Hobby class instructor seems to genuinely dislike me. How to let it go?
May 10, 2024 12:07 AM   Subscribe

I've been taking classes for a hobby (ceramics) for about a year now and been quite enjoying the long, slow process of learning a new skill. It's been a few weeks into my most recent "semester" and it's become apparent to me that my current instructor and I are a bad fit. I've still got a month and a half left of classes and I'd rather not drop out, so how can I make the most of this time without having my new passion smothered by negativity?

It's hard to really offer concrete examples of what I mean by bad fit (I mean, surely many of us have experienced the sinking feeling you get when someone you're interacting with simply doesn't like you?) but here are a few things that I've observed over the past few weeks:

- They don't give any feedback, constructive or otherwise, on any of my finished pieces whereas others in the class do get feedback. If I try to ask about how to improve specific aspects of my work I just get noncommittal answers.
- They appear annoyed/irritated when I ask questions during class about the process we're working on that week. Answers seem to imply that the question is irrelevant/unimportant or the answer is something obvious that everyone already knows (this is a beginner level class, and frankly they are not always great at explaining things the first time around)
- They have much more persnickety standards for cleaning my station than anyone else's, meaning I get less time to work because I have to spend more time cleaning at the end of class. (Accidentally confirmed this last class by swapping stations with a classmate at the last minute; the one that the instructor thought was "mine" was judged much more harshly)

I guess I'll never know for sure why they seem to dislike me in particular, though I of course can't help but have theories. An acquaintance who's also a long-time member of the community, when I mentioned I was taking classes with this person, has remarked, unprompted, that they seem to have a preferred "type" which I certainly do not fit. It could also just honestly be an unfortunate personality clash. I realize that not everyone on Earth is going to like me and that's okay.

But, as someone who was a definite people-pleasing "pleasure to have in class" kind of student as a kid, I'm having an unreasonably hard time getting over this! I spend a lot of time in class (subconsciously, in hindsight) trying to win the approval of my instructor and I end each class feeling exhausted and demoralized, which sucks when this is something I'm doing to try and enrich my life. I'll definitely avoid taking a class with this person in the future, but I don't want to just drop out of my current session because a) these classes are expensive and hard to get into and the only time I get to practice pottery, and b) I am slowly starting to make friends with others who've taken these classes over multiple sessions, and I'd like to keep that going. How can I minimize the effect of these bad vibes on my remaining time in this class?
posted by btfreek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, I'm sorry you're dealing with. This instructor sounds like a real pill. As a fellow "pleasure to have in class" kid, I would also have a really hard time with this too.

Here's what I would do: replace the aspects of class you're not receiving with your instructor with feedback and advice from your peers. If it's possible, ask your fellow classmates if they can give you some thoughts on your pieces, or take photos and post them online for feedback from other artisans (/r/pottery has a nice little community). Stop asking questions or expecting anything from the instructor except for the bare minimum required -- coming to terms with the fact that you won't get it anyway might make it easier when it doesn't appear. Essentially, keep your head down and focus on the skills you're learning, that you will be able to carry forward.

It really sucks that you're not getting the mentoring relationship you'd expect (and, frankly, that you've paid for!), but I don't believe it would help much to try and push back against it, if this person has just taken a dislike to you based on some strange personality standards. Once the class is all over, I'd consider lodging a complaint with the organisers. If this instructor is really that notorious, I doubt it will be the first time, and these things stack up.
posted by fight or flight at 1:27 AM on May 10 [28 favorites]

Oh this is hard! I think if you can lean into befriending the other students you will be able to make the best of it. Classmates can give each other critiques as well as clarify instructions without necessarily stepping on a teacher’s toes, especially when you are all adults. Try to figure out the best times for friendly conversation and curiosity about each others’ work, give compliments freely and ask for honest opinions. It depends on the medium of course but often in art classes there will be stages of setup or prep or break down that don’t require much concentration and are good times to be friendly. That way you aren’t wasting other people’s time or interrupting the class while most people want to focus. I have minimal ceramics knowledge but I believe there is a lot of conditioning of the clay that might be an appropriate time?

I agree that after the class is over you should send a clear complaint to the school. These things do add up and if you want to take other classes with the students you befriend the chances are high that you would have to choose between no class at all or class with this same bad teacher.

Also do you have any idea what the source of their dislike could be? If it’s not an obvious prejudice like race or age or gender, you might have some luck with changing how you interact with them so at the very least your time is less acrimonious and more neutral. Obviously this sucks if the “type” they dislike is someone who asks for clarifications, but if it’s something like general volume of voice or energy levels you could try to modulate that somewhat, temporarily. Of course if it’s anything physical that does not pertain to studio safety (like you always wear open toed shoes to wood shop or something) then fuck that.
posted by Mizu at 1:38 AM on May 10

Based on what you've said - and your acquaintance's unprompted comment - I don't believe I'd wait for the class to be over. I'd make contact with a previous instructor I had a good rapport with, describe the difficulty you're encountering, and ask for their advice. If there is someone who supervises the instructors, they may recommend speaking to that person - or may decide to speak to that person on your behalf, even if you're unaware of it.

Typically, the person in charge would want to know about something that would deter people from enjoying the classes and coming back for more. Make sure and frame it not as "this person doesn't like me" but "I'm not getting the feedback I have in previous classes, but others in the same class are..."

However, if the difficult instructor IS the person supervising, or happens to own the studio, etc... well, you have a whole new level of difficult.

Also... is the acquaintance now aware that you're having a difficult time with this instructor? If so, what did they recommend?
posted by stormyteal at 3:33 AM on May 10 [14 favorites]

Stop trying to please them.

Don't give up valuable class time, that you are presumably paying for, to do extra cleaning. If you get scolded for cleaning when you know you're leaving a tidy station just look around and say "oh oops, well it looks fine to me!" and leave.

If you aren't getting feedback and you've witnessed other people receive feedback, phrase it like this: "I saw that you showed Debra how to [pottery skill]. Can you show me how to [other pottery skill]?" When you're asking to receive the teaching you are paying for, continually remind them like this that you're seeing the inequity.

And yes, complain about them to whomever is in charge.

Who cares if they don't like you when you change your behavior toward them? They already don't like you. At the worst case scenario, you'll be in the same place you are now but hopefully less demoralized and exhausted by it.

Sorry this is happening. One person bringing down the vibe and ruining a beloved hobby activity is one of the things that aggrieves me most in life.
posted by phunniemee at 3:56 AM on May 10 [50 favorites]

Any chance there's an equivalent class offered by the same program that you could ask to switch to?

whereas others in the class do get feedback

Everyone, or are some other people being consistently passed over too? If so you might compare notes on the experience and maybe have more influence as a group if you decide to call this behavior out to the management, or the teacher, at any point.
posted by trig at 4:07 AM on May 10 [8 favorites]

This is a random instructor with no power to harm your life by withholding grades, so the worst case scenario is that they like you less. Very low stakes. So in your shoes, I would practice getting more comfortable with discomfort by calling them out.

In a sunny and normal volume voice, in front of others, and with a smile, say:
Hey Les, I noticed you giving helpful feedback to other students; I would love some feedback as well! Is there anything I could do to improve this pot?

Another great tactic is to phone record the entire class as a voice memo in your pocket or on the desk. Not that you’re planning to use the recording or even listen to it again… but just making a recording will change your mindset from “I’m being bullied” to “I’m collecting evidence”. You’re no longer the runt of the class, now you’re a powerful undercover detective. It will change your body language in subtle ways and give you more social power.

Then, if Les picks on you, look at Les right in the eye, pause, smile, and then say, in a pleasant warm tone:

Pardon me? Is there something specific you’d like me to change? Wipe the table? Again? Hmm… well I did actually wipe it and I can see that my station is just as clean as everyone else’s. So I’m gonna jet for tonight, I have a train to catch!

Or start recording in your pocket, and then pull them aside - but with other people in the room who can overhear slightly - say, hey is everything ok? Sometimes the way you talk to me seems harsh and I wanted to check in. Please let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like me to adjust! I’m enjoying the class and hoping we can have a friendly relationship!

My guess is that responding with this kind of warm assertiveness just ONCE will make the bully back down.

And if it doesn’t, it will still teach YOU to stick up for yourself and make you stronger. Worst case scenario is that you hate the class even more and leave, but I don’t think that will happen.

I think Les will back down and be much more polite, as you deserve!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:50 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]

This person works for you and they are not doing their job. Ask questions that require them to give you some critique. Then ask more questions.

They are almost certainly aware that they are being passive-aggressive. They ignore you when they are not micromanaging you over stupid shit. This would be inappropriate if you were their employee, and you are not. If you want to be passive-aggressive back, I agree with giving them a big smile. You're smiling because you are going to get the instruction you came for and you're enjoying this activity and this person is not spoiling it for you.

If this was someone that was a gatekeeper in some way, like you needed them to help you get into a masters program or something, you might need to go talk to them and find out what the problem is. But in this case it's their problem and you don't need to worry about it.
posted by BibiRose at 6:15 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]

As to why this person is acting this way, sure, you may not be a good fit on some level? But in a classroom setting that is hardly relevant. Again, this instructor owes you a service. This is not the kind of relationship where a fit between you should be all that relevant. My guess would be that it's more of a case of them being on a power trip or liking to play favorites or some combination of those and they tend to pick a certain type of person to treat badly. But this is entirely on them and not on you.
posted by BibiRose at 6:25 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all. Unfortunately I don’t think complaining to some higher authority will help—they are one of the most senior people teaching here, semi-retired, and they project a certain amount of crotchety eccentricness that people tend to give older artists a pass for so I don’t think anyone will GAF. If I or others leave, last I checked there are literally dozens of people on a waiting list for a class and presumably at least some subset of those folks won’t inspire the same degree of dislike, so they would have no trouble replacing me or anyone else.
posted by btfreek at 6:49 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

I'd still complain, even with your update. "More senior" does not equate more power, at least not always, and it's very possible that this guy is semi-retired because of previous complaints. The fact that they refuse to give you feedback is enough of a reason to complain - you're paying to learn, and they aren't helping you learn. Otherwise, I agree with the advice to lean on your peers - I took an art class in college with a professor known to be a bit of a jerk, and it was the other students who made the class bearable.
posted by coffeecat at 7:06 AM on May 10 [9 favorites]

I have tried this one thing once, with a work supervisor who seemed to not like me, and it worked, but it required far more willingness to engage in a confrontation and blame myself than I have ever been willing to muster in any other situation, but I offer it up as a possibility.

I set up a private meeting with the person and said something in this vein:

"Hey, I set up this meeting because -- and this might just be me, because I have a weird hangup about thinking that I annoy other people -- but I feel like maybe I annoy you. And I don't want to be annoying! Where other members of the team get detailed feedback on their projects and answers to their questions, it feels like maybe mine are too nitpicky and are wasting your time. Are there other resources I should be using first to get information before I come to you for help?"

The framing of it as a me problem was intentionally self-deprecating, because it was very clear to me that it was not at all a me problem, but by framing it that way, I gave them the opening to say 'oh, no, of course not, you can ask me all the questions you want, I am here to help' and from then on they were much more conscious of at least being passably responsive to me.

Obviously the specifics of my situation -- questions too detailed and deep dive rather than basic, work supervisor not instructor -- were different, but maybe there's something in the approach that you can use.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:09 AM on May 10 [9 favorites]

As far as making the best of it - I took a great ceramics class a while back, and became mildly obsessed for a while. I watched the Great Pottery Throwdown, started following Tim See and others, joined some online ceramics communities, got ceramics books from the library.

It was very empowering. In my case the instructor was very amiable but the class was rather full and I couldn’t ask all of the questions I wanted to ask. This approach helped me feel less limited by the class format.
posted by bunderful at 7:18 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]

I'm in a kind of similar situation, but different hobby. On the theme of not letting the negativity overshadow your hobby, it's really difficult and I have so much sympathy! What I try to do is say "Well, this teacher isn't going to give me x, y and z that I want, so I'll focus on what they ARE able to give me." Which sounds nice, and helps reset your brain and disrupt the negative thoughts, except what the teacher IS able to give me is ... not bupkis, but almost.

I would think about doing some independent learning somehow, between classes, online or whatever, on the same skills you're learning in class, and using your class time as more of a "rented studio time" type situation for practice. So you get value from the time independent of the teacher. Also, I find it easiest to learn by listening carefully to critiques of other students' work (I have thin skin so direct critique triggers me). This you can still do.

Also as people said above, use the time to build connections with the other students.

Then just avoid her classes in future.
posted by bluesky78987 at 7:40 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]

I don't know if this is helpful, but I would reframe this as "instructor is a weird jerk" and not "instructor doesn't like you." It is extremely normal not to like people, but most people keep their feelings to themselves because to do otherwise is to invite an unnecessary amount of drama and conflict into everyday interactions.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:51 AM on May 10 [18 favorites]

I think that just "trying not to feel bad about it" wouldn't work for me. But something I have learned (somewhere on this site, I'm certain of) that does help is to pretend you're a sociologist sent there to conduct research on the kind of person who would choose to be an instructor and then choose not to instruct certain students in their class. Are they just old and tired of the same questions that people ask in beginners classes? Do they have some issue at home that is making them stressed about even being there? Do they have a long commute on the days you see them which makes them extra cranky?

If that brings you some relief then you might even start having some fun with it and do things like ask the same question, but in a different way, every single class and then write notes on how it went. Or try a compliment at the beginning of class vs at the end and see how they react. Or, switch stations at the end of class with a different person each time and see if they continue to single you out for having it cleaned up enough. I would try to stay away from doing anything that could come across as mocking or mean spirited but involving a couple other students and injecting a little levity into it might help. In general, just putting some distance between you and the person by seeing them as a "research subject" might help you take it a lot less personally and that will help you get through this.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:55 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

You're paying for this for recreation and part of the teacher's job is to be at least neutral toward you. They don't have to love you but it's not med school--they kind of do have to be pleasant to you. It doesn't sound super salvageable and I'd consider writing and saying you aren't happy with the class (presumably they'll know why and won't ask) and get a refund and take a different class.
posted by less-of-course at 8:08 AM on May 10

Humor. And say humorous things in a way that makes it clear that _you_ feel only affection for _him_.

It would be easy to read this as snarky, but it should actually be said as very affectionate:

"You know, Jim, I thought I'd just be getting tips about making sure my sponge was wet enough or adjusting my wheel speed, but you've really opened my eyes to the importance of keeping my workspace clean. If that's why your bowls are so exquisite -- I'm sorry, but I'm still missing something! How can I make my workspace organized enough that my work actually improves? You can see how awful it is -- what am I not cleaning up correctly?"
posted by amtho at 8:14 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

I'm a fellow people pleaser who has taken a few ceramics classes recently. For your next pottery adventure, I found that hand building attracts a much more chill crowd than throwing.

Since wheel classes are so expensive, I'd try going to future classes with a manageable goal (make a handle, make a vase, etc.). I'd recommend watching some YouTube videos before and then asking the instructor whether you have the technique right. I've found that persnickety instructors can't resist this sort of thing, especially if you say you saw how to do it online and just want to make sure you are understanding correctly.
posted by JuliaKM at 8:28 AM on May 10

I think it's great that you're aware of your people-pleasing tendencies, because addressing it from that angle could help with tolerating this instructor's unexplained but evident dislike of you, and with letting go of any further efforts to ingratiate yourself to them.

An important thing to keep in mind is that people-pleasing is one of many solutions we stumble upon to manage our relative powerlessness and immense dependency as children. For some, as in your case, it sticks around for much longer, long past the point where it matches your level of powerlessness and dependency.

So it'll be important to remind yourself that you're, in fact, no longer a child, and you're not powerless here, nor are you dependent on this instructor in the way you may have been on your parents, or teachers, or other adults.

I rather like a lot of the suggestions already offered, because so many of them are things that would not occur to a child to do, or are not possible for a child to do. So by trying some of them, even if they don't produce concrete changes in how the instructor treats you, they may have the benefit of helping to remind you that you're not so powerless or vulnerable anymore. And the more you can hold that in mind, the more you may be able to take in stride this crotchety eccentric's strange hostility towards you. And you'll only need to do it for another month and a half.

There are other ways to remind yourself as well - through words/phrases, through your classmates, through other loved ones - so you could take this as a starting point and play around with what could specifically work for you. Good luck, and again - just a month and a half left!
posted by obliterati at 8:34 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]

I would disconnect from trying to get what you want out of this instructor, as they seem fairly determined to not give you constructive feedback and they don't want to answer your questions. I agree with fight or flight that you won't get what you want out of them and disconnecting from that hope is the best option (especially since complaining to the organization about a bad instructor is a no-go).

Possible workarounds:
(a) ask your classmates for feedback
(b) see if you can get a classmate to ask your questions for you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:11 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

I don't know how this instructor really feels about you, but as someone on the receiving end of this in the past, I say fuck 'em. They're not doing their job properly as a professional regardless of their feelings, so their approval doesn't mean shit. You don't need their approval to learn and progress in this class. Keep asking questions even if they seem annoyed- your questions are helping other people in the class as well. Ignore their petty cleaning hang-ups and just clean the heck out of your station so they look more unhinged if they complain. Take what you can get out of time working with clay and don't feed their childish BS in any way. I know it really sucks when you've paid good money to be taught, but this individual is apparently incapable of being professional and that has nothing to do with you as a student. Talk to your peers for advice and feedback as much as possible and don't take this muffinhead personally because they don't know you. Sometimes you just get bad teachers.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:40 PM on May 10 [3 favorites]

I'd say that phunniemee has it.

Stop people pleasing, and please yourself.

You're there to learn through practice, and enjoy what you're doing - not to seek approval from an authority figure, especially when it is a creative process and everyone has their own idea of beauty, style, technique, etc.

Creativity, especially in such a tactile medium, is not something that can necessarily be taught - it is something that evolves through experimentation, and certain things can only be nudged in the direction of learning a more advanced skill once the student has shown *through their own practice* that they understand certain basics of say, consistency, humidity, working time, layering, kneading, etc... (I don't know any terms relating to pottery, but I was just imagining what some could be here). This instructor could quite possibly be thinking that you aren't ready for certain instruction and that you are trying to push forward with impatience instead of developing your intuitive understanding of working with the clay.

You may find that you discover the answers you are seeking for yourself once you put the focus on your work instead of seeking approval. That being said, the instructor *could* try a little harder to understand where you are coming from, but that doesn't mean her method is necessarily unfounded.
posted by itsflyable at 4:43 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Call them out on their shit in front of everyone. When they give feedback to the entire class and skip you over, say in a big loud voice, “Hey there, I think you’ve forgotten to go over my work!” “Hi, is there any reason you’re not giving me feedback?” “I feel invisible here, is there some reason you’ve skipped me, I would like feedback too!”

This person is relying on you being too embarrassed or shy to say anything. Make it clear you’ll be publicly telling it like it is if you don’t get the instruction you paid for.

I had a university instructor do this to me. He hated me for some reason and when he would go around a circle of students giving feedback, he’d literally skip me and go to the next person. This went for a long time before I felt comfortable accepting this was intentional

It was damaging my education so I had to go to the dean of the school and formally complain. I’m pretty sure it caused drama for him but he did stop and then I made sure I never took another class with him.

Best of luck, I know it’s a really awful feeling.
posted by Jubey at 12:28 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

I would start treating the class as personal studio time, as bluesky78987 said, and stop expecting the instructor to provide you with anything. It sucks that you're not getting what you pay for, but I would find shifting my expectations to be much more productive and less stressful than trying to either confront or win over someone who's being crappy and unprofessional to me. Especially since there are only six weeks of classes left- it might be different if you were going to be stuck in this situation for months or years.
posted by metasarah at 8:39 AM on May 13

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