Teaching and Learning

A new horsey friend recommended taking a look at a teacher/trainer, and in doing so I stumbled across this lovely blog post about being a good student

It got me thinking about what I do well (and what I do badly) as a teacher/student. Whenever I’m “teaching” it is generally in a loose and ongoing context. Chatting with interns, answering friends/peers questions, that sort of thing. Mostly it’s a question of sharing opinions, findings, and reasonings, since there are few “right and wrong” answers in corsetry. 

The kind of teaching I like best is intermediate onwards. This is because I am interested in the “why” of things so that’s what I find interesting to talk about. As far as the horses are concerned I’m not an intermediate rider, but I try to ask questions at a level beyond my ability anyhow. If I understand why I’m doing a thing I’ve a far better chance of really learning it. I’ve never been able to learn rules or form in the abstract. It has to make sense. 

Possibly our interns and such want simple answers… and probably I give them convoluted ones. But (without overwhelming them) I do think it’s ultimately of more value. Because what you’re trying to do isn’t impart infallible laws… what you’re trying to do is get them to use their critical thinking skills to find solutions. “What type of boning should I use?” Depends on context. “Which way should this seam go?” Depends on context. You have to conduct an orchestra of elements into an harmonious whole. 

Every skill is a language. Materials and techniques and anatomy, etc. etc. etc., are all part of the vocabulary of corsetmaking. Two words might have almost the same meaning, practically speaking, but you still make a choice to use the one that conveys your intention most accurately and subtly. Even so, we don’t teach kids how to read by bombarding them with subtleties. And that’s the side of teaching that I feel I sometimes fall down on, knowing how to break down the intermediate/advanced into absolute beginner stuff. It’s probably why I don’t teach very often, because I feel like I’m better suited to students who’ve usually already made a corset or two for example. Because they already have the basic language and so now I can help them be a bit more subtle. 

With horses, it’s the other way around and I’m the student. Horses already know their own language in great, subtle detail! I’m the one that has to learn how to communicate more clearly, and I have to learn how to ask basic questions that they can happily answer. Thankfully (or overwhelmingly, depending upon your point of view!) there are already centuries worth of documented guidance on horsemanship. Corsetry is still, despite recent explosions of interest, sometimes a bit lacking in subtlety of approach. 

At any rate, I think both ends of the spectrum (student and teacher, in any industry) require one key starting point: a calm mind. Having a calm and quiet mind is going to keep you open to learning. Worry, anxiety or fear will do the opposite. Not all stress and pressure is “bad” but being relaxed will, I feel, always help you through the clarity it affords. Whether that means asking good questions or giving good answers, whether you are the student or the teacher.

Which by extension means, in my opinion, being rather open and therefore somewhat vulnerable. Most people don’t like being vulnerable. But it isn’t synonymous with weak. You don’t have to be a push-over to be open. That said I’m definitely quite soft. Don’t be fooled by softness though, it just means we gentle people pick our battles!  

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