Now, a word from our assistant, Alex Armanino:
Jim and I have developed a dynamic of teaching that we like to call, “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” Can you guess which of us is which? I’ll give you a hint–guess again…
Jim always maintains a jovial demeanour with his students, as he does with just about everyone he meets. He leads by example, and if ever a student is not accomplishing his work properly, he swoops in to save the day, with a tranquil, “Let me help you with that.” Even during times of frustration, a great example of which was regaled in the post Kali Ma, Jim remains calm, cool, and collected, exuding the philosophy, “why worry?”
I, on the other hand, am not so easy going or easy to please. It is expected that each student reaches perfection, and for me this is the essential goal. The group is quite a mixed bag, and of course it goes without saying that everyone works at their own pace. Several of the students are experienced instrument repairers while others have never held a carving knife before. Whatever the case, I treat each student with the same expectation that they are capable of accomplishing their work beautifully and independently. In my life, my favorite teachers are generally the toughest and most strict. Upon handing in essays in grammar school, my best teacher wouldn’t simply collect the work and pat me on the back to commend me for just doing the work, but would read all of it and would ask me very critical questions, looking for areas of improvement. I’ve found this to be an effective tactic for coming to realize ones own mistakes. It is my belief that proficiency can only be acquired when the work has been recognized and accomplished on ones own. This is what I expect from the students, and if ever I see someone cutting corners I can be tough.
Students have often come to me with their chins up to proudly display their work for my inspection. But if it is not perfect I will explain to the student why it is not up to my standard and instruct him to carry on. Looking sad and dejected, he will return to his seat and quietly continue his task. The less inclined student will come back moments later to tell me that the problem has been fixed when, more times than not, it will look exactly the same. This is when I become strict and will hover over the student and observe him at work, giving criticism all the while. This approach gets fine results, but has caused a phenomenon in the studio. A slight schism has occurred in which certain students gravitate towards the larger room lined with tables, where I hop around from student to student, and others retreat to the main room, where Jim works at the bench. It has also caused them to play mommy and daddy with us; if I disapprove, the student will rush to Jim looking for his confirmation instead. It’s made clear when someone has won the game. Jim rings the bell, announces the success of the craftsman and everybody claps triumphantly for their collogue–and this causes me to re-evaluate my teaching methods.
What makes Jim a great teacher, and a wonderful person to be around, is that he is an honest and tough critic, expecting the same level of work out of his students that he acquires in his own work. He is an experienced teacher, possessing the ability to give encouragement when needed, or put naysayers in their place by allocating them to the more menial tasks. But at the end of the day, he’s always going to be there to ease your mind about any problems or misunderstandings you might have had and give you a comforting morale booster. Each day I work with Jim and his fantastic students gives me such pleasure, and makes me tremendously aware of all I still have to learn from him.