it. I got mine from an auction on eBay. Good stuff.
Tim McCreight Brynmorgen Press Phone: 207-761-8217 www.brynmorgen.com
Make yourself notes to start so that you don't forget something important.
Yes! That’s very good advice.
Don’t talk too long at a time. Build in bathroom breaks.
Remember that people learn in different ways and present the
multiple ways – verbally, on paper, on a poster, by
Meet people where they are and take them further.
Be appropriate and professional. (I’ve been a student in classes
where the teacher was not.)
Finally something I can chime in on!
Here’s my advice based on the handful of classes I’ve taken. First
and foremost, I’ll echo the sentiments of a couple other posters-
don’t take the student’s work and do it for them. The only way to
really learn a hands-on skill is to do it with your hands, not your
eyes. I would also suggest that in the very first session, talk to
the class and find out what they’re interested in learning. If the
majority of the class just wants to walk out with finished pieces
then your direction will be a little different than if everyone is
more interested in learning the techniques. Come to class prepared,
with the materials ready at hand, instead of making the students wait
while you dig through messy plastic bins you’ve dragged in from your
car. Do demos right before the students attempt the skill. Not the
week before, not 35 minutes before a rambling unrelated discussion,
but right before. Expect that some students may get frustrated when
their initial attempts go awry. Ask them if they know why it went
awry, don’t lecture them as if they’re 5. Manage the class time
wisely. Don’t wait for late students or waste time looking for
materials. (Reference plastic bins mentioned previously.) Finally,
teach and enforce the proper safety requirements, such as safety
glasses when using the polisher. You don’t want to be responsible for
a completely preventable injury. If they don’t want to ever wear
safety gear again after the class, that’s on them. But don’t let it
be because they weren’t taught to use it.
I’m not a genius but I am smart enough to know a good instructor
when I have one and a craptastic instructor when I’m unfortunate
enough to have one of those. All of the above was from one class I
took with an instructor that really needs to work on her teaching
Hope this is helpful and best of luck with the class!
Hi Paul, I’m sure you’ll be swamped with replies on this, but here’s
my 0.02 worth, both as a teacher and a student. One of the most
dissatisfying things I’ve heard as a student is when a teacher
misrepresents a technical detail that I understand better than they
do. Very frustrating. The best thing I’ve heard come from a teacher’s
mouth (including mine) is a good natured “I dunno, but here’s where
I’d find out”, especially when it comes with the wry humor of knowing
we exist on an infinitely expanding horizon of knowledge, and we
never get closer to the end. Translation, the more we know, the more
there is to know. Nothing helps relieve the tension a newbie feels
more than saying something like, “so sawblades are numbered according
to tooth fineness, with the coarser blades having whole numbers
counting up, and the finer blades labeled with a number-slash-zero
counting up the other way…isn’t that stupid? This system was no
doubt created by jewellers to keep anyone else from knowing what they
were talking about!” After all, a lot of it is archaic, and arcane,
and just plain silly…
My best advice is to involve the class in the demo’s and
conversation/lecture. Otherwise their eyeballs glaze over and they
don’t retain a thing.
Best of luck,
Michele, You are absolutely correct that a student must learn to do
processes by themselves. However, there are times when showing a
process on the part of the instructor or watching on the part of the
student can be just as important. Some students have difficulty in
visualizing a process or they may not understand the hand/eye
control steps or movements. By showing them what to do and how to do
it correctly, they can better understand the process. There is no
sense in a student trying to do something over and over using
improper procedures if he/she don’t understand the mechanics.
Sometimes that may take a series of demonstrations.
The mark of a good instructor is in perceiving a student’s lack of
understanding of or ability to do a process. Then it might take one
demonstration or it might take several. When the instructor is sure
the student knows what and how to do something they can turn the
student out to do it themselves. This can take years of instructional
experience which some excellent jewelers never attain. After all,
some are meant to teach, some are not!
On the other hand, the student needs to understand that the secret to
success is going from failure to failure without losing their
enthusiasm!! The instructor must understand when they have reached
(or are approaching) the point of “ok, I’ve lost it”!! Cheers from
Don in SOFL!!
You are correct, there is little to be learned from everyone doing
something differently together!! Jewelry making processes are at
best confusing and somewhat mysterious to the new student. Students
come into class with varied and different backgrounds as well. Thus,
it is essential that everyone start from the most basic technique(s)
and grow together until each one can begin to branch off to their own
area of interest. My experience tells me that approximately 24 hours
of careful and close instruction are required to get beginning
students through the 8 or so primary subjects. Even then some will
grasp the essentials faster than others. But I find those who do
often progress quickly and move on to more complex processes. Those
who don’t sometimes must go over basic processes a number of times
before they can progress.
My students all must do three projects as a group; each designed to
teach a primary function that builds on the previous one but that
allows the student some latitude of design or function. At the end of
these sessions, they are given more freedom of design and process but
kept under some control that I feel will not get them into trouble.
At that point, they must decide if they want to continue in making
jewelry. I then suggest a number of possibilities, keyed to where I
think they are at that time, that will give them practice in what
they have learned and just enough new technique to keep them
progressing. Some never get out of a certain boundary while others
I must say, “it ain’t always easy being a jewelry instructor but it
can be very very rewarding!!”
Cheers from Don in SOFL.
Hi, I agree with everything that was already said about teaching :
-have all your students working on a similar project
-never take over their work
-always explain why things are done this way or an other I would add
a few things:
-Always start the first class with a workshop tour, focussing on the
tools students will use first and safety rules.
-Set up your project through techniques: for example : annealing,
texturing, soldering could be taught through a textured ring project.
It is simple, quick and rewarding. Then add some challenge.
-Try to get them to answer their own questions : apart for some
"tricks of the trade", most of our techniques can be figured out
through theoretical knowledge, logic and common sense.
When a student ask me something, I always ask him back what he
thinks, then I give some theoretical input and ask him again what he
thinks. Most of the time he comes out with the right answer.
-Let them do some mistakes: although it is sometimes frustrating to
watch something going wrong without stopping it, it is sometimes
When I see a student about to do something wrong, I ask him to tell
me what he is about to do and why. If he realises that it is not
wise, all is fine and no mistake will happen. If he still wants to do
it his “wrong” way and if it may destroy to much of his work, I ask
him to try on scrap pieces of metal first.
Here again I always try to help them find their own answers. It is
more challenging and rewarding for them and moreover it gives them
more confidence and autonomy.
I could carry on forever about teaching… but well, here is what is
the most important to me.
Good luck with your first class, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I
do! Juliette Arda
For many years, I have begun each of my classes with a brief talk on
what the class will consist of, a short shop tour, safety concerns, a
little about my background, followed by showing examples of work
which helps illustrate the basic techniques which we will be working
in. I explain that there are no set projects, and that everyone will
have to come up with ideas their own for what they propose to make.
The first class, I explain, is “my” class, for teaching basics. All
the rest of the classes are “theirs” and I become their “slave” to
help them create what they want. I display a wide variety of books on
contemporary jewelry for students to look at, to stimulate their
creative process. After that verbal description and show-and-tell,
the entire class comes over to the annealing/ingot making bench,
where I introduce the Prestolite (and other torches) explain about
how ingots are melted and poured, and then supervise each student as
they melt sterling and pour an ingot. Everyone makes a successful
ingot, and the “theater” of melting metal and flame becomes a highly
I want everyone to “get over” their fear of fire, and get intimate
experience on how metal is formed, how it moves, and what annealing
does. We all take our wire ingots over to the rolling mills and I
supervise them in making their own square, rectangular, 1/2 round,
or round wire, which then can be twisted and re-rolled if they like.
I have found that this hands-on coming into the brain
through the fingertips, is the most powerful form of learning.
At the end of a 2 1/2 hr. class, many of my students have finished a
bangle bracelet or ring, and have learned how to create their own
wire stock from start to finish. You just can’t imagine just how
much first-hand metalsmithing knowledge can be learned by beginning
students in just over 2 hours. At the end of this first class, my
students have had an eye-opening hands-on experience, and can easily
see the potential of what their hands can create.
You have been, so far, the best teacher I’ve had. I love the way you
show but don’t take over a student’s piece unless they ask you. You
allowed us to do it for ourselves. You’ve given me the basic skills
to feel confident in trying new ideas out on my own. Would love to
take some more classes with you and who knows, perhaps one day I’ll
be able to.
On the other hand, the lady who taught the lost wax casting class I
took before I met you, shouldn’t be teaching. I used to hate the way
she’d grab a piece out of my hands when I asked a question and
instead of showing me how it was to be done, actually went and did it
the rest of the way. Grrrr… Thank goodness you’re not like that
but because of her, I’m rather turned off to the lost wax process and
don’t think I’ll go back to it unless I can find a decent teacher.
Now as for you, my friend, I got my oxy/acetylene torch, just bought
a Little Torch to use with it so I have both sizes and actually
bought a jeweler’s bench. Wahoo! Of course I’m out of work again so
no more buying for me. But I have enough to start. Soon as I make
room in the studio for the bench. I’ll try to make it to the next
meeting… I hope.
Miss you. Hugs to Angie.
However, there are times when showing a process on the part of the instructor or watching on the part of the student can be just as important. Some students have difficulty in visualizing a process or they may not understand the hand/eye control steps or movements. By showing them what to do and how to do it correctly, they can better understand the process.
Yes, but you don’t show them on the student’s piece.
The mark of a good instructor is in perceiving a student's lack of understanding of or ability to do a process.
Absolutely correct. When I was teaching, I quickly learned that it
was crucial to learn to read each student’s level of understanding
and adjust accordingly. Sometimes, all you have available to read is
an expression on their face, but sometimes the more confident ones
will tell you they don’t understand, but it’s still down to you to
pinpoint exactly what it is they don’t get and what you can do to fix
On the other hand, the student needs to understand that the secret to success is going from failure to failure without losing their enthusiasm!!
This is another thing I used to tell my students - that it doesn’t
matter if an experiment didn’t work, as they could learn just as
much from it failing, as they could from it succeeding, and sometimes
even more. It helped them to look at things from a different
perspective and they were more likely to get the results they wanted
next time. We’re talking science lessons, but I guess such things are
transferrable to other subjects.
I quite fancy teaching jewellery making at some point in the future -
when I’ve had a lot more experience myself of course - but I think
one to one teaching would be my preference. All the best in your
teaching endeavours. I hope you and your students enjoy the
I agree with Trish who recommended that each student work on the
same project, assuming that the project is teaching multiple or
However, it is important to be prepared for students that work at a
wide variety of speeds. Allowing enough time for the slow students
to keep up is important, but don’t make the fast students sit
without anything to do. I like teachers that have extra little
mini-projects that can fit in if a student has extra time.
I taught a beginning jewelry making class a number of years ago and
here are a few things I learned:
Students want to MAKE SOMETHING and usually it is beyond their
capability. They didn’t really want my first lecture on design. (too
bad) Their skill levels are all over the map. Ladies with long
fingernails and manicures want to make jewelry without messing up
their nails. (too bad) There will be questions you cannot answer, but
you can find the answers. You may make a few friends for life.
Here are a few things I would do now. I would teach specific projects
that teach specific techniques. I also use siiver, not brass or
copper so they can wear the piece, its fine to practice cutting,
sawing etc on those metals but for the finished
product…silver…it’s not that cost prohibitive. Teach them how to
make a simple band ring, cutting stock, bending, filing and
soldering and the polishing. There is always room for the
exceptionally creative person to make a ring with a little more
design than the plain one, but also gives the average person a
finished project. If you look in basic jewelry books, they usually
take you through some basic projects to build your skills. I think a
design lesson is important if someone wants to pursue this hobby…I
also brought in all of my jewelry books ( about 20 or so) so they
could see what was available and offered to order tools through our
local supply house in quantity to get discounts. Be patient with
those wanting to set a large faceted/cab stone on first project and
try not to discourage them…you never know what someone can manage
to pull off, but you also dont want them too dissappointed if you
know the task would be daunting for you to do let alone a newbie.
Hope this helps…good luck.