Workshop postmortem the third

November 21st, 2006 by Reinder

Today started rather badly: I was spending a lazy morning at home, convinced that I wasn' t going to need to do anything before getting on the bus at 11:17 to teach a cartooning workshop at a Praktijkschool in Emmen. At about 10:30, the phone rang. It was the coordinator at the school, telling me she was afraid of this, that she'd meant to call to confirm yesterday and that I was supposed to be present at the school for a 105-minute workshop at that very moment. Oops.
The prospect of missing one of the workshops was pretty much my worst nightmare all month, a black cloud hanging over me all these weeks, and now it's happened. Why?
Mistake #1: I didn't write the appointment down on paper immediately after the morning block was booked (it was booked after the afternoon appointment).
I'm crap at taking notes. To compensate for this, I rely on my email inbox to tell me when all my appointments are. This would have worked well enough (not as well as actually owning a calender to write appointments down in, but just about adequately, considering that I look at my inbox several times a day, and the last time I had a calender, it languished at the bottom of my rucksack) if it weren't for mistake #2:
Mistake #2: I put the wrong value on the cost of a new motherboard and an afternoon spent installing my PC. Two weeks ago, My PC broke down with all my administration stuff still on it. I was given the option of buying an inexpensive replacement motherboard instead of waiting for the warranty replacement to come in. The €50 cost wouldn't have been a problem, but I thought I was really too busy to do the follow-up work - reinstalling everything just to make sure it would work properly. Wrong choice - having my data back earlier would have been totally worth the hassle, no matter how busy I was.
I've taken steps to rectify this mistake, but I won't get my system back until Thursday, no matter what.

Having apologised profusely, I went on to doublecheck everything, finding in the process that for one thing, taking the 11:17 Qliner to Emmen would have resulted in me being late for the afternoon workshop as well! So I took the 11:02. Later, I would find out that I really ought to have taken the 10:32... but if I had, I'd have missed the coordinator's call and I'd have had a nasty surprise on arrival.

Lessons learned:

1. Public transport in southern Drenthe is even worse than I remembered from my three years commuting there every day. It's tempting to say the Qliners are crap; they are not. The real problems are that there are no passenger trains between Groningen and Emmen and that the Qliners have to use the sclerotic N34 road just like all other vehicles. If I wanted to design an infrastructure with the goal of keeping the peasants in their place so they don't get uppity, the road and lack-of-a-railway system between Groningen and Emmen is exactly what I'd come up withy.
2. All your contacts must have your cell phone number. I know that's a no-brainer for everyone else just like keeping proper notes is, but I still don't quite trust the damned things, even though I've been using mine more and more. I just might be in the market for a cell phone with a calendar function, now that I mention it...
3. Online travel planners like 9292ov.nl? Totally not to be trusted.

So there I was at the train station, calling the already quite harried coordinator to ask her to pick me up because the connecting bus didn't actually leave in time to get me to the school on time. I was in a bit of a panic by then, feeling that the spirit of Murphy had dropped down from the heavens, pointing his finger at me and going "Your turn." But that was where the misery ended; the coordinator showed up, we arrived in time and even had an opportunity to discuss teaching techniques and the qualities of my students before getting down to the nitty gritty of pumping young heads full of mad artistic skills.

And I'll admit, that went rather well. Compared to my first shot at teaching at a Praktijkschool, I was better able to communicate to the class, keep their attention, and pitch the workshop to their ability. Improvements included modulating my voice so it was low-pitched, high-volume and slow-paced; keeping my hyperactive movements under control and bringing back to the class a lot of what I do in my workshops at primary schools. I also waited to introduce the anti-discrimination theme until the second half of the class, figuring that it would be better to focus on the art for its own sake for the first hour and that the class would not be able to remember it long enough anyway. This worked, and even earned me praise from the class's regular CKV teacher.
I still find the actual introduction of the theme awkward to do; the fact that I'm expected, in practice, to teach two things, one of which I'm not a specialist in, makes it difficult for me. In addition, I have found over the years that classes respond negatively to having themes dictated to them, and this one was no exception. Themes are abstract, leading the students' imagination away from what they can handle into some kind of mental wilderness. In fact, now that I think of it, adult artists also often have problems with themes, as studio-mate Edmond's experiences as the showrunner for 21 themed issues of the zine Gr'nn have shown.
Nevertheless, my paycheck says the workshops have to result in art about a theme, to the best of my ability to wring it out of the students. Luckily, I now have one catch-up class scheduled for next week, in which, at the advice of the regular teacher, I will do for the students what they themselves can't quite do - turning the theme into a subject and giving them concrete instructions for a sequence of four or five panels. These kids need those extra instructions.
I learned some more about the Praktijkscholen:
1. I'd refered to them in English-language communication as "Special Ed"; but in fact, they're one step above Special Ed proper. Many of the kids in the system do go on to a higher level of vocational education (source: a newspaper article pinned to the walls, about the problems kids from a Praktijkschool experience when they progress through the education system).
2. Nevertheless, the expected attention span in a Praktijkschool class is about 20 minutes. Regular classes last 20 minutes to half an hour. The fact that I kept them engaged for the better part of my 105 minutes is quite an achievement. I might make the catch-up class slightly shorter, because the final quarter of an hour got a bit chaotic, but for the most part, I'm now doing fine.

Once again, I got results out of the class. I'll need to do some sifting before I hand everything over to the organisers, but art was created, most of it was finished, and all of it was on-topic. Like I said, a big improvement to my previous attempt.

On my way back on the Qliner, I sat behind a candidate MP! Socialist Party candidate Rosita van Gijlswijk was busy making calls to the media to arrange several appearances over the next 24 hours. I spoke to her briefly, joking that I hadn't expected to be traveling on a campaign bus. I liked the fact that she traveled by public transport - not that a limousine would have got her to Groningen any faster, this being the N34... It was fun to listen to her working for a while; she's clearly very experienced at working with the media. Rosita's place on the party list is in the zone where she might get elected if the polls are correct, and she seemed to be in a winning mood.

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