Teaching ceramics, I have found, takes a great variety of skills and knowledge to be successful. Students in a studio ceramics class learn most by doing, by experimenting, by failing, and then trying again. As an instructor my job is to provide information, inspiration, and a supportive environment that allows each student to develop his or her skills and gain a sense of confidence that what they have made has value.
I believe that an understanding of clay, glaze, and firing are essential to producing good ceramic work. Considerable time is needed for communicating technical information. Glaze chemistry, all aspects of firing, (loading kilns, observing cones, controlling reduction/oxidation etc.) and mixing clay, should be experienced by the student even in introductory level classes.
Students in ceramics need to understand the rich legacy historical pottery offers us as well as contemporary issues faced by artists working in clay.
Whether one works within parameters of utilitarian pottery, one-of a kind-vessels connecting historic pottery to more contemporary ideas, or with clay sculpture and conceptual art the student should understand their own intent and the context in which their work exists. This understanding can only be developed over time through critiques, slide lectures and discussion of clay objects and their place in our world.
Clay's ability to appear like other materials we know through our senses makes it wonderfully able to communicate everything from narrative social commentary to universal truths. Even a simple pot can, through decoration which relates to or denies the form it is on, communicate ideas beyond itself. Students should understand the many ways their work can have significant meaning.
As a ceramics teacher I must at the same time push the student to try new ways of working and help him or her understand their own gifts, sensibilities, and unique voice. This takes a concerted effort to listen and try knowing the student and a successful program will make this kind of interaction a priority.