Gain cash, personal rewards as a teacher

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Gain cash, personal rewards as a teacher
It's not for the money
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Making a living at woodworking has always been a struggle for custom furniture makers. We’re all looking for a way to improve our cash flow, especially during times of economic downturn, and teaching is one such possibility.

But before one adjusts a business plan to include teaching, there are a variety of things to consider. The two most important questions are: 1) Do you have the personality and organizational skills to teach? and 2) Do you have the time, energy and ability to prepare a proper woodworking curriculum?

My route
After graduating from East Carolina University in 1974, I took an entry-level job with This End Up Furniture Co. in Raleigh, N.C. As one of the company’s more productive workers, well-respected by my peers and employers, I was often chosen to train new workers. Those workers often went on to become some of the most productive and quality-conscious workers in the company.

I started my own woodworking business in 1995. But with no desire to do large production runs or make a variety of items, it has been a struggle to make ends meet.

In 2002, a Woodcraft Store opened in our area and sent out a letter looking for potential instructors. I made a quick decision to meet with the owner, who offered to set up a few classes on a trial basis. Teaching has since become an ever-growing portion of my business income. Currently, close to 45 percent of my gross income is derived from teaching and demonstrating. Most of what I teach is related to woodturning, but I believe there is a definite need for good woodworking instructors.

The necessary skills
Here are the most important things to consider if you plan on teaching:

  • A good teacher must have patience.
  • A good teacher also has the ability to break instructions into easy-to-follow steps and is adept at a variety of teaching methods.
  • The best instructors are capable of clearly demonstrating techniques or skills, communicating well and providing informational handouts.
  • They have the ability to deal with different types of students, including the overachiever, perfectionist, and those who need help to learn.
  • With a class of several students, the teacher must be able to keep the pace of the class moving, so as not to bore anyone or leave anyone behind.
  • It’s a real plus to have the ability to recognize a student’s lack of understanding and know how to deal with it.
  • It’s critical that you’re up to date on all the safety rules for the equipment, and that you emphasize and practice safe techniques at all times.
  • Students benefit from words of encouragement and positive comments as their work progresses. Are you a cheerleader or a critic?
  • Be aware that almost as much time is spent preparing to teach a class as is spent teaching. The good news: The longer you teach, the shorter the preparation time.

Covering the basics
There are a number of factors that affect the financial aspects of teaching. The fee for the class and the number of students needs to be set at a rate that will provide enough income to cover expenses and provide some profit. The more students you have in a class, the easier it will be to keep the costs down and make a profit, but you will need more space and equipment.

When setting the fee for a class, factor in the value of your time for machine setup and maintenance, preparing a curriculum and handouts, moving shop work out of harm’s way, and lost work hours. As a classroom, your shop must be clean, well-maintained, and well-lit.