PITTSFIELD — Cosmetology is defined as the study of beauty treatment. But it's a broad subject with a lot of branches and they all take a long time to learn.
Kristi Mastroianni is one of the instructors who teaches those techniques at McCann Technical School. The North Adams native and resident knows her craft well. She spent almost 20 years working in the trade before becoming an instructor in 2009 and works hard at imparting her knowledge to her students.
We spoke with Mastroianni about how she prepares her students for the professional world and this is what she told us.
Q: How did you become a cosmetology instructor?
A: I started because the instructor that was here at [McCann Tech] at the time was ill. So four of us from the Clip Shop [in Williamstown] came on our days off to keep the program going because she didn’t end up coming back for the rest of the year. From January to June I was here twice a week on my days off teaching.
Then I kind of was like, "I think I can see myself doing this." I always thought teaching would be a great career, but didn’t know exactly what I could teach and this kind of fell in my lap. I had two young girls at the time. I was young, a single mother. I thought this would be a great opportunity with the schedule.
Q: What's the difference between working in the business and teaching the profession?
A: Working in the business is faster-paced, obviously. You know what you're doing so you're just working with the clients. Teaching is just a whole different entity.
Q: How so?
A: You have to go back to when I didn't know what I was doing, and how to teach these up and coming stylists how to do everything. It’s a lot more work when you’re first starting because you have to learn to become a teacher to share the skills and teach them.
Q: What’s more rewarding: working in the business or teaching the profession?
A: I think they’re both equally rewarding. I love to make people feel good and look good and that’s very rewarding. It’s also rewarding to see my students who leave here become successful stylists. I feel like I've helped them along the way.
Q: How do you teach cosmetology?
A: There’s the theory portion. You have to teach the sciences, what's behind everything. There’s chemistry, there’s anatomy, there’s electricity, there’s nail disorders, skin disorders you have to teach all of those things, Sanitation, sterilization is very important. Also the hands-on portion. You have to show them how to do everything. How to cut hair, how to perm hair, how to roll, how to foil, how to do manicures and pedicures, everything.
Q: You start with the sciences first?
A: That's the first portion of the day, we do theory in the morning., Then we come back into the clinic and I teach them how to do everything. They begin taking clients in November so I have to teach all the non-chemical services so they know what they're doing. We don't necessarily get into all those chapters until later, but I teach them how to do all the basic haircuts how to do manicures, pedicures and facials. They practice on each other, They practice on their mannequins and then they can take clients. That’s where they get the experience.
Q: There's a lot more to this field than people realize is what I hear you saying.
A: There really is. A lot of people say, "Oh they just sit around and gossip and do hair all day." That's not true at all. They have to know sciences. They have to know how to recognize diseases and disorders and things like that. They have to know why chemicals work the way they do; why they have to hold their hands a certain way. There's a lot to it and it takes awhile to get it all together in your brain while you're doing it.
Q: How many students are in the program and what's the age range?
A: This year I have 10. I can only take up to 12. Right now they’re mostly just out of high school, a year or two out. The oldest one I have this year is 24. The rest of them are all 18 or 19. The oldest student I ever taught was 46. (Cosmetology at McCann is a post-secondary program, which means students need either a high school diploma or a GED to qualify for acceptance).
Q: I'm assuming that most of your students are women?
A: Mostly women, yes. But I've had a few boys in the class.
Q: You mentioned that you always wanted to teach. What was it about teaching that interested you so much?
A: I come from a family of teachers. I just always thought it would be a great career. I always looked up to teachers as a child. I thought it would be a rewarding thing to do. Plus, you get summers off, which is kind of nice.
Q: Have you ever thought about becoming a regular teacher?
A: No, I love teaching this.
Q: Why didn’t you go into teaching right away?
A: I didn’t really know what I would teach. I always thought like younger kids or kindergarten or whatever but at the time, when I was 18, I wasn't really sure. I wanted to be a model when I was younger and then all the girl fantasies, acting, whatever, but I always had a passion for hair. My grandmother used to be a kitchen hairdresser so I was her assistant when I was younger. She’s the one that really got me into it. I guess it’s following in her footsteps.
Q: Did you go to cosmetology school right out of high school?
A: I went to BCC for a semester. I didn't really like it. I dropped out. I had a friend who was going to McCann for cosmetology and I went to visit here and I was like, "Oh, this is awesome; I want to do this." That’s when I applied to come here.
Q: What are the hardest and easiest cosmetology procedures to teach?
A: Color and hair cutting take a lot more time. Color itself is just so huge There's just so much to learn. They usually get the application part of it down. But to figure out why I need to use this color to get this or that takes time so there's s lot more to teach in that aspect.
Haircutting looks easy when you see people doing it that have been doing it for a long time. But when they're doing it for the first time and with the scissors in their hands it's very hard. There's a lot that you have to think about. It's not just cutting across the head. There's a lot of mechanics to it, geometry. It's a little harder to teach those things. Facials, manicures, pedicures; those are easier.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a cosmetologist?
A: Obviously, you have to go to school. If it's something that you love this isn't a job. The work is fun. It's a great career and you can specialize in certain things. Find what it is that you love to do and make that your career. Some people love doing everything. I love to do everything. Nails, skin care, waxing I did it all. Around here people do everything. In cities everyone specializes.
Q: I guess it's not for everybody.
A: It is hard work and you do have to work. If you're not a worker this is not the job for you.