Spend any amount of time reading Cameo Beauty Academy’s online testimonials and Facebook reviews, and you will see several of our instructors praised and thanked by name. Among them is the hairdresser/instructor/mentor extraordinaire known to nearly all Cameo students and graduates as “Ms. Pat,” who has been teaching at Cameo “forever,” according to administrators.
In a recent interview for this blog, Ben Mollin, season one finalist from Bravo’s “Shear Genius,” called Ms. Pat “a spitfire of a woman . . . She was just a cool chick. She was like that art teacher who just sort of resonated with you, that you just enjoy. She didn’t necessarily make it feel like I was there as a student, she treated me as an individual.”
We caught up with Ms. Pat herself at the end of another full day of teaching, to hear her side of the story about Cameo and its students.
MK: You’ve been at Cameo for some time, haven’t you?
Ms. Pat: As of August, it’ll be twenty-five years.
Congratulations! What exactly drew you to the cosmetology industry in the first place?
It wasn’t boring. There was always something happening, something different every day. I couldn’t stand office work.
Did you originally envision yourself as a teacher, or did you imagine yourself working in – or even owning – a salon?
I thought I’d stay in the salon. I worked in a salon in Chicago; I was a hairdresser for about 18 years before I started to teach.
Was there anything in particular that pushed you toward teaching?
I thought it would be interesting to watch students grow, and to see when their lightbulbs finally kicked on and they understood everything we were trying to teach them. And I still experience that, frequently. A lot of times they have to go through so many clock-hours before all of a sudden they say, “I understood what you meant now!” And that’s a very satisfying thing when they finally understand all of us.
Can you tell me about a specific moment when you saw that lightbulb moment happen?
A lot of times it happens with up-dos, because the students aren’t sure what to do with all this hair. You’ll have a student who will practice and practice, and then he or she will finally get a young girl who’s going to prom or to a wedding, and all of a sudden it makes sense what they’re doing. They know how to proportion the hair so that it doesn’t overpower everything else about this young lady, and that’s when the student is really happy and very proud of themselves. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices when they understand.
Is there a particular aspect of the industry that you enjoy introducing to your students?
Color and up-dos. Students have their own ideas about what looks good on whom, and it’s nice to watch the different approaches to each and every thing we put in front of them. There’s not a right way or a wrong way; they all find their own way, through me and through all the other teachers that are here for them. I think it’s a joint thing. They learn a little bit from me and they learn a little bit from the rest of us and we all work together to make sure they know what they’re doing before they graduate.
Several of your former students have mentioned how you treat each of them not as a student, but as your equal. Is that a conscious teaching decision on your part, or just part of your personality?
These are young adults. They don’t want to be treated as children, they want to be treated as our equals. They want to earn your respect, and I really believe that if you treat them with respect, they’ll treat you with respect. I think if you expect more from a student, and treat them as a person rather than just ‘your student’, then you’ll get more from them.
What would you say is a more difficult or challenging part of your job?
I think about the only difficult part is when students’ lives outside of school get in the way. You know, many of them have families, children issues; some have transportation issues, some have other issues. I think that’s hard to deal with. We get very frustrated when they don’t come to school, because there’s always so much going on at Cameo. They’re bound to miss out on something. We try to encourage good attendance, but the most frustrating part about being the teacher is when they can’t be here because of something that’s beyond their control.
What advice do you give, or would you like to give, to students who are thinking about teaching at some point in their careers?
“Believe in yourself.” I mean, that’s all you can tell any of them. You have to believe in yourself. If you want to give back to this particular career field, then teaching might be a good path. All the experience they’ve had, they can pass on to new students, and hopefully that will make for better professionals.
Do you think there’s anything that has changed significantly in the time you’ve worked in salons and been a teacher?
I’ve been a hairdresser for 44 years -- there’s been a lot of changes. If you want to stay in the industry, then you have to learn them. You have to stay one jump ahead, in theory, on people who come in. Whenever I see anything new, if I don't know how to do it, I have a great staff here who's going to help me learn. We also go to classes all the time, and whatever's new, we learn, so we can bring it back and show our students.
Is there anything that hasn't changed in the industry?
Some things are consistent. At Cameo, we're very consistent. We want our students to learn, we want to make sure that we listen to them and that we see what's going on.
But students have changed. Generations have changed. We have to change how we teach and how we approach them.
What else about Cameo sets it apart from other cosmetology schools?
Cameo works as a team, and we're consistent in how we teach and we make sure the students get what they need before they graduate. We work very hard to make sure that they get everything they need. Cameo’s in it for education.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with those who might be considering Cameo for their cosmetology education?
Cameo is a structured school. It’s consistent, and education-wise, there’s no better place to be. And I will stand behind you, so long as you believe in yourself.