I feel negative, upset and like a failure.
I’ve come home early from a Sunday afternoon class that should have been fun, interesting and a safe place to learn a new skill.
Instead, I’ve wasted my money and my time. I’m annoyed with myself because I can’t do the drawing we were learning, but I’m more annoyed that the teacher was so bad I couldn’t succeed.
I attended a Drawing Faces workshop with a local artist. After introductions, the very first activity was to draw the face of the model sitting in front of us, in five minutes. We were told we’d then turn the page and not refer back to it until the end. I liked this, we’d have a before and after image so we could see how far we’d come. Cool idea. Also the teacher walked around behind us observing, so she was getting a good idea of our relative skills, approach and styles. All good so far.
When the teacher called that exercise to an end, she picked up a sheet of paper from our table, where there was some steps of how to draw a face, including guide lines for the middle of the face and so on. She commented that none of us had drawn those symmetry lines, despite the handouts being on the table. The majority of the group, me included, said they were complete beginners, and we were being told off for not doing something! I’ve been in sessions where something like this is handled with delightful humour, but this was the beginning of a session without fun.
Demonstration of how not to teach
Next was a demonstration at a flip chart of how to get the proportions of the face. Before the class I was choosing where to sit and thought to check with the teacher whether she was left- or right-handed, as I wanted to be able to see the demonstrations properly. She assured me that she would work so that everyone could easily see and it didn’t matter.
The proportions of the face explanation was messy and complicated. I’ve seen a couple of YouTube videos explaining how to get the proportions right, so that facial features are in the right place. I get the gist, but haven’t properly sat down for an afternoon studying it and practicing. So the concept wasn’t new, but I found the muddled explanation hard to follow and repeat. Because of it’s lack of clarity in description and clear process, I was already in cognitive overload.
We were following, and drawing, step by step. But it wasn’t clear what to do. When she came round to check, she drew in the eyes on my drawing. I’m really pleased she helped me, but she hadn’t told us to draw the eyes, so I hadn’t done it.
As she explained the proportions to do with nose and lips I hadn’t seen her actual drawing as I was sitting to the left and when she drew, her body was blocking the drawing. No problem, she said she would make it so that everyone could see, so I patiently waited. She then turned the flip chart to our half of the room and asked if we understood. Well, no, because I hadn’t seen it, so I had to ask her to explain it again.
She went on to use a skull to try and explain parts of the head. It was hard work to get the learning points from what she was saying, but I did and it was useful. It then seemed that she decided, rather than had planned, that we would draw the skull next. Sort of OK for our table of four people, with the skull on it. However the other table of four couldn’t see it – so she had to improvise the activity and get them to draw from the handout sheet.
Five moments of learning need
Then I found my next problem. We’d been working so far on the concept of a face straight on. Now I had a skull at an angle to draw. There is an argument of applying concepts and adapting them, but if the basic concepts aren’t understood and demonstrated, it’s a stretch to move on. To use the Five Moments of Learning Need model, I was at “new” (learning something for the first time) but being asked to do something at the “more” stage (expanding on what has been learned).
I was feeling miserable by this time but decided to plough on. I’ve spent my money, travelled to the class, I did want to learn and the woman could obviously draw. So I tried and didn’t do a great job. She came to help me, pointing out where I’d gone wrong. I questioned and wanted to refer to the scant handout to help me, but I couldn’t as it was on the other table because of the impromptu activity. This left me in limbo as I didn’t have something to refer to to help me with the basics that hadn’t been delivered very well.
To give her dues, the teacher went back to the flip chart to highlight how I could use the proportions concept on the angle for perspective. But it was just too much. Through poor teaching I was muddled from the beginning and was failing miserably. This was supposed to be a fun Sunday afternoon learning activity and I was closer to tears of failure than I was of joy.
The teacher hadn’t prepared the right activities, handouts or demonstrations for a group “with very little experience of drawing”. She didn’t speak loud or clear enough and simply wasn’t lighthearted or enjoyable as a presenter.
Time to escape
As we came to the half way mark I made my excuses and left. Now I have to consider what to do next. Ask for a refund? Give feedback? Go back to another class from the company, but not the teacher?
I’m a reasonably confident and robust person, and I left this class feeling terrible. My mood hasn’t improved much in a couple of hours since. This is the power that a bad teacher, trainer or facilitator holds over individuals and groups. I love my art, I love learning, but I’m disappointed that I even bothered leaving the house today.
What about people who have had poor learning experiences? Something like this will put them off for a long time. No wonder learning and development can have a bad name when things like this happen in what should be a fun place, let alone work and the related pressures and stresses.
How can we stop people having these poor experiences with poor teachers? Put them all through training? That’s a great idea, except that so many training courses still cover things not empirically endorsed, like learning styles. Or they do a day or weekend and think that they can teach. I’ve been training people for over 20 years and there’s still stuff I can’t do well.
Another tact is that I could be over sensitive, about something I couldn’t do. Or perhaps, because I’m in the learning profession I have much higher standards of the people teaching me. Both of those could be true. But I’m going to an evening art class where, quite frankly, the teacher isn’t very good. But I go back week after week because I am learning something, so I know I can see past poor delivery.
When we are teaching, training or facilitating something, it’s our responsibility to be the best we can be for the people attending. No decent person, including this teacher, I’m sure, wants people to feel this way in their class or course. But we do have to be self aware enough to see what’s going on at the time, be open to the feedback and change, curios to develop ourselves and honest enough to know if we shouldn’t be teaching.
Normally I like to wrap up my articles and blog posts somehow, but I’m left not sure what we as an industry can do about part-time teachers, or what I’ll do about my feedback to the company. Perhaps you have had similar experiences to share and we’ll find a way to end this post together. For now, I think I’m going to play with my other art materials and find the fun again.
There’s been quite the response to my tweet, which has been lovely from my PLN (personal learning network).
— Jo Cook (@LightbulbJo) February 16, 2020
What’s really interesting is that someone direct messaged me, saying “I did a drawing faces class a while ago that was a similar level of awful and demotivating, your description sounded very familiar. It was like 9 months ago and I haven’t drawn a face since.”
Turns out, this was the same course with the same teacher. The person also said on DM, “I gave very clear specific feedback on the form but never heard back.” Perhaps the teacher had the feedback and had improved, though, obviously not enough. And it’s pretty poor that the company hadn’t gone back to my contact.
To be fair, they have contacted my for feedback, so I’ll let you know how that goes.
And here’s the response from the company after I sent them a link to my blog and asked for a refund:
“Apart from one occasion (presumably the person who contacted you via Twitter), the teacher’s workshops for us have received very positive feedback, so we’re so sorry that your experience was negative. We will of course pass on your comments, as we did on the previous occasion.
In the second part of the session, students were set much more independent tasks and the teacher was able to spend time with each person giving individual support and clarifying any aspects they felt they needed more explanation with.
As a professional teacher myself, working for many years in secondary schools, I do appreciate the importance of feedback on lessons and the need for differentiated activities and support when, as was the case yesterday, there was a range of abilities and experience in the class. This will of course be fed back into future workshop planning.”
They are also giving me a refund. Hopefully that’s a learning experience all round and good can come from it.