TA Angst

by theobfuscatedone

As we are all aware, I make pottery.  My main form of production is aided by a pottery wheel.  I am also a TA in the ceramics class.  This has meant that I have been placed in charge of the wheel throwers.  Many of them saw me throwing and thought, and then said out loud, that what I was doing looked so easy.

Wheel throwing is hard.  Really hard.  It requires muscles that don’t normally get use to become workhorses.  It requires you to use ALL of your body.  Your hands do the shaping but it’s your shoulders, legs, and back that do the hardest work.  Working at the wheel requires you to be in a bent over position for long periods of time.  I have learned over the course of my time as a pottery student that I need a brick for my left foot.  This is because my left leg has to provide a lot of stability but I am too short for my foot to rest flat on the floor.  I would flex my foot to lift my leg and was getting cramps in my foot.  I now have a wooden brick that travels with me and I no longer get foot cramps.  I have also learned that when working in the studio, I WILL GET DIRTY. After all, clay is essentially mud.  Since I work with porcelain I guess I work with white mud.  These things, and many others, are part and parcel of making pottery.

MY STUDENTS DON’T GET THIS.

All they see is me making a bowl in 2 minutes.

I can make a bowl in 2 minutes because I have been doing this off and on for over a decade.  I am also very serious about making it a part of my life forever more.  I have practiced and practiced and practiced, going into the studio when my arms are sore, staying in the studio even though all I want is a shower. This evening while listening to a lecture for class I mapped out the process of making a piece of pottery.  If all goes absolutely perfectly, there are 11 steps to the process and they are spaced out over the span of approximately 11 1/2+ days.  The total work time is 7 1/2+ hours.  This reckoning includes the firings, hence the almost 2 week time span.

MY STUDENTS DO NOT GET THIS.

They do not get it and I don’t have the faintest idea why.  I tell them, P tells them- this is a long process.  We told them in the very beginning that it would take them AT LEAST 3 weeks to get down the basics of throwing.  And yet, they still act like they should be able to do what I do immediately, with no learning curve.

Obviously I have spent a lot of time thinking about this disconnect.  I have a theory.

When P shows them techniques they don’t go back to their wheels and assume it will immediately work for them.  They seem to understand better, when it comes from P, how much of a process this is.  So why do they act so differently with me?  I think I stumbled on the answer when I was talking with C tonight.  She is small, as am I, and she works at an elementary and middle school where her students are often physically larger than she is (I do not know what they feed the children around here.)  All of my students are bigger than me. They all have bigger hands, are taller, etc.  They are underestimating the difficulty of the process because if someone my size can do it…  I think there is also a certain amount of age confusion going on.  I do not look my age.  I look like the youngest of them.  Small + young= assumption that whatever I can do, they can do.

Even though they all know that I am a grad student with a lot of experience, their first impressions are proving to be stumbling blocks for them and me.  It’s really hard to impress upon someone how much force something takes when all they see is someone small.

For the first time in a long time I find myself wishing for a few extra inches of height.  Since that will not happen I am wishing for a sudden simultaneous epiphany for all of them where they realize that they should bow down to me as their… er, where they realize that I am speaking the truth when I tell them of the difficulties inherent in learning how to make pottery.  Barring that, I wish for all of them to become mute.  That way they can’t complain as I cut what they thought was a perfect piece in half to demonstrate visually how imperfect it actually is.  (Though I do take a bit of sadistic pleasure in watching them think they did everything perfectly and look at me and say “It’s perfect!  Isn’t it perfect?” and then telling them no, it is not perfect, no, they cannot keep it, and yes, I am going to cut it in half to show them the problems.)

In other news, the thesis proposal requires some revision and then it gets turned in.  I have a total of 4 finished- except for glazing and firings- hourglasses with 3 others in process.  The actual thesis is moving right along in the research phase.  If all the extraneous bullshit that has been happening would cease, I think things will be pretty good.  I’ll let you know if/when that actually happens.  I’m gonna hire a sky writer.

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