Dear John and all,
Following I have written some ideas regarding your concerns about teaching
high school ceramics.
>1. I have found out that the previous teacher in this position was quite
>laid back about writting lesson plans and enforcing any type of discipline
>in the classroom. Of course, because of this, the students loved him
>they could get away with anything! How do I, as a young new graduate, lay
>down the law throughout the first few weeks of school and still have the
>students like me and give me their all, after they have been used to a
The situation you describe is difficult. I was in a similar situation my
second year of teaching. I was the second ceramics teacher hired, the other
guy that was laid back was still there. Ceramics was considered a blow off
class, and students hoped that I would continue the tradition. However,
after the first semester, I was considered the "hard ceramics teacher"
compared to the blow off one. Students could not choose their teacher, so
it was like the lottery! It was a battle, but I held my ground and in two
years, I built ceramics into a program that was challenging, and even
included a second year advanced course. The fact that the second year
course was always full (I was the only one to teach that course) proved to
me that staying firm and battling to make ceramics a challenging course was
What I mean to say is, students will compare you to the other teacher, and
try to get you to lower your standards, just because it's easier for them,
but many students will go on to appreciate you and respect you for teaching
them. However, my advice is, choose your battles, decide what is most
important to the integrity of your course, and concentrate on those things.
I am afraid that they will shut down all together and hate me
>because I actually care about them and want them to learn something! Any
>beginging tips for me here?
I don't think this will happen if you stay calm, treat the students with
respect, listen to their point of view and communicate your point of view
with confidence. I don't recommend gimmicky grade school behavior systems,
high school students recognize when they are being manipulated, and they
don't like it! If at all possible, deal with discipline yourself because I
think students feel you relinquish your own power, when you send students to
someone else like the principal. Some students see it as a contest, and
they have won if you can't handle it. Don't dwell on discipline,
communicate what you expect, and deal with things consistently and fairly.
Remember, you can't force students to respect you, or the course, through
>2. I have taught ceramics to other high school students and have had great
>success, but the work produced was never at a high quality that I am used
>to. However, it was great progress compared to the beginning projects being
>produced at the start of the year. Many of the students didn't have an
>interst in being there but I was able to get them interested in the
>and get some positive results.
Good, it sounds as if you have a good handle on what to do already. As far
as quality goes, communicate that you expect quality, and show students
what quality looks like. Praise often what is quality, and respectfully
suggest things that would make the work even better (without putting the
Now here's my second problem, these students
>at my new position are classified as gifted... how do I keep them motivated
>and interested in the topic without them flying through the project in less
>than an hour (in a 2 hour class) and sitting there bored the rest of the
>time? I am not very experienced in working with the gifted, especially at
>the high school level. What do others of you do in order to keep their
>interests. What are common problems or stories you would like to share to
>help me prepare for such situations?
Ceramics is time consuming, I've never seen a student, gifted, or otherwise,
produce quality work by flying through an assignment. If students work very
quickly, chances are the work produced will be poorly constructed and
without a clear purpose. In those situations, I would try to convince the
student to produce another project which is better. If someone does finish
early, with an acceptable product, chances are, this student will want to
use the extra time to explore the medium on their own. If not, free time is
a great reward for hard workers.
Note, this may seem silly, but watch for smoking paraphernalia that
students will try to create for projects or during their free time. Don't
make a big deal out of it, talk to the student privately, and tell them that
it is not acceptable. Discreetly destroy the work or, if the work is
sculptural, or could be a vase or something, give the student the
opportunity to make it inoperable as a smoking device, in order to save the
work. If you don't know how to recognize these things, LEARN NOW.
>3. My college never offered any type of class concerning glaze chemistry or
>clay mixing. Are there any teachers out there that have any recipies or
>suggestions that would make my job a little less time consuming before and
>after school? I believe I will have to make all my own glazes and clay
>bodies. Can someone tell me the differences between stoneware, earthenware,
>and terra cotta clay bodies? What are the ranges between low fire and high
>fire. The school has access to doing pit firings.... what steps do you take
>at your school when pit firing?
I can't really comment on these things, because we had ready made clays and
glazes. However, be careful with health issues, many clay and glaze
ingredients are hazardous. Follow all precautions such as wearing masks,
etc. One school I taught at had a clay mixer, which can be dangerous. So,
we gathered students who were interested in learning to use it, had their
parents sign a permission slip saying they understood the danger, and then
taught them to use the machine. Perhaps, at first, you can teach a small
group of responsible students how to help you, then build from there. If
you have an advanced group, they could prepare things for the beginning
There are many good Ceramics books, I would suggest getting some to help you
learn more about glazes, clay bodies and firing techniques. "Ceramics," by
Glenn C. Nelson, helped me a lot my first year. Also, see about visiting
artists to come and do demonstrations such as raku firing, which would help
you and your students.
>I know this is a lot to ask everyone, but I know that there is at least one
>person out there that can enlighten my mind with some outstanding advice! I
>hope to hear from you soon. Many thanks in advance, and have a great summer
>before the race begins!
I hope my bit of insight will be helpful to you in some way.