I was originally planning on putting down my thoughts on the importance of teaching HOW to teach. But today I read a comment on Facebook by someone who challenged the whole certification process. She believes, and I’m sure others do as well, that certification by any company that manufactures metal clay is simply a ploy to increase sales. Actually, she claimed it was a pyramid scheme, which is entirely incorrect. Sooooooooo, my blog this time is deviating from my original intent to address this whole “credentials” issue.
You have to remember that the 2 primary companies manufacturing metal clay are located in Japan. There is a very deep, social stigma that the Japanese attach to failure. Success is more than just a marketing goal. When silver clay first came out, it was unlike anything else that was on the market. It was not like traditional metal smithing, and certainly not like polymer clay, though some of the tools overlapped. I’m only speaking about Aida Chemical Industries, of course, since that’s the company with which I’m most familiar. But for Aida, certification was created to insure, as much as possible, consumer success in using the product. Without instruction, and I’m talking about hand-on instruction, using Art Clay correctly can be daunting, and you can mess it up in a heartbeat. Faced with a 10 gram lump of unrecognizable silver, I can guarantee that the user is going to blame the company for making a crappy product and not explaining how the heck to use it. And he or she will then tell 10 of his/her friends how crappy a product it is. Not an option.
I personally believe that certification, especially beginning certification (Level 1 for Art Clay) is a necessity for anyone who plans on teaching Art Clay to others. Why? Because if you don’t, you may not have all the knowledge you need to pass on to your student. And, if the student is curious and has lots of questions, you better know how to answer them. I’m not talking about the ability of the instructor to instruct. That’s an entirely different conversation. I’m talking about the difference between a mechanic who only knows how to change the oil but can’t help you if you hear a clank or see a red fluid dripping from a hose, and a comprehensive mechanic who understands the basics of the internal combustion engine.
Are there Art Clay instructors out there who aren’t certified and do just fine? Of course, Hopefully, they teach within their comfort zone and aren’t passing on any bad or incorrect information. But if they aren’t Certified by Art Clay, I have no idea where they got their information. Did they read about it, get it second hand? As the owner of the US distributorship, I can tell you that I’m concerned about instructors who aren’t certified, because I DON’T know if they have the right information or not. We keep a pretty tight leash on what is taught in certification. There is a curriculum to follow that we know is acceptable to Aida in Japan and actually goes above and beyond their requirements. There are checklists and pictures are taken of projects that reflect those requirements.
Going back to the accusation that our certification program is a pyramid scheme, I can tell you right now that anyone who is certified doesn’t kick anything back to us when they teach. As a matter of fact, they get a discount for having certified with us. I know several true pyramid type businesses and Art Clay World certainly isn’t one of them. Anyone who is certified a Level 1 instructor can teach anything BUT certification to others. In order to certify others, one has to be a Senior Certified instructor, with advanced levels of skill. I know there are exceptions out there, so don’t go writing me to point out someone you know who really isn’t a very good teacher. Again, I’m not talking about the skill of teaching, I’m talking about the skill of using Art Clay.
In a nutshell, I believe in the Certification process. I believe it’s necessary to keep standards up, since we ALL know that silver clay is so easy it doesn’t take much to punch out some really unattractive-looking pieces. And I suppose any knowledge is better than NO knowledge. But as the “keeper of the standards” as far as Art Clay World USA goes, I firmly acknowledge that, as a student, I’d rather have someone certified than not. Think of it as going to a surgeon. Now, any old MD can hang a shingle and call themselves a surgeon and cut you up. But do you REALLY want a minimally-trained MD with a scalpel in his or her hand? Or do you want a BOARD CERTIFIED surgeon who you know has met rigorous standards? Why should our skills be any different, and why should we demand less when we are passing on knowledge regarding our own art form? Does having more Certified Instructors increase our sales? I sure hope so. But it also makes it more likely that the people behind those new sales will understand the product and be more successful when using it.You shouldn’t have one without the other.
As for teaching instructors HOW to teach….I think that is essential as well, and our goal for 2015 is to set up a separate program to do just that. It’s something that’s been a long time coming, but because of feedback from an instructor survey I sent out recently, it’s apparent that the time is now. I’m hoping to have a workshop sometime in the Fall, open to any Art Clay certified instructor at any level. In addition, I’d like to get that program on a DVD, available to anyone who feels they need basic skills in instructing others. Heck, I guess it will give us something to do around the shop in all our spare time…