Learn to be a rock-star teacher!

Today, I’m really excited.

You see, Gwen Bortner is a buddy of mine. And she’s legendary for her amazing classes on teaching (and the business advice that goes with teaching as a profession)… but these classes are often at national conferences that can be tricky for some folks to travel to.

So why am I so excited?

Because Gwen has just released How to Teach It on Craftsy! Which means that everyone can easily access Gwen’s awesome-sauce tips! And, today, I have an interview with Gwen for you! And I have a link that’ll get you 25% off the class! Whoa!

See… I told you I was excited!

About Gwen

Gwen and I initially bonded over a conversation about the amazing-ness of Craftsy’s makeup artist, Danica. (I mean, you’ve seen my Craftsy photo, right? Glance over to the sidebar… there it is. Danica works magic!)

Since then, we’ve been able to meet up at events (TNNA and Stitches), where I’ve been lucky enough to pick her brain about teaching as a career. I’m primarily a designer, but am steadily growing the amount of teaching that I do. And let me tell you: Gwen’s a smart chick.

Gwen Bortner from Craftsy

Not only is she smart, but she draws from a deep well of teaching experience: she’s been teaching full-time at the National level for a decade.

You want to be around her. You want to take classes with her. And you want to follow her around and mop up the little tidbits of wisdom that fall from her mouth. Trust me.

About How To Teach It

I watched the whole course, and even though I have a fair bit of experience teaching, I learned new stuff. In my opinion, that’s the sign of a good course!

How to Teach It is especially designed for folks who are looking to get started teaching, or who have local teaching experience and are interested in growing teaching as a business. I recommend you have a peek at the trailer for an overview… I’m going to jump right in and tell you what I think are the juiciest bits of the course.

With all Craftsy classes, one huge benefit is that you can ask questions directly to the teacher, so you’ll be sure that the course provides what you’re looking for.

Emphasis on the business of teaching

Many of us (myself included!) start teaching at a local yarn store without much of a plan. Someone asks if you can teach a course, you agree… and you’ve got a booking!

If you’d like to turn teaching into a substantial part- or full-time gig, then it’s important to focus on the business details of teaching. Do you need a contract? Do you have a policy in case the store cancels your class? Are you keeping track of your expenses?

These things can be scary (and boring), but Gwen provides handy checklists and a sample teaching agreement. She also provides a list of people you may want to talk to (such as an accountant or attorney) and discusses the cases you might want to use them. It doesn’t need to be insanely cumbersome to ‘do teaching as a business’, but there are a few particulars you need to think about, and Gwen gets you going in the right direction.

Gwen Bortner's knitting bag

How to enter sustainable relationships with shops

When teaching at shops, it’s important that you work to build a productive and successful relationship.

Creating a successful relationship requires doing a little preparation and planning. Some of it is common sense… but some might not be. For example, Gwen explains why it’s often not in the best interest of the teacher to take 100% of the class fee.. Deep thoughts.

You only get this kind of advice from someone who’s been around the block.

Practical advice for teaching

Did you know that there are actually a few well-defined types of courses? And each type calls for slightly different preparation and course outlines?

And how do you plan what happens during the course?

Oh, Gwen will tell you! She also has great advice on ‘personal practices’: tips for professionalism and conduct that will not only help your class run smoothly, but are necessary to develop your professional reputation.

How to teach it with Gwen Bortner

Marketing your classes

You want list a class and magically have oodles of people sign up? Yeah, me too.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Gwen chats about how to market your class (whether it’s a class at a local shop or away from home) so that it can be as successful as possible.

Interview with Gwen

The course sounds great, right?

Gwen was sweet enough to answer a few questions about teaching… enjoy the interview!

Stacey: There are lots of folks out there who are skilled knitters/crocheters/sewers who might be thinking of getting into teaching. What skills do you need to make the jump from ‘good knitter’ to ‘good knitting teacher’?

Gwen: I think one of the most important skills for a teacher to have is the ability to break down any task or step into its simplest components. And then once you break it down, be able to provide directions on that activity in multiple ways. For example, think about tying your shoelaces. How many steps is that REALLY?! If you think about it, you may discover that there are several more little steps that you were just taking for granted. A teacher needs to be able to identify all of the steps and be able to explain them. So as you might guess, that also means you probably need to be patient and willing to slow down.

What are some common stumbling points for new teachers?

I think the most difficult thing for most folks is dealing with the business stuff. Because we are in a creative industry, often the business aspects don’t come quite so naturally. For example, negotiating and making an agreement (some might call it a contract) is often considered very scary. But that is why there is an entire lesson in the class on the business stuff as well as lots of sample materials including teaching agreement that can be used as a jumping off point for anyone who doesn’t yet have an agreement of their own.

What is the best approach for teaching a class of mixed abilities?

I always try to establish minimum requirement so at least the base level of skills is the same. Even so, most classes of more than a few folks will have some variance of abilities. Early in the class (during the introduction) I explain that some folks will be faster, some slower, but it isn’t a contest and that I will try and run the class for the majority of the students. This means that some will have to wait and some may be a bit behind. For those running a bit slower I either provide options to skip ahead or give some additional help when they get to the next step. Either way, I try to be supportive and encouraging, after all, we are not saving lives – it is just a hobby!!!

If someone has been teaching on the local circuit for a while, how do you go about making the jump to ‘national teacher’? What are the differences between teaching locally and at large events or traveling to guilds?

One of lessons is focused specifically on this topic and includes a two page sheet of the pros and cons for each level of teaching. The key to “moving up” is about developing some skills and a bit of a reputation as a good instructor. The key to being able to move up is being prepared to teach larger classes. In the knit and crochet world, this would be 20 students or possibly more. You also need to be able and willing to teach several days worth of classes. Lastly, the format for most events (guilds or conventions) is either 3 or 6 hour classes. So you may have to tweak your class offering to fit this requirement.

What’s the best thing about being a teacher? What’s a downside/difficult part that folks may not expect?

The best part is easy – the people! You meet wonderful people teaching since most everyone in class wants to be there. And if you start teaching at larger events, the friendships you can make with other teachers is truly amazing. The downside for local teaching can be the disappointment when you prep for a class that doesn’t go. But don’t give up, sometimes it just is a timing issue – don’t assume that it is the topic (although that might be the issue too). As you move up to regional and national teaching the travel and requirement to plan your schedule months in advance can often prove to be challenging.

What’s your opinion on teaching as a full-time career? Is it possible? Or is it more practical to have a career teaching + designing?

Although I describe myself as a Professional Knitting Instructor and I teach much of the year, it just isn’t quite enough for a full-time income. Even so, I am still trying for that because it is by far my favorite aspect of my business. But the truth is, I still do some amount of designing to help supplement my business. Other folks use tech editing, sample making or other aspects of the industry to create a full-time income. For most folks, teaching is actually the supplemental part of their income while their primary income comes from some other source.

Your class includes a section on marketing, which is a crucial part of any business. Can you tell us (during your week) approximately how much time you spend marketing? Is it possible to teach without doing marketing?

Marketing is such a broad term and I do all sort of marketing activities (including answering questions for a blog interview)!!! However, I focus a minimum of 2 – 5 hours every week on specifically marketing activities for the teaching portion of my business. This looks different every week but might include things like e-mailing potential venues, sending out marketing materials for a new gig, filling out request for proposal forms for national events, following up on contacts made at an event, printing class catalogs or updating my class offerings. I suppose it might be possible to teach (or do any business for that matter) without marketing, but I can’t imagine how it would work for long or ultimately be successful!

Want to learn how to teach it?

If you’re looking to get started teaching your first class… then this course is definitely for you. And if you’ve been teaching for a little bit, but feel like you could ‘polish’ your skills and work a bit on the business/marketing stuff, then this class will help you oodles, too!

how to teach it Craftsy coupon

If you click on this link, you’ll get 25% off! Yipee!

Happy learning and teaching, everyone!

Find Gwen

Aside from Gwen’s Craftsy class, you can find her over on her website and blog.


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