The Parable of the Bad Pottery Teacher

I may have mentioned a while back that I’ve been dabbling with pottery lessons.

They started out great, staying that way throughout the six weeks of beginner handbuilding.

The teacher was appropriately attentive, both in demonstrating what to do with practiced hands and in taking a step back to allow the student to get the feel of the clay, while observing mistakes and offering tips and fixes to solve issues that came up.

Some time through the intermediate lessons, the teacher’s attitude inexplicably changed.

Perhaps it was me – maybe I unknowingly offered grievous insult to his honor with a humble jest that I -thought- demonstrated student modesty.

It was an offhand smiling remark to another student and him about how all the great bits of my piece were the mark of a master’s hand, after he had helped, and all the lopsided bits were mine.

Or perhaps it was him. Over the weeks of the lessons, he seemed perceptibly disinterested in teaching – complaining bitterly to older hands and partner potters that he had to rush to prepare for suddenly booked corporate events; that student works were piling up needing to either be kiln-fired or collected by beginner students who never returned after the first six weeks; bitching within earshot of existing students that the various newbies showed up with no or last minute notification or didn’t bother to attend lessons as they felt like it – and generally evincing distinct signs of burnout.

My last couple of intermediate lessons felt like an exercise in deliberate inattention.

He’d walk by to offer the odd word of advice to the one or two beginner students, then walk out the door and put himself incommunicado, leaving us to flounder on doing our own things.

Now and then, again in earshot of all the struggling students, he’d express his belief in his supremely hands-off teaching style to another obviously experienced artist potter who was just sharing the same venue.

“Give us time and space to make our own mistakes and screwups, and then figure out how to fix it for ourselves” seemed to be the general gist.

Inside, I was fuming with frustration.

No, really, I get the hands-off method.

I think it makes sense, judiciously applied, but:

a) the student has to feel that the teacher -cares- (the vibe I got was mostly laziness, judgmentalism and burnout)

and b) the student has to have some basic grounding in HOW to even begin looking for answers to fix the problems they’re having

With both missing, chances are fairly good that a sizeable subset of students will drown, for every one student who flounders on to reach shore, having figured it out for themselves.

Tossing people into the deep end of the pool after demonstrating a swim stroke once and waiting to see who comes out is -not- good teaching.

In my book, anyway. I expect a good teacher to be able to break things down for a student, encourage step-by-step practice and gradual progress, observe errors and offer guided advice on how to fix the problem and in general, scaffold the student’s learning.

After the end of my intermediate lessons, I took a short break and really questioned if I wanted to go on to the advanced lessons of wheel throwing with said less-than-good teacher, especially since he seemed to be doing everything in his power to dissuade me from even paying him for the next set of lessons.

Mostly, it was the sunk cost fallacy that did me in. The beginner and intermediate lessons were a prerequisite for the advanced ones. If I walked now, and sourced for another teacher, the effort, time and money sunk into the previous months would likely have to be written off, as I’d end up fulfilling said teacher’s cynical prophecies of a student that would never come back.

Also, it didn’t seem polite to end abruptly. Leaving after a beginning, middle, end sequence was another thing altogether. One could then seek out another teacher and say truthfully that one had completed a pottery course, but was now looking for further improvement and new perspectives from a brand new teacher.

So I went ahead and signed myself up for another six weeks of instructorial neglect.

Halfway through now, and it went about as much as expected. One demonstration and then left to one’s own floundering devices.

Maybe I frustrate him as much as he frustrates me. Maybe he just doesn’t know -how- to teach me.

I remember things slowly, especially when it comes to visual bodily demonstrations. Perhaps my mirror neurons are somewhat dysfunctional, I do not really learn viscerally. Dance, exercise, pottery, you name it, I cannot see once and automatically ape.

It has to be repeated multiple times. I have to preferably read it, in step-by-step fashion. I have to see pictures and photographs and rehearse placing my hands in the demonstrated positions. Theory must come before practice.

Instead, full of frustration, I’m often left googling up “pottery concept X” after the lesson that introduces the name of concept X and not much else beyond the realization that I’m making a right muckup of concept X because I don’t even know what I’m actually supposed to ideally do in the first place.

I learn more by eavesdropping. Imagine that.

Said teacher is having a extended cheerful conversation with another experienced potter, just chilling and hanging out and steadily ignoring me, and he pulls out his phone and shows her some Youtube video of an advanced technique from a potter of a different country. He does -not- show the video to me.

I make such a right muckup of concept X (centering, if anyone knows pottery) for hours and look so distressed and woebegone, that after the “bad” teacher has rushed out of the workshop to grab his lunch before his next batch of ungrateful students, that the other experienced potter comes over and offers me a completely free demonstration of the way she does it – and by the way, more emotional support in those five minutes than the last five weeks.

She then promptly screws it up with a perfectly overheard conversation to the teacher who just came back, expressing her own helplessness at trying to explain concept X to me, while he offers her a commiserating knowing smile and shrug.

I stifle an internal scream.

It isn’t until the lesson is over and I’m furiously googling again when I chance upon THE article that sings to me – The Clay Will Tell You How You Are.

Here is a woman who makes me feel better because she’s had an even worse time of it than me.

At least my piece of clay didn’t turn into a flying projectile, but just sat there as an insistently lopsided soppy wet yet hard and sandy lump that evoked the ever unproductive ritual question and answer from student to master:

“Is this centered?”

“Not centered.”

“Now?”

“Not centered.”

“How about now?”

“Not centered.”

I bite back on the words, “What the FUCK is centered then? How does it even look? What the FUCK am I aiming for here?” because I know I’ll get no words, just the guy’s hands coming down on my piece of clay doing magic stuff with me none the wiser.

I did learn one thing though.

When you have a bad teacher, the Internet is your best teacher.

After seeing the Youtube video being shown to the other potter, angels descended and sang Hallelujah in my head because my eyes were suddenly opened to the source of a DOZEN good teachers.

Ten Youtube video clips of “pottery centering” later, I had the foundation concepts and the scaffolding that I had not been privy to before this.

No one had told me that I was supposed to brace my hand against my leg, or that the wheel had to be at a decent speed, or that the idea was to push in one direction while easing up in the desired direction so that the clay had some place to go.

They knew how to do it, but they didn’t know how to teach it.

Those on Youtube did.

The following week, I magically produce a 98% acceptable centered piece of clay after a couple of false starts and self-experiments.

(No doubt I also just confirm in my teacher’s head that his style of teaching is perfect.)

Things go well until I run aground in the next progression step of “lifting the clay to make a tall cylinder.”

We engage in a failure cycle of call and response again until the end of the lesson.

This time though, I know what to do in order to progress my own learning next week.

cylindervid

So why I have spent 1400 words telling you guys about my pottery lessons on a -game- blog?

It strikes me that learning is learning, regardless of the subject.

It could be pottery, it could be Civilization 6, it could be Path of Exile, MMO raids, PvP or whatever.

We all want the ideal of the understanding good teacher that cares and knows how to break it down just right so that we can learn what we don’t even know, let alone don’t understand.

(Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe you have some other ideal of the perfect teacher that is just right for you. Goldilocks style, not too soft, not too hard.)

Chances are bloody good that we’re not going to get one.

We would be immensely lucky if we strike gold on the first attempt at sourcing a great teacher.

Chances are far more likely that we’re going to hit judgmental people; people too self-absorbed in their own lives to bother much about your learning; people far too ready to go for the expedient assumption of “unteachable, boot him/her out of here” much more often than a good teacher with a heart of gold. (The latter burn out real fast, I hear.)

They’re going to do shit things to your emotions.

But there’s always one person that -is- committed to your learning, and that knows -exactly- how you like to learn.

Yep. You.

Perhaps that’s the teacher to really have a heart-to-heart conversation with.

 

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2014 Annual Report

Dear Readers of This Blog,

I would like to thank you for many things, such as your unflagging attention to my ramblings, your comments that reinforce that I am not just typing to myself in the dark, but primarily, for dethroning the “Halp, How do I find my way to Blue Mountain in The Secret World?” joke post that has -finally- dropped out of the Top 5 most popular posts section in the annual report.

Took it three years. Wow.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 88,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

For comparison, here’s the 2012 Annual Report and the 2013 Annual Report.

Honestly, there are even fewer surprises to me this time around.

I’m still thrilled to see there’s been growth in pageviews, though it’s probably slowing and plateauing from having established one’s little foothold into the teeny corner of the interwebs that are interested in the subjects I write about, and will likely slow even further this coming year.

I’m almost deadly certain that much of that growth has to do with just a few key posts *coughguidescough* that I occasionally get the urge to write, if only to vent some frustration and then suddenly realize that “YES, there are people who do look these things up and appreciate the summaries, tips and advice.”

2014 is essentially the year I try to harness this phenomenon for good.

Reddit becomes my top referrer, from a mere two posts – one pushing the Marionette AoE guide, and the other introducing the Movement/Combat guide, both of which stay pretty popular.

The biggest surprise was the chance Missing Worlds Media facebook link in May, that sent 2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong to top at least one category – most commented on, and that became my second biggest referrer.

Bhagpuss continues to draw GW2 fans from his site over to mine, for which I’m very thankful… (or maybe it’s just him clicking his own sidebar, given that he’s my top commenter… twice over. 🙂 He has more misspelled accounts that are also cleared to comment here!)

The other highly popular posts all chanced to hit various popular search keywords, imo.

I happened to type up my thoughts to the Path of Exile expansion just when others were searching for info regarding it, I suppose.

“MMOs are dead” is apparently a super-popular phrase to google, along with “GW2 endgame.” Hoorah for contradiction in terms.

I feel moderately guilty about the Dry Top post, since it’s not a complete guide, just some rambling at the midway point of Dry Top when T4 was as high as it got. There’s a T6 one on Reddit somewhere, I believe. *googles* Here, summary and chat codes.

What’s new this year is that they’ve switched search terms, which I suppose are much harder to tease out these days, with a graphical display of one’s posting rate.

I apparently post on many Wednesdays. (It’s probably due to guilt when I realize that I haven’t posted in forever, better churn out something nao!)

Total number of posts has stayed relatively constant through the years – I try to do an average of one post every 3-4 days. Some weeks I lie fallow, and then I make up for it with “too many things to say” days where I post twice.

I’d say that it would be nice if I learned how to spread these things out a little more, but I also know it’s just not gonna happen. Quite a bit of my stuff is time-dependent and it wouldn’t really make much sense to schedule it for a day later or two. I will just trust my regular readers know how to use feed readers.

I -would- like to try a month long writing streak akin to Nanowrimo or Blaugust some day, but will 2015 be the year I find the time to do so?

Reply hazy. Guess we’ll see.

Here’s to 2015 and another fun year of blogging!

This Would Have Been Less Urgent, If I Had Been Playing GW1

I -thought- half a mouthful of plain water might have hit the keyboard when I inadvertently sneezed mid-consumption last night.

No visible spillage or seepage. Nothing seemed to be wrong, so I shrugged, shut the computer down and went to sleep.

Woke the next day to discover that three keys had stopped working: Z, N and the space bar.

That’s my heal, RP walk, and you-know-what…

Decided against plan B: get creative with keybinds in favor of plan A: forget GW2 and go out to buy new keyboard.

All liquids, not just sticky or sweet ones, are now banned from the vicinity of the computer.

A moment of silence, please, for my faithful Logitech G15 version 1, that lasted a good seven years or more.

Decided to get with the times and try the mechanical Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Stealth instead. I kinda miss the LCD (which I mostly used as a glorified clock/calendar), but the Cherry MX Brown keys are quite the new and enjoyable tactile experience, not too clicky, not too squishy, but juuust right. YMMV.

It would be the epitome of vanity to tell you that one of the first things I did was to switch the color of my Razer mouse backlight from blue to green, just to match the new keyboard.

So I won’t.

2013 Annual Report

Wahey!

It’s back!

WordPress’ friendly blog stats summary of the year that is now history. All conveniently packaged up to share with readers.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 64,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

And this time, I get to have a past year to compare it to.

Views

The blog has doubled its views in its second year, which is still kind of thrilling, even if the cynic in me says that’s probably mostly bots hitting old pages.

And they tell me that my writing has staying power! (Or I used up all my interesting topics in the first year or that’s probably still just bots.)

But the eternal optimist in me would like to thank my HUMAN readers who put up with my ramblings and appreciate at least a few of the posts that turn up now and again.

It’s a dartboard, y’know? Write and toss up enough posts and hopefully some will stick.

# of Posts and Pictures

Those have remained fairly consistent. I’m personally quite happy with that. Part of my rationale for starting the blog in the first place was to prove to myself that I could commit to a long term project and not get distracted by new shinies and then get lazy and slack off.

I’m on partial break for now, but I do hope to get back up to steam soon and get less lazy about including pictures in my posts again.

Let’s not call it a New Year’s Resolution, but more of a re-commitment, after I’ve taken stock of where I am this season and reorganized my life some.

(Chinese New Year is fast following in the western New Year’s footsteps this year and that is traditionally a period of mass cleanup and reorganizing BEFOREhand, since it is considered bad to sweep good luck out the door during the festive season. And it’s occurred to me that there’s a LOT of things around the house in desperate need of a cleanup from storerooms to wardrobes to terrabytes of data on computer hard disks. Argh.)

Popular Posts

To absolutely no one’s surprise – not mine anyway – the evil evil Liadri topped the stats as the most popular post of last year.

I remember watching that bar climb on the stats and shoot up to a way higher outlier than pretty much all of my other posts, confirming once again that if you are all about pageview whoring – write guides. Lots and lots of guides. Be a Dulfy, and monetize the heck out of your adverts, because there are a lot of people who a) Google up the answers before even getting started or b) get stuck on games and then Google.

Me, I’m more about writing what I feel like writing, in that moment and context. So yeah, expect guides only as and when I feel they’re appropriate (usually when I’m bursting to make a point or just want to share a particular strategy that worked after lots of effort on my part.)

Also completely unsurprising was the fact that the next two most popular posts were PSAs. Short, sweet, simple and as to the point as the usually longwinded me can make them.

“Here’s the answer to whatever you were googling for.”

Of course, me being me, they also do double duty as subjective criticism for “HEY DEVELOPERS, LOOK HOW NOT AT ALL OBVIOUS THIS IS.”

No, really, people are still looking for directions to the Blue Mountains a year later.

And those voting baskets… yeah. Put ’em on top of a floating airship in the sky with nary a label or signpost, except on a minimap that is better at showing stuff in two dimensions only.

Search Terms

Most are not excessively surprising.

Bookworm Adventures is surprisingly more popular than I thought. (It’s a good game though. And it’s a good post – in my not-so-impartial opinion – where I get to play with words. Lots and lots of words.)

I should really write more about the last, hmm?

(They must have been SO disappointed….

Searchers, don’t worry, besides one teeny safe for work cutscene in The Secret World, I believe the Grand Theft Auto, Dragon Age and Mass Effect universes hold out more hope. Mebbe Skyrim or Baldur’s Gate with mods? If you’re willing to go without the latter word of the pair, I recommend the hottest couple in GW2, Marjory and Kasmeer, and flex your imagination and fanfiction writing skills!)

Referrers and Commenters

You now know who you are.

I love all of you guys. In a totally platonic way.

Please keep it up. Make it a competition and beat each other, even. 😛

(Fer example, I know off the top of my mind that there’s at least two more reader-commenters whose names begin with R and one more whose name -sounds- like it should begin with R, that I appreciate too. And everybody else who I’m brain-blocked on at the moment. But y’all lost to the most prolific! Noooo…)

They’re the only way I can tell a human cared to read my drivel, rather than let my cynic tell me it’s bots.

If not for you, my valued readers…

…I’d still write…

…but I wouldn’t POST.

And that makes all the difference.

Thank you, one and all.

Here’s to another good year.

(After some house-cleaning. Aaaaargh.)

2012 Annual Report

Following in Rakuno’s footsteps, it seems WordPress helpfully provided a fun formatted annual report with which to share stats with our readers.

For a lazy person, this is a godsend.

I have apparently posted an extremely evil number of pictures. I wish I could claim it was done on purpose.

The popular posts are extremely unsurprising. They simply just appear to have used popular search keywords that people use to find answers.

Which most of them would not find here. Whoops. Except for the Secret World PSA post which was half in jest, and still exceedingly popular.

Seriously, people, is it that hard to find the vendor? Or the map exit? If any TSW devs ever see this, please take note of how non-obvious it seems to be.

Or are we just trained to Google up the answer to anything and everything.

People want the answers to quests. Armor galleries. Builds.

A cheatbook or spoilers for MMOs, in other words. Sighs.

Sorry to disappoint you, all you get here is longwinded opinions, commentary and pretty pictures. Do stay for the pretty pictures. 🙂

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog:

Click here to see the complete report.