Saturday, November 20, 2010

if you want to do (and do well), teach.

Teach what you learn, teach what you want to learn, there is no better way to accelerate learning than by accepting responsibility to teach. Years ago a good friend of mine  taught art in the Berryville Public School, and I would drive over some afternoons to assist in the classroom as a volunteer.  Besides having two or three masters degrees in various media, and a degree in arts education, my friend believed that teaching put him in an ideal position to learn from other people's mistakes and observe their experimentation. Teaching places you in the position of observer, not only of student work, but of your own. When you have the responsibility of showing how to do something, and you are learning yourself, there are no ends to the levels of refinement of product and technique. When you have accepted the responsibility to teach, even when you are not teaching, you wonder, how would I show this, or how would I tell how to do that? And those questions put one on an accelerated course of learning.

And so it is this morning that I embark on plan C. I had planned to make a Greene and Greene styled tool cabinet, but as I am often inclined to do, I had begun to over-complicate it with extra doors and drawers, and so I was beginning to forget the needs of my students for more basic techniques.  And I had begun overloading the chapter with things that require too much illustration and too many photographs. I have a limited budget for photos and a restricted page count and must offer a variety of projects to interest readers.

Plan C involves a change which will allow me to fine tune and better illustrate things that are essential to beginning woodworkers. And plan C involves the making of a box joint jig for the table saw, the results of which are shown below. The most exciting thing to me was that the box joint jig was made with no fiddling about. The perfectly fitting test joint shown was the very first set with absolutely no fine tuning required.

If you are not teaching and sharing what you have learned, you are actually missing out on your best.

 This goes completely against the notion that, "if you can't do, teach." I say, "If you want to do your very best, teach. You will thus assure your own growth."

In the photos below you can see the box joints cut with the jig I made this morning in about 20 minutes. The loose parts show the joint cut in white oak and the assembled joint is in elm. The purpose of the offset is to allow the use of 1/2 inch finger joints in 3/4 inch stock. Greene and Greene finger joints were generally square in shape and extended beyond the sides of the cabinets to allow them to used to decorative effect. I will use a round over bit to complete the G&G look.

1 comment:

Steve Branam said...

Yes! I agree with this completely. I find that teaching something is the best way to learn it to great depth. You have to know what you're teaching, but the requirement of then passing it on to others means you REALLY have to know it. That forces you to focus on details, so you're prepared when someone says "Yeah, but what about..."

I'm currently teaching a hand-tool woodworking night class at a local high school through the town's Parks & Rec department adult ed program. Though I'm just a hobbyist, that means I better be ready to show people real skills, not just talk about them.