The very first time I taught a class I was so nervous, I spent most of the hour before sat on the loo! It was 2008 and the downturn had hit and it was a case of ‘do or die’ for my shop. I had done training with my staff in corporate retail but this was different. People were paying to have my knowledge. They were depending on me for an enjoyable time. I had tried to find advice and look for books which might impart any words of wisdom on my plight but none seemed to be there…was there such a thing as an ‘Idiots guide to teaching’?... Consequently with the first 6 willing victims and a whole load of nerves, I launched into what was to become my very favourite part of having a needlework shop. As my self-confidence grew and my loyal following escalated, my courses became a critical source of revenue and pretty much saved the business. So it is, that for any shy retailers, WI & craft groups, craft therapists, or keen exponents of the art this post is for you…….concerning hints and tips on holding a needlework class…….
For the benefit of this piece ‘Pupils’ can be ‘Girls’, ‘Ladies’, ‘Poppets’ , ‘Darlings’ , ‘Chicklets’ or whatever you fancy!!
If you aren’t any of the following ; Don’t take a class!
Patient. One of the phrases you’ll hear the most is ‘I’m really stupid’ or ‘You’ll need loads of patience with me’ . If you don’t want the joy of seeing the least confident person around your table shine, then don’t bother.
Organised. In deed and thought. I’ll talk more about physical organisation later, but you must be mentally organised and keep your pupils on track with the task amid conversation.
Unshockable. If you are too sensitive to listen to conversation about sex, the menopause, men, and the best brand of vibrator, then stop reading now.
Observant. Of those who lack confidence and of uncomfortable conversations.
Discrete. What get said in class stays in class.
Planning Your Class.
- Keep it simple!
- Keep it achievable within the time. It is all about expectations, value for money and making your pupils feel as if they have achieved something solid. If the quicker s pupils finish, they can buy another kit /materials and start another!
- Make sure you provide nice clear instructions
- Plan and time your class
- Make sure your pupils have a list of things to bring or extra materials on their booking form.
First Off – Get Organised.
First of all organise yourself and your table. I used to do this the night before. At each place at the table I would place:
- 8 inch hoops that clamp to the table.
- A bookstand for instructions/kit to stand on.
- A tray made of the top of an ice cream tub, inlayed with velvet which is perfect for beads and needles and keeps threads etc. tidy.
- I would keep spare scissors & unpickers in a jar in the middle of the table and all materials were within the kits which I would prop on the book stand.
- Wet Wipes ; really handy to keep hands clean.
- On Stand By you should have: A bin, clip on magnifiers and good daylight lamps. A safe ironing board and iron. Remember of course you’ll need relevant extension leads and sockets. A book of stitches for Left Handers is also great, as is a stash of reference books relevant to the subject being taught.
- Your own notes & timings
Before a class.
- Before a class, arrive early and get some ‘you’ time. Have a good breakfast and go over your notes. It doesn’t matter what else you don’t know, know your stuff for what your pupils are paying for!
- Set up your teas and coffees. The biggest asset for me were thermal jugs; Just fill ‘em and leave ‘em. Have a notepad & pen to the ready to take milk and sugar details. This will save you loads of messing around and you can keep them for lunch and tea time.
- Double check your table for items missing.
- Have a timed plan to the ready and make sure everyone has a coffee, lunch and tea break to rest eyes.
- It is really great if you can have a docile spouse or easily bribed teenager to help out during the day to do the washing up in between! Keep your help designated and don’t be tempted to take any help from your group. It makes things crowded, pulls you off track and gives the appearance of having favourites.
As your pupils arrive…
- Be there to greet them and take coats. Some will be nervous! A hug never hurts if they are the huggable type!
- A nice cup of coffee always helps to break the ice and if you aren’t good at remembering names, get stickers! Introduce your pupils to each other and if you have any newbies, let other newbies know they aren’t the only one!
- Introduce yourself if you need to but don’t go into your life history! They are there already and you don’t need to prove anything other than you can teach them what they are there to learn!
- Say what your pupils will be doing, give a timeframe and describe the materials you will be using and what you want to aim to have done buy the end of the day.
- Most of all SMILE, and you can get away with anything!...
Tips to having a Smashing day
- Manage Expectations and do not expect perfection. Remember why your pupils are there. All will be there to learn, but they are also there to get away from the kids or the annoying husband. Some are there because they are single and look forward to the social interaction with likeminded people more than the learning. They all have different backgrounds, different demands placed on them and you must be able to manage feelings with care. Remember you are providing so much more than a sewing class. You are providing a safe haven for a few hours where your pupils can have a bit of ‘me’ time.
- Keep conversation light and upbeat, don’t let a single person dominate it (unless they are amusing and clearly adored by the rest!) and be prepared to Butt In! Sometimes confidences will be disclosed and you may hear some quite sad stories, but remember too, you are not a therapist either and you are not there to take responsibility for the woes of the world ; just make them better for a while. Try and Keep control of conversation so that it is not to the detriment of the teaching and if topics of death or illness or you see others are not comfortable with a subject, then change it!!
- Keep moving around the table and stay on your feet! You should be able to judge those who are experienced and confident and those who aren’t and so give more time to the slower pupils without neglecting the others. This is absolutely essential as once behind, they feel stupid, pressured and suddenly their day can unravel very quickly!! Always praise and encourage every second! ‘No you are not stupid; I’m here to teach you!’
- Don’t over-praise those who are confident and talented to the detriment of the newbies! At the end of the day you can say how gorgeous their work was.
- If someone finds a way of doing something easier than you have shown them, then that’s fine! If the results are the same and they are happy, that’s great!
- If you are asked a question and you don’t know it, don’t blag it!! Openly ask if anyone else knows the answer and go and look it up! I would always photocopy/print off the page where I’d found the answer to the query and hand it to the enquirer. You’ve learned something new and you’ve shown you value their questions!
Dealing with ‘Tricky’people!
A negative or disruptive person can RUIN the day, not only for you, but for the rest of your pupils and it is really important to know how to deal with them. If I sound harsh, remember I write this from the point of view of a business woman whose first priority is to those who have paid good money to learn and have a nice day.
Negative pupils can induce mutiny and will generally try to pass their pessimism on to the less confident pupils. Those who moan about being ill can make everyone else around them feel bad or worried for them and know-all’s who pick holes in everything you are doing take time away from the others in the class and make for a bad atmosphere.
This has happened to me about twice and my experience is that my pupils have been nothing but supportive and sympathetic and you usually find that stronger personalities within a group will often sort out the situation for you! However remember!....
This is YOUR course and YOU call the shots! You are perfectly entitled to suggest that they might like to go home or that they may be ‘a bit too advanced’ for your course. There are wonderful things called Cabs.
At the end of the day…get out the cake!
By the end of the day, eyes are getting tired so try and aim the finish for about 3.30 or 4pm. A lovely way to finish the day is with everyone tidying away their things and placing their completed work on the table to photograph. Get the tea and cake out so that everyone can wind down and have a group discussion about what each pupil has learned and what they will take away from the course.
Don’t be offended if they have just come to socialise – If everyone leaves happy, then you’ve done your job well!
Most of all HOME TIME IS HOME TIME!!!!! Much as you don’t want to be rude, once the course has officially finished, it is time for you to wind down, tidy up, and take some notes about the day. Think about what went well and perhaps what didn’t go so well and learn from it next time.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of saying goodbye to a crew of cheerful ladies who have sewn, laughed, eaten cake and learned a new skill. And for all those who ever said ‘Well she’s not formally trained, you know’, I can honestly say that at least I brought the joy of needlework to many, and a bit of esteem and self-belief to those who needed it.