This week, in the fourth week of the term, with two weeks’ notice, I took over teaching the basic clothing construction course at my school. To say that I am excited to have this addition to my schedule would be an understatement. I am beyond thrilled.
A few years ago, earlier in my teaching career, taking on a class partially underway, and teaching that class without much advance preparation, would have had me in a panic. This month, however, it is a project I have excitedly taken on as an addition to my other courses in progress.
When I say “without much advance preparation,” I mean that, before last week, I had not sat down and prepared a detailed lesson plan for this course, having not had the opportunity to teach it up until now (oddly enough, though, the week before I was offered the course, I had begun thinking about how there was no reason not to prepare a syllabus and lesson plans for this most basic of courses, and how I should probably do so in my spare time). Other forms of preparation I have had for teaching this course are the sewing courses I have taken, other courses I have taught, years of apparel construction experience, and past employment experiences, so fear not for my students, they are in capable hands!
Taking over this course presents more than a few challenges, and one of the more significant ones is being the experience of being a replacement instructor. I have been a replacement before, but stepping into the classroom after the class has already started is new for me. With this new class of mine, the students have already had time to get to know the previous instructor, and were working with that instructor’s syllabus and assignments, and course schedule. The good part, however, is that this course only meets once a week, therefore the students have actually only had three class meetings with my predecessor, meaning they have had little time to become settled in to one instructor’s routine before switching to another’s.
This week, I started off by introducing my syllabus with my course policies, classroom expectations, assignments, suggested supplies, and course topic outline. Following that, we did some “getting to know you” exercises, and then came the task of figuring out what everybody’s skill level was. One of the special elements of teaching at community college is the diversity of the students’ educational backgrounds, abilities, and life experiences.
Teaching at universities, I generally had students who were in the late teens and early twenties, with very few exceptions. At my current location, I have all ages in my classes, from 15 on up. What this means in a clothing construction course is that some students arrive with no skills to speak of and others arrive with decades of experience. That might sound like a logistical nightmare, in terms of planning assignments and making them appropriately challenging for each student, however, it is actually quite enjoyable to teach students with a range of abilities, as there will probably be no moment in the rest of the term at which I will have 27 students all doing the exact same assignment.
Giving students of varied skill levels the option to select projects (pending instructor approval) to complete in order to achieve the course’s objectives gives each of them the opportunity to do something they are highly interested in (good for the learning experience), and a variety of projects being created in the sewing lab presents further learning opportunities for the class as a whole, as the students will be able to see what each other’s projects are, and draw inspiration from each other. Additionally, at the completion of their projects, the students will informally present their work to the class and discuss the techniques involved, challenges encountered, and skills learned, furthering the opportunity for them to learn from each other.
My institution, has, fortunately, pre-determined objectives for the course, detailing specific topics for me to cover in class (darts, seams, pockets, et cetera). Here is a question I have for those of you who are not in school, teaching or otherwise. Think back to your first construction courses when you were in school. Which, of the skills that you were taught, have turned out to be indispensible in your career? Leave me a comment and let me know.