Laurel Stuff: my Approach to Students and Apprentices, and my Apprentice Questionnaire

As I ramp up my involvement in the work of being a Laurel, I’ve been really enjoying developing formal and informal mentoring relationships. I thought I would share some of what I do that might be helpful to both peers and those interested in working with peers.

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SCAheraldryRight now, I have a few people whom I think of as “associates” — we haven’t formalized our relationship, but I think they’re cool and I give them as much active help and advice as they’ll accept (and I have time for). (Conchobhar was strongly in this category, incidentally.) This might be help and advice around specific topics (how to do research, making pies, fire cooking) or it might be more general (demystifying the Laurels’ council, A&S competition coaching). Associates have no obligation to me, they’re just people I have taken a shine to.

I also have two students with whom I have entered into a more structured agreement. They get a bit more of my time and energy than my associates. Becoming my student entails some conversation to make sure it’s something we both want and a short ceremony (at an event) making some agreements to each other but not swearing fealty. I ask my students to set some kind of concrete goal, and I operate on a year-by-year “contract” with each student; at the end of that year, the student can opt to renew the contract and continue being a student, we can talk about them becoming an apprentice, or we can both go our separate ways.

While student can be a stepping stone to apprentice, it doesn’t have to be — if someone wants to learn from me and doesn’t want to do the fealty part, is already in fealty to another, has zero desire to be a Laurel, or whatever, student is a perfectly worthy thing to be. In all of this, I try to center the needs of the learner rather than myself. (Oh, uh, if you’re just joining us: I am modernly a teacher at an alternative high school, and I am passionate about the craft of teaching. Not surprisingly, this heavily informs my approach to being a Laurel.)

One of my students is about to “graduate up” to being an apprentice.In addition to requiring potential apprentices to spend a year being my student first, they also must complete a project of their choosing during that time. This approach serves several goals, like allowing us to get to know each other more formally to see if this is likely to be a productive relationship and helping me get a sense of their SCA work style and current level of skill. The main distinction I make between apprentice and student is fealty: an apprentice is in fealty to me, a student is not. An apprenticeship term will be for a year with the opportunity for as many renewals as desired; I believe in making the continued relationship opt-in rather than opt out, so if I drop off the face of the planet my apprentices are released from their bond.

As part of this, I have developed a short questionnaire for the apprentice to complete. It’s one more tool for me to know what this person hopes to get out of their association with me — this can help me choose what to focus on when giving advice and feedback, and I also genuinely like getting to know people. More critically, this is a tool to help the apprentice reflect on their own journey and goals. As a Laurel, I cannot walk the path for you. I can’t even tell you how to walk the path. I can show you where the mountain is, and I might be able to point you toward a path; while you walk the path, I can offer you advice as you encounter obstacles, but in the end your path will be your own. Apprenticeship is not magical. Laurels are not magical. We can help you see what work needs to be done, but you’ll have to do it yourself. I am interested in developing more reflective tools around this concept.

Because I think other peers might be interested in adapting this for their own needs, and non peers might be interested in this sort of self-evaluation, here’s a copy of the questions in my questionnaire. Blanket permission for personal use, including adapting/modifying. If you publish any or part of it, or a derivative work, please include a credit to me. Thanks and enjoy!

Eulalia’s Apprentice Questionnaire
Disclaimers: This isn’t a job application. There are no wrong answers. These questions are deliberately open-ended. Eulalia assumes no risk or liability.

Why do you want to be an apprentice? What do you hope to get out of the experience?

Describe 1-3 specific hopes or expectations you have about an apprentice-Laurel relationship.

Why do you want to be MY apprentice? What do you think that I can offer you that someone else couldn’t?

What are the three MOST important things that you want from me as your Laurel and why?

Describe your communication style and preferences. Include things like how you like to be contacted.

Describe 1 worry or concern that you have about being my apprentice (or being an apprentice generally).

What do you consider your “specialty”? What ONE discipline / research area is MOST important to you?

What’s one project / art form that you’ve always wanted to try that’s completely outside of your current comfort zone?

What are your SCA goals for the next…
1 year?
5 years?
10 years?

What are some important parts of your life outside of the SCA?

What accomplishment are you most proud of…
In the SCA during the last year?
In the SCA overall?
In your personal life in the last year?
In your personal life overall?

List three specific commitments that you think you could make for yourself or to me for your first year of apprenticeship:

The SCA is Real

 

SCAheraldryCompare “The Dream” to “Mundane” — when we talk about the SCA, we often use language that emphasizes transcending reality. SCAdians set aside our everyday lives and come together to build a shared fantasy. It’s make-believe, really. We dress up and play make-believe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually not saying that as an insult — I think that make-believe and story-telling are two of the most important facets of being human. But I certainly have heard people critique the SCA as nothing but escapism, and I myself often talk about it as being not really real. When I start to get too bogged down in SCA politics, I remind myself that “it’s all just pretend anyway, we’re a bunch of dweebs in a field.”

Here’s the thing: that’s wrong, and I know it, and you know it. The truth is, the SCA is real.

Let me tell a story. A few weekends ago, during Royal Court, I listened to the speakers during Peerage elevations. I was deeply moved by their words — stories about the candidates, deep philosophical truths, calls to action, appeals to honor and accounts of glory. While I was listening, I was struck by the realization that this kind of public speaking is a dying art. While some of the speakers read from notes, a surprising number did not. How many people do you know who can confidently speak to an audience? I work with teenagers — getting them to even buy into the concept that speaking in front of a crowd is a valuable skill is an uphill battle. Yet in the SCA, this is something that we treasure and cultivate and regularly employ.

This got me thinking about all the skills I’ve learned in the SCA. Did you know I was painfully uncomfortable with the idea of teaching when I first joined the SCA? But a wonderful peer and mentor guided me into teaching a few classes. Now I teach for a living. My fealty relationships have taught me about mentorship, and about building up another person, and I’ve applied those lessons to working with my students and with student teachers. Having a blog, writing mostly for myself but also for my audience, has given me an outlet and the motivation to keep writing. Doing research and writing documentation has taught me academic skills that I think most people don’t get outside of a university setting. Learning to make garb helped me learn to shop for clothes, and gave me a unique personal style. Volunteering at events, especially in “management” positions, has helped me develop my own leadership style (and continues to challenge me by showing me my weaknesses). Sitting in the Laurels’ Council has taught me when to speak and when to keep silent.

Last weekend I took my first student. As is the custom among my household, I asked that we seal our bond with a Toast, a Boast, and and Oath. My toast was to this crazy game —  I remarked that really we were all just at a historical dress cocktail party in a cow pasture. And yet think of the amazing acts of valor and honor you commit and witness at SCA events, the genuine bonds of friendship that are forged, and the inexhaustible pursuit of becoming our better selves. We make those cow pastures into palaces, war fields, and artists’ workshops. Now as I embark on the work of helping another person build themselves up, I am struck anew: the SCA is real, and it is incredible. I love my chosen family. Huzzah!