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Teaching Dilemmas 101! May 23, 2010

Filed under: General Musings,Knitting Travels — happystitches @ 23:55

Teaching Dilemmas 101!

Over the years, since I’ve been a travelling teacher (for the last 10 -12 years), I’ve journeyed through a number of global and local emergencies: terrorism threats, SARS, Swine Flu, minor domestic dramas back home and little personal maladies.

This year, for the first time , I became unwell enough not to function during a tour (mercifully, it was brief). I had taught the first of three days of classes in this particular location, but that evening I succumbed to something very nasty. I spent a rather lively night in the bathroom. At 0400 things started to improve and allowed me to start worrying about the next day’s teaching. I called my host as early as I felt I could get away with, to discuss the options with her.

One option was for me to stay in bed and have my host contact everyone to give my regrets and cancel. But, since quite a number of people had come long distances and had booked rooms for their visits in town, that didn’t seem to be a very nice option.

Option 2: Since I was fit enough to stand (or sit) and make a decent stab at teaching, I could attempt to get my act together and teach, with support from the shop-owner if the going got too tough (i.e. bathroom break required). However, I also didn’t wish to risk sharing whatever bug I had with my students.

Option 3: To turn the day into an informal knitting day, and for the storeowner to make a significant refund.

Cancellation didn’t seem to be a happy option, so some combination of the second and third options seemed the best. With the aid of over-the-counter meds, glucose drinks, frequent hand washing and lots of hand sanitizer, we got the show on the road. We discussed the game plan for the class: I would make minimal hand to hand contact with the students, and if I had to pop out, the shop-owner would step in and keep things rolling. Thank goodness for my compulsively comprehensive workshop notes!

The students were very understanding; knitters are the salt of the earth! Most have, at one time or another, fielded the various curve balls that life throws at us , and tend to take these minor hiccups in their stride. (I have, at past conventions, been the recipient of displaced, but un-rattled, students whose instructor was indisposed. )

With a somewhat more than usual number of pit-stops, I made it through the morning. So far, so good. I had a nap at lunch time. I made it ⅔ of the way through the afternoon, but then had an unexpected relapse. It was game over for me.

All this left me with some questions after the event: Were five (out of a proposed six) hours of teaching (admittedly perhaps not with quite my normal gusto) better than me staying in bed? There was access to my samples and the comprehensive workshop notes, plus teaching support from the wonderful shop-owner. Was the risk of spreading the virus acceptable to the students?

Luckily, I have taught four or five times for this wonderful store, so I didn’t feel that my failure to perform at 100% would be taken as the norm. The shop-owner was very kind and supportive. But, now we get down to the nitty gritty: there are many financial considerations in hosting an event such as this. The rental of the teaching space, cost of the flights, baggage and ground transportation, the catered lunch: all still have to be paid for by the shop-owner.

After the event, we received a number messages from students ranging from many of the ‘Thanks for a great and inspiring time’ kind, to one along the lines of ‘I really think we should have had a refund.’

The crew here at Tradewinds debated this problem, as well as discussing this with the shop-owner. It’s very difficult to say what would have been the right response, since something important was at stake for each participant. In the end, we at Tradewinds sent each student a credit note as a token of our appreciation of their support in rough times.

What do you think should have been done? Have you experienced this as a teacher or a student? Please pass along your thoughts on this issue.


9 Responses to “Teaching Dilemmas 101!”

  1. Paula D. Says:

    Having taught a few classes myself, I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to deal with illness. From a student’s perspective, 5 out of 6 hours would have been fine with me. After all, you’re a human being, not a video on YouTube.

  2. Cheryl Waters Says:

    No matter what you had done there would be someone unhappy with your decision. Personally I would prefer the approach you took but I would have understood if you had decided to cancel all together. I would have found it an honor to have an abbreviated lesson from you rather than none at all.

  3. JoLynn Says:

    I think your response was far exceeded the problem. I think it was handed the best way, possible. It is unfortunate that they are grumpy knitters in the world.
    In my lys classes, I have students not return for the second or third class. I wish they would give me or the shop owner feedback.
    I have certainly been to classes (besides knitting) that were substandard. I didn’t expect a refund, but usually have the opportunity to fill out an evaluation.

  4. Fortunately I have never been ill while teaching. I think the way you handled it was lovely. Most people would appreciate the huge effort you made to perform. Following up with the credit note was a decent response too. I hope I would handle something similar with as much grace.

  5. mk Says:

    There’s always someone with a bee in her bonnet.

    I think you far exceeded the most reasonable of expectations. As previously stated by another commenter – you are a human being!

    Hugs to you…

  6. Alice Says:

    Hi Lucy,

    I was one of the four people who came up from Boston for the workshop you are talking about. I’m sorry you received unpleasant messages from other attendees. I think I can speak for all four of us that we felt nothing but compassion for your illness. Even at low ebb you are amazing. We were touched and appreciative that you sent us the Tradewinds coupon. That was a lovely gesture for something that was not your fault.

    In fact, we thought that any recompense should have come from the shop. For example, a couple of years ago I took a workshop at Webs that had been overbooked. As an apology, the shop gave each participant a $20 coupon to the store. How smart was that? We all spent it, and probably more, on the spot, and left the day feeling like all was made right.

    Granted, it wasn’t the shop in NH’s fault that you got ill, and they did their best. But no way would we have signed up for a class at that price and driven three hours in one day for a class by a yarn-shop owner–we could do that here. YOU were the draw and, as I said, even a sick you is worth twice the price.

    But the shop should have made a gesture. It would have been a great PR move for them, and a win-win.

    Anyway, thanks and I am glad you recovered quickly. Oh, and I am doing one of the easy lace projects from Victorian Lace Today and “getting” it and enjoying it, so count that in the plus column!


  7. Priscilla Says:

    Hi Lucy,

    I had never attended one of your classes before, so had none of your others to compare it to….that being said, I found both you and your class utterly delightful and inspiring and look forward to taking more classes with you in the future. I’m not sure that I could have soldiered on in a similar way, and I totally admire your efforts. Thanks so much for the credit, and for making the decision to teach that day.

    Best Regards,

    Priscilla White-Tocker (pwhitocker on Ravelry)

  8. Mairi Says:

    Hi Lucy,

    I encountered a similar situation when I attended a concert in California and the singer was ill with some kind of URI that devastated her singing voice. I had shelled out for my ticket, and I had gone to a lot of work to rearrange my (business) travel plans to allow me a free day to get to the concert. The important thing is that it was a singer from England that I have never before or since had an opportunity to see live.

    They did much the same as you – she sang a reduced program, with her band filling in the rest without her, and she took frequent breaks to rest her voice. She sounded better than a normal mortal, but not a patch on her normal singing voice. As a concert, it was quite disappointing, but I was really just worried that she might be trying to hard and straining her voice. Life just does that sometimes; all we can do is shrug and accept it.

  9. Shirley Says:

    I think you did the best you could under the circumstances. The organizer could have offered a discount on a future class, a small credit at the shop or something of that sort. We are not robots but imperfect humans who occasionally succumb to the joys of viruses shared. From my experience in being a student, those sharing their expertise usually impart so much information and learning from the get-go, that I think your group got their money’s worth anyway.

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