Nine years ago, chainmaille artist Kat Wisniewski (pictured at left with a student) was looking for ways to earn additional income outside of her part-time jobs. Since she loved making jewelry, she decided to approach a local bead shop to see about teaching there. Kat now teaches throughout Chicagoland, and believes that teaching is a great way to boost an independent art or craft business. Read on to find out how she got her start, and to discover whether teaching is right for you!
My teaching experience gives me credibility as an expert in my craft. Through teaching, I am able to really learn what customers want, understand how people learn crafts, and find out how to present information so students keep coming back for more. Teaching has also helped my business by providing additional income during slow months, or months when I'm not doing shows, and contributes to my name recognition as an expert in this niche field.
Do you have what it takes to teach?
Great teachers must know how to facilitate learning in a clear, positive, and patient way. This includes being an excellent listener, a multi-tasker, and an expert in what is being taught. Teaching may not be a good choice for anyone who is not patient, who enjoys telling people what to do as opposed to showing them and letting them learn, who is boastful about her knowledge, or who is a "talker" rather than a "listener.”
When I started teaching, I taught only the few weaves or patterns I knew with almost no selection of materials, because I really didn't know what existed in the world...yet. I wish I had known the importance of being a true expert in my field. I should've known more about different materials, how to provide high-quality and easy-to-read tutorials, and how to answer the tons of questions I got.
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I made MANY mistakes, including: not being able to answer basic questions, "winging it" and confusing the students, not providing handouts and having upset students, not knowing how to fix issues that arose, over-talking and making a tough situation even worse.
Finding a venue
Local art centers and not-for-profit organizations are always looking to engage the community with a variety of classes. But I've cold-called and emailed various bead stores and art centers over the years, and have zero success with that method. I've gotten all my teaching jobs via face-to-face meetings with store owners or art directors. I've also gotten teaching jobs through other teachers who have given me glowing recommendations.
You absolutely MUST approach these places with samples of projects to be made, class descriptions and prices, your hourly rate, and a teaching or craft-related resume. You should be professional and have a website that clearly shows your expertise and lists any other teaching gigs to confirm your credibility.
Also, you have to know what you want to be paid, and the location will usually decide the rest of the class fee based on what they need to earn. I prefer to make $20 to $30 per hour for teaching, more for a private lesson. I am confident that passing on my expertise to allow someone to do what I can do is well worth that rate. If you're starting out, it is OK to ask for a lower rate. As your confidence builds, you can ask for more money, as you now have more teaching expertise.
Preparing for class
Make it as easy on the location as possible by providing tools and materials for all your students -- yep, that means you do incur the cost of having these items on hand. It is rare that students will have their own tools (unless they are more advanced and do that craft on a fairly regular basis). Students may even have poor-quality tools, so showing them what is ideal, right from the start, again allows you to be the credible expert.
Teachers absolutely MUST have well-planned, professional-looking instructions or tutorials on how to make the project. After class, people will want to make more and should NEVER be expected to only remember what happened in class. Many teachers fail to provide written tutorials and inevitably lose students who lack confidence in those instructors. If you give your students great reference material that they can take home, they will adore you for it, and you'll see them coming back for future classes!
Since 2005, Chicagoan Kat Wisniewski has been designing and creating distinctive wirework and chainmaille jewelry for her company, Elemental Art Jewelry. As of June 2013, she has published 13 projects and has been teaching for nine years. Her love and dedication to chainmaille, and specifically to her glass chainmaille designs, have allowed her to grow into being one of the nationally known experts in this very niche field. Kat has taught throughout the entire Chicagoland area for nine years and currently is teaching regularly at Blue Buddha Boutique and Lillstreet Art Center.