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Teaching SCA Classes

Preparing to Teach

Teaching in the SCA is a great way to meet other people who are interested in the same things you are, as well as get the warm feeling that you're helping others. Classes are usually organized ahead of events, so when you decide to teach a class, pick an event and contact the class coordinator several months in advance. If there is no class coordinator listed in the newsletter announcement for the event, but you believe classes are being offered, contact the autocrat. Include the following information:

  • Your SCA name
  • mundane name and contact info
  • the title of the class
  • description of the class
  • duration of the class
  • preferred time(s) to teach
  • whether the class is limited by sign-ups
  • fee for handouts or materials (if applicable)
  • whether it is open to children (specify ages, if adult needs to be present)
  • special needs (tables, running water, ability to heat, etc.)

You will be expected to bring supplies if it is a hands-on class. You should also prepare a handout. Many SCA teachers do not prepare a handout, but I think you owe it to your students to give them something, if only an outline upon which they can take notes. Per SCA tradition, teachers commonly ask to be reimbursed for the costs of printing handouts and providing materials, but it is not generally accepted to charge students for the class itself. If you wish to get paid for teaching, you will probably do better to arrange classes through a non-SCA venue.

Make sure you know your material well ahead of the class date. Make notes for yourself and go over all of it in your head several times so you won't forget things. Dress appropriately and pull your hair back so people can see your face. Think positively! Smile, greet students and make eye contact as you speak. Rehearse speaking loudly and clearly and asking the students if they have questions. Breathe. Remember that you're the expert, and they have come to your class to learn from you. Even if it turns out that one of them knows a lot more than you do, remember that you are still the teacher of the class... more about that later.

What to expect

The number of students you should expect varies with the type of class and the event at which you're teaching. At a large war like Pennsic, expect at least 20 people. At a very small schola, be glad if you get 3. If you don't get anyone, don't take it personally! Look at outside factors like whether your class matched the theme of the event first and then consider re-writing your class description to make it sound more exciting.

You may ask people to sign up for the class ahead of time, especially if you need to limit the number of students in class because you have a limited amount of handouts or materials. If you request a sign-up sheet REMEMBER TO PICK IT UP BEFORE YOUR CLASS! It is quite common for people on the list to not show up, and it is also common for students who didn't make the list to want to stay and "audit" the course. You have the right to allow them to stay or ask them to leave if they are not on the list.

I did adult training professionally, and one of the things I learned in "Train the Trainer" class is that you shouldn't expect yourself to be confident with a class until you've taught it 3 times. By the third time you'll be able to get your timing right, head off common problems, etc. So don't feel you have to push yourself to teach a different class each time occasion arises; continue teaching the same class because you'll get new students and they'll benefit from having an experienced teacher. 

Tips & Techiques

Pick a topic you're enthusiastic about. It's hard to be nervous when you're sharing something you enjoy talking about. You don't have to be the most knowledgeable person in the world about your topic, just someone with enough of a clue to guide a discussion.

Make sure you have some water on hand and eat beforehand. If you suffer from hypoglycemia and think you may need sugar during class, have something small like Tic-Tacs on hand that won't interfere with your ability to speak.

Ask a friend or one of the first few students in class to assist you with distributing handouts and materials and collecting money.

Appoint a timekeeper who will let you know when the class time is halfway through and when you have 10 minutes left. I'm often guilty of it, but it's rude to be late getting out of the classroom if another class is coming in. Consider re-structuring your class or request a longer class time next time you teach.

Ask students what they expect to learn at the beginning of class and ask them at the end whether the class met their expectations. Listen to all of their suggestions and later decide whether you want to implement them.

Another trainer trick: Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Adult learners need repetition. Re-state difficult concepts multiple times using alternate wordings. Understand that different people need to hear things in different ways in order for it to sink in. Now go back and re-read the previous three sentences... don't they essentially all say the same thing without insulting your intelligence? Try it yourself! And remember to summarize at the end.

While teaching, try to answer questions immediately but don't be afraid to put someone off for a minute if you need to finish what you're doing/saying. Just don't forget you promised to answer that question next! Don't forget to ask for questions as you finish each new concept or section of your lecture.

Don't be afraid to ask your class questions! You can ask questions at the beginning to gauge their existing level of knowledge. You can encourage opinions and discussion. And you can use questions as a review, stressing the main points you want them to remember.

Use your notes or outline. If you are someone who finds it easy to ramble in front of an audience, carefully limit your tangents and stick to the plan. If you are not used to speaking in front of people, use your notes to remind you of additional things to say.

Don't rely too heavily on showing the students books. I used to take a crateful of books to classes I was teaching until I realized that sometimes I wouldn't even touch them. Students don't have time to read in class, and it's more important that you put the bibliographical information in the handout so they can find the books themselves later. If there are specific pictures you want to show the class, mark them with a sticky note attached to the page. Pick a specific time in the class when you intend to show the picture and mark it in your class notes.

If a whiteboard or blackboard is available, use it! Consider bringing your own and setting it up on an easel if you have some specific concepts or diagrams to show visually.

Give your students a means of contacting you later if they have questions. Few ever do, but it makes them feel better to know they can. If possible, reserve the half hour after class for continuing to work with individuals who are determined to understand but didn't have enough time in class. Most students are willing to follow you to a common area if you have to vacate the classroom. I also find I need that half hour after class in case I meet someone who has similar interests or someone I've met on email but not in person... it gives me a chance to talk a little bit and exchange contact info.

Specific advice for hands-on classes

Bigger is usually better when you're learning, so for hands-on classes use large-scale materials if possible and pay attention to which materials are easier for the beginning students to work with. This is especially true in the fiber arts, where larger yarns/cords are easier to see and manipulate than small threads.

Set expectations up front; for my netting classes I always tell them that all we're going to do is learn one basic knot and they WILL mess up and they WON'T be happy with their first piece, and they need to forget everything they know about crocheting, knitting, tatting, etc. I also stress that they MUST practice afterwards or they'll never remember what they did. They groan and say they've never had an SCA class with homework before, but I make them promise they will try it after they get home.

Break everything up into small steps and document the steps in the handout. For some things you can develop a "rhyme" or "saying" that describes the steps and repeat it while the students are working.

When giving complicated instructions, insist that the students put their work down and just watch you the first time (explain that you understand they learn by doing, but just please go along with it for your sake - people think they can listen and make their hands work at the same time but they can't), then the second time they can do it with you, then the third time talk them through it while you go around and watch.

Remember to go around to look at each individual's work, not just the ones that ask for help, and praise each one even if all you can say is "well you almost got that last one, keep trying and I know you'll get the next one right". Sympathize when their fingers or the needle won't do what they want them to and tell them how confusing it was for you when you started (even if it's a white lie).

Notice the common errors and tendencies of your students. That will help you teach better because you can address some errors before anyone ever makes them. Also, when you tell someone "lots of people start out doing that, but you'll find with practice that it's better to do this" they know not to take it as personal criticism because they're not alone in their mistake.

Ack! What do I do now?!

During the course of your class you may run into problems. That's OK. Everyone does.

Forgot very important materials

I don't care what you forgot... don't give up on the class! Remain calm, and get creative with your options. I once taught a hands-on netting class where I forgot to bring any type of string or yarn with which to do the netting. A student ended up donating some of her hand-spun yarn to the cause. It wasn't ideal, but it at least got the students started. If you can't do the hands-on activity, talk the class through as much of it as you can so they can try it on their own.

If you forgot all your notes and handouts, get some blank paper before class and jot down reminders to yourself about what you wanted to talk about. Stall and get your head together by asking students what they want to learn from this class... hopefully they'll remind you of some topics you wanted to touch on. And get contact info from the students so you can mail or email the missing materials to them later... and then follow up and send them as you promised!

One thing I advise against is collecting money for materials that you promise to deliver later. I once took a Pennsic class where the instructor charged her normal class fee, saying she would mail us the missing piece of the kit. I was quite bitter when the next year's Pennsic came and I hadn't received it yet! Fortunately she had the items at Pennsic and remembered that she owed me one, but I still didn't like feeling such mistrust in the meantime. If you do collect money for something to be delivered later, make sure your students have a way to get a hold of you as well as vice versa.

Nervous, lost your place completely, gave out misinformation or screwed up instructions

This happens all the time to even the most experienced of teachers. In the case of bad instructions or information, clearly identify what you said wrong. If you try to ignore your error, the students will only be confused, and may not listen to the rest of your class if they believe your word to be untrustworthy. Everyone makes mistakes, and the class will likely be very patient with you if you quickly apologize, admit to the error, and correct it as clearly as you can.

When you lose your train of thought, try to regain it in a quiet manner. You can try to cover it up (by pretending to look for a picture in a book or staring at your notes), or you can just admit to your class that you need a minute to get your thoughts in order. Don't panic. Breathe. Ask your class where you were, if necessary.

One student tries to take over the class

If someone does something particularly unforgivable, you may ask them to leave the classroom.  You should not have to exercise authority, but if it becomes necessary remember you have the right to. Adults that act as children should be treated as such.

However a much more common problem in SCA classes is the student who takes over the class, either because they feel they are knowledgeable about the topic, or they have a lot of questions. They don't usually do it maliciously, but they can really get to be a pain when you're trying to follow an orderly class plan and they keep dragging you off in different conversational directions.

When a question comes up that you were planning on answering later, respond "actually, I'm going to cover that later" and then later after you cover the point, ask the person if their question was answered. If a question's answer involves a lot more than you wanted to go into in this class, tell the student so and offer to speak to her later. If the student insists on interrupting too often, firmly say "I'd just like to get through this section and then I'll take questions". Remember that the other students may find that person's questions as annoying as you do, and if you handle them in a smooth, confident manner the other students will respect you highly.

Most people who attend your class and discover that they know more than you do will offer bits of information politely, or will contribute to the discussion in a manner where it is clear that they respect you as an authority and are merely trying to add to the general education of the whole class. In this case it is easy to bolster both you and the student by deferring questions to them if you think they can answer them better than you. In order to be in control of the classroom you do not have to be the only authority, merely the one who leads the discussion.

Unfortunately you will sometimes get someone in your class who wants to lead the discussion and does not appear to respect your authority. In rare cases it can be amusing to just let them take over the class, but I wouldn't normally recommend it! Redirect the conversation to the topics you wanted to cover and mentally reassure yourself that you are the teacher and you are in charge of the class. Try to show the person respect and courtesy, but say that you'd like to hear what others have to say or protest that what they're saying is "fascinating" but you won't have enough time to talk about everything if they continue to talk so much.

Some people like to point out when an instructor is wrong. If you realize you were in error, admit it, but if you find yourself doubting your own knowledge only because of their apparent certainty, just acknowledge the statements with "that's very interesting" or "perhaps you're right" or "I guess I'll have to go look that up". Stand firm in your belief that you know your own subject in front of the class, but take notes on things you need to review later. After the class is over is the time to review the areas you need to learn better before you teach the class again.

Students generally unruly

When I taught computer classes professionally I had one class that got so unruly that I actually had to deal with spitballs and paper airplanes. You would think that adults would behave better than that! I had to finish the class because I was getting paid to do it. The SCA is a volunteer organization, and as a volunteer teacher you don't have to be subjected to such behaviors. 

Try to sense things early. If you feel the class might be going out of your control, try to gently steer it back in the right direction by interjecting with a polite but firm statement like "Now if we can get back to what we were talking about...". If the room gets so noisy you don't feel you will be heard, enlist one of your class participants to do a Herald's cry for you. Usually a good "Oyez! Now is the time for all good gentles to listen to the instructor!" will shut people up for the rest of the class. Claim that your voice won't last if you have to speak over others in class. 

Joking will also sometimes get you through a tough spot; for instance saying "I'm gonna tell my mommy on you!" can be a nice way to tell someone to stop what they are doing without yelling at them outright. Use other students for assistance whenever possible; for instance, if debate breaks out and someone goes on for too lengthy an amount of time, declare that all statements must be limited to two minutes and appoint a timekeeper.

If you feel so completely overwhelmed that you can't continue teaching under the circumstances, first make an ultimatum i.e. "If all bickering does not stop right now I will be forced to end the class". And if you must end the class for some reason, either suggest that those still interested in the topic re-convene at a later time, or have them follow you to someplace else to at least get their contact information, if not continue the discussion in calmer surroundings.

Ready, Set, Teach!

OK, now that you're prepared for the worst case scenarios, keep in mind that such problems are really quite rare, and most difficulties that arise in class aren't even noticeable to the students. Here's a checklist to review when you're packing for the event or just before class:

  • Notes and reference materials ready, in order and legible
  • Handouts completed and copied
  • Name and contact info on handout or separate card
  • Hands-on and demonstration materials packed in an organized fashion
  • Take extra pencils or pens
  • For classes with a handouts or materials fee you may want to have some change
  • Double-check the time and location of the class after you get on site (things often change after the class coordinator last sends out emails)
  • For limited classes, pick up the sign-up sheet
  • Take water and food if necessary
  • Hit the restroom
  • Get to the classroom early or on time
  • Greet students

Take a deep breath, think positively, smile, and go enlighten the world!

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created October 4, 2001

Last updated February 18, 2003