|I Loves Me Some Minions. Mmm, Tasty. (2/7/08)
Someone asked me in my blog if apprenticeship was required to get a Laurel (a very reasonable question), and a bunch of peers replied that they had not been apprentices. Just to make sure everyone knows it's not required - it's not a fast-track to peerage, and doesn't neccessarily give someone an advantage, except that at least one Laurel knows who they are. Really, I think apprenticeship is mainly a way of making sure that there's always someone you're not afraid to ask for help. Secondary to that is the role of Laurel as advocate for the apprentice.
First, a peer is not required to take apprentices - mentorship can take lots of different forms. For instance, I have apprentices, but also like being available to anyone with a question, and Bob doesn't have any proteges, but is excellent at helping new people learn the ropes and find their feet so they can be successful in the SCA. His method is more generalized, but just as valuable as the peer who takes one or two people and works with them exclusively until they go as far as they can.
So, How can one be a good peer to one's apprentegés? Like all people-driven things, it really depends upon the people involved. Some people do well in a big happy loosely associated household/family, and some do better in a one-on-one situation. Some like the strictures of a formalized household, others are more casual about who does what. I do not require household membership from my apprentices - someone may have a household they already belong to, and I don't want to interfere with that - but if they want to, they can (and family members are not required to join). I allow them to decide where they want to go, and I like people who can work with a certain amount of independence, since I hate constant hand-holding (it feels like I'm doing all the work). However, I do ask that they check in with me regularly during the course of a project, so I can supervise and tell them if they've gone off the deep end; there's nothing more frustrating than having someone present me with a finished project that is completely wrong, especially when one or two checks could have fixed it.
There are as many relationship styles as there are peers, so saying what one should do is difficult. It's easier to talk about the things I've seen that haven't worked as well for the apprentice.
(All situations are fictitious; any resemblance to peers you might know is purely coincidental.) (No, really.)
1. The More, the Merrier - Sometimes, a peer goes off their head and starts collecting apprentices like they're free with every box of cereal. There can be several reasons for this: The peer likes them all, or the peer wants to mentor everyone interested in that particular art, or the peer is building a power base from which they will attempt to wreak havoc upon the world with their army of minions. Any way you look at it, the peer gets stretched a bit thin, and apprentices can suffer. Unless you're experienced at running college-level classes of thirty people or more, fewer is better, since you can spend more time with each apprentice, especially if they all have crises at the same time (and inevitably, they do).
1a ...Of course, if you're gathering apprentices so that they will all tell you how much they love you to make up for the fact that your father left your mother when you were four, and you'll never be lonely again, knock it off. You don't need to drag innocent people into your psychodrama.
1b ...If your goal is world dominion, just get yourself a couple of talented apprentices, and have them build you a robot army instead; it's cheaper in the long run, and the robots will remain loyal even if they don't get Laurels.
2. Oops! Disappearing Peer! - Everyone knows that real life takes precedence over the SCA (uh, most people, anyway). However, when you have apprentices, you have responsibilities. No-one can predict what might happen, but if you think you're burning out, make provisions for your apprentices - release them, foster them out to someone, something - just don't disappear without taking care of them. The ideal thing would be to discuss this possibility when first discussing apprenticeship - that way, you and they have an idea of what to do if life attacks and you're suddenly stationed in Japan for ten years.
2a. It might be a good idea to cultivate other peers in your art, and let your apprentices get to know them, so that if the unthinkable happens and hamsters kidnap you and make you their eternal ruler in their magic kingdom far, far away, your apprentice has a good idea of who else is out there to help them, even if they don't want to be released from your care.
3. I Hate You, But I Feel an Obligation to Help You - Sometimes, people's generalized ideas of what a peer should be mean that they have unreasonable expectations about what they have a right to ask of you. Don't take on an apprentice you don't like, no matter how much they whine at you. Just don't. They may be fabulous at their art, and you may have visions of grooming them to become the premiere authority on left-handed falconry, but if you don't like them, it's almost impossible to work around that. You'll be dreading their e-mails and phone calls, and tensing up every time you see them coming over. If you can't hang out with them, you're not going to enjoy working with them.
3a. Get to know your apprentice before taking them on - take them to dinner, spend time with them at events and at your home (or theirs). See what makes them tick. Just because you're good at the same thing doesn't mean you'll get along. Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were both good at politics, but I doubt they liked each other much.
4. Love Me, Worship Me, Never Leave Me - The goal with an apprentice is that you teach them all you know and let them loose on the world to work their magic. Sometimes, this means that your apprentice will get to be better (and more respected) than you. If you can't handle this idea, please don't take an apprentice. There is nothing lower than sabotaging your students so you remain the number one in your field. If you're in the least bit tempted to hold back your secrets, try to discourage the apprentice from taking risks, or hold them back from reaching for the stars - put the apprentice back, and get yourself a lap dog. If the student outshines the master, then the master has done their job (and the glory of the student shines upon the master as well).
4a. Demanding unconditional loyalty from your apprentice will only lead to grief for the both of you. If you're good at your job, your apprentice will respect you. Anything more is gravy - don't require more from them emotionally than is reasonable.
5. Oh, God, Whassisname is Calling Again - If you don't have the time or the emotional resources to work with an apprentice, don't take one. Even if they beg you - you can always mentor them at a lower level. Having an apprentice is work - ideally, you should be willing to give them your full attention whenever they need it. This doesn't mean having no boundaries (see #4), but it does mean being more involved. Take it on only if you have the mental and physical space to do so.
6. I'm Just a Gal Who Can't Say No - Having apprentices can be very rewarding, but it's not the only way to teach, and it's not right for everyone. If you aren't comfortable with being that close with someone, it's okay to stay apprentice-free. Many people find it difficult to refuse someone who asks to apprentice prettyprettypleaseI'llbegoodyou'llLOVEit, but if you know that you can't be the kind of peer that person needs, in the long run it is kinder to say no. Sure, they'll be hurt for a bit, but that's better than being bitter and resentful of a peer that never came through for them.
6a. To soften the blow, remind them that you're willing to answer questions if needed, and try to steer them in the direction of other peers who might be interested in an apprentice.
Apprentice-herding will always be a learning experience - it takes a while to work out the wrinkles in any relationship. Just remember you're the one in charge, and if they act up, tell them they can always be cyborgs in your robot army. That ought to shut them up.