When a teacher becomes a student….

I took a class the other day. It was a quilt class. I have not been a student in a long time. The quilt was not difficult. I had a good look at the pattern before the class and experimented with one of the techniques. I really didn’t need the class but the quilt guild I am a member of was trying to get 20 people to take the class to cover the instructor’s expenses. So why not. I enjoy the people and it would be fun. Besides, the teacher offered to “Teach us some tricks”.

I gathered my fabric choices, sewing machine and everything else on the list. It was a long and very precise list. It took me a week to be sure I had everything. “The class starts at ten. Be there promptly at 9:30 to set up.”

I was there, ready, and took a look around the room. I knew about half of the 18 who were there. I also knew that most of those were not beginner quilters, but then neither was I. We followed instructions and laid out our fabric in piles so that all of our choices would be visible, the design and the background choices.

The instructor began to talk. Her voice was high pitched and she talked way too fast. Lesson 1- slow down.

I do not stand for very long, so when we were gathered around the first table of fabric choices, I stayed in my seat. I could see, barely. We were told she would go though all of our choices and eliminate what she thought would not work, but did say, in the end we could do what we wanted. I looked at the 18 piles laid out on tables around the room and inwardly groaned.

She began and went on and on. I got a few looks from the capable quilters that indicated my inward groan was shared by others. I found, as she went around the room, I was trying to out guess her. Which fabrics would I remove? I gave myself a pat on the back when I found I was thinking the same way she was. The difference was that she gave her reasons- too bright, wrong genre, not enough contrast etc.

My inward groans ceased and I began to realize I was learning something.

Her tricks  were simple ones. It was obvious she was a very precise cutter and stitcher, which I am not, but to be an instructor and author of quilt books, I guess she would need to be.

I left the class early because my back was hurting and I knew my two Otterbees friends who were in the class would catch me up on what I missed the next day.

On the drive home I went through the morning event… I did learn about fabrics. I did learn a new trick or two. I reaffirmed that I am not as precise at sewing as I should be (and don’t care). One or two of the students were bored but she pulled them back into the throng with comments  “Can you see from there?” “Watch what I am doing.”

I began to think of students I have had in classes in the past. This instructor made you look, even the sewing pros who would have really rather gone on sewing. They already knew how to do it. I thought of one very bright third grader I once had who sat in the front row (they always do) and when discussions started, she would raise her arm and gently wave, put her hand down and then let others talk. It was as if she was saying, “I know what to say, call on me when you have run out of the wrong answers, or are desperate for the perfect comment.” If she had been in this class, she would have preferred to sew on ahead I am sure.

There were slow workers and fast ones. Some had done as I had and read the pattern before they came. They were ready to move along, yet were being held back by the teacher to stay at her pace. There would be more “Tricks”.. Others felt stressed at keeping up. It is the age old problem. Not all students progress at the same speed. Did I go slow enough for the strugglers as a teacher and yet fast enough not to bore the speed demons? I have wondered what a class would be like if everyone went at the same speed. I have always assumed it would be very dull… I like the variety. I loved the speed demons, yet I commiserate with the strugglers.

I am not teaching kids any more and ruminating over the past is a waste of time, but I will be teaching this same group a quilt project in the fall. Every time they have announced a class, I have snuck in and snooped. It seems as though they are teaching the same thing they asked me to do. Will I bore them? Make them watch when they already know? Teach a new “trick”… or will it just be a friendly group working on a project more or less what I have been asked to present and we can laugh and enjoy the day. The latter,  I hope.

After I take a quilt class there is always the question…. did I make the quilt like the pattern? No… I did a little of my own thing. As a teacher, I loved to see innovation in my students so it doesn’t bother me a bit!

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4 Responses to When a teacher becomes a student….

  1. I love innovation too. I would also love to be in your class because I’m betting that you differentiate. I need a hobby that I can be creative in and I’m thinking that quilting is a goal that I’m really going to aspire to. 2 years and finishing strong! xo

  2. I think it’s nice to learn the basics if you don’t know much, but the quilts that are creative and innovative are the ones that speak to me too. I love when students think ‘different’. It sounds as if the class might need a couple of groups, one for those struggling with just the terms and application, and one where others share what are different approaches. I like your application to all classrooms, Fran. You made such good points. Thanks!

  3. luckygurl says:

    I love that while you were a bit too advanced for this class, you stayed open to learning something new. It’s so hard sometimes to be a student when we’ve been a teacher… Lovely job on your quilt, btw!

  4. Not that you’re old mom, but I guess an older middle-aged dog can learn a few new tricks! Good for you for hanging in there long enough to capture and recognize the nuggets. I think it is good to be the student (or the patient or the direct report versus the person in the control seat). We often skip through those moments without gleaning the valuable lessons that will help us be a better teacher or health care provider or manager. And it’s great to have a forum to welcome the thoughts out of the brain, blog them for the world to see, and discuss and reflect.

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