Monday, December 1, 2008

"...Plus One Additional Thing."

19. “…Plus One Additional Thing.”

One of the constant challenges in a shared studio space is cleanliness. Particularly in a ceramics facility where things may seem a little dirty from the first moment a student sees it, cleaning up may be pretty casual. By the end of the semester, the place is a pit and no one is making much of an effort to resist the trend. It’s unhealthy. It’s depressing. It interferes with doing good work.
I’ve tried several approaches as a teacher to get the students to clean up properly. Most failed. I finally hit upon a two-part system that seems to work pretty well. It goes like this:
“First, each student is expected to clean up every bit of mess they made, plus one additional thing. That may seem unfair, but doing a little more each time is the only way this place will ever improve. Also, each of you will inevitably overlook some bit of mess you’ve made, sometime. The ‘additional thing’ requirement allows each of you to help cover for those very understandable mistakes.
“Second, class is not over until the clean up is over. No one is permitted to leave early without the teacher’s permission. You’re all in this together. When the room is clean then class will be dismissed.”
Of course in a room where more than one class meets or where more than one teacher sets the standard students will quickly complain about the messiness of the room at the start of class. As a teacher, you can speak to the other teachers but you may have no influence over them. All you have is your influence over your own students. To them you can say, “It’s a cruel world and we can’t control the weather either. Maybe, over the course of the semester those other students will notice how nice we’ve been leaving the studio and shift to our example. In the meantime, this is about the studio conditions we are prepared to work under and what we’re going to do to create those conditions. Let’s not waste time talking about it, we’ve got pots to make.”
Perhaps this serves as a metaphor for our culture at large. When we claim to be virtuously cleaning up our own messes we are invariably wrong. Always, there is something we have missed and the world is that much the worse for our having been here. Only by correcting more than our ‘fair share’ can we really have any hope of improving things.
Once you’ve set the standard you’ll be amazed by the results. And the standard you set for beginning students will be the standard they keep for life, measuring all future studios by it.
Whether cleanliness has anything to do with godliness or not, it has everything to do with productivity, morale, and professional longevity. I hope that using this system will help you to improve yours.

“Leave it better than you found it.” -- Boy Scout proverb

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