A philosophical look at teaching

I make it a point to check my spam folder on a semi-regular basis because I know even the good stuff occasionally ends up in that black hole of crap. Well during my scan-o-spam today I came across an email with “quilt” as the subject line. So either the spammers finally figured me out or someone was trying to connect with me on a deeper than viagra and porn kinda level. Low and behold, it was a nice email from one of my former Jo-Ann Fabrics students wanting to show me photos of her finished quilt! I can’t help but beam with pride. It was the first quilt she’d ever made and I was there to help her along the way. In the end, I would say she did an expert job! DSC00582It’s moments like these that I miss teaching at Jo-Ann’s. I love meeting interesting people and helping them make things that they never dreamed they could.  It’s rather beautiful. More than anything, it’s surprisingly therapeutic. People of all ages seem to come in with overly inflated expectations of whatever they’re planning to make and are extremely hard on themselves when it doesn’t turn out “perfect.” Even if they’ve never sewn before, they expect their lines to be perfectly straight and the end result to be something that looks like it just came off the runway in Milan. My job was less teaching and more talking them down from their self-imposed ledge of perfection. It was certainly more than I’d bargained for but it was also the part I liked the most. Showing people how to creatively turn their mistakes into something even better, before they completely fall apart on you, takes a lot of skill. And when I say “completely fall apart” I mean it. My first student walked out of the classroom uncontrollably crying and I couldn’t find her for 20 minutes. And this was a 50 year-old woman, mind you. People will completely crumble as soon as they make even the tiniest mistake, this I’ve learned. When this happens, as a teacher, you take several deep breaths, stand back, and look at what they’ve done objectively. You learn to quickly improvise and problem-solve. You learn how to be convincing enough to get them to trust that you know exactly what you’re doing (even when you haven’t a clue). The best part is realizing that these mistakes are where their creativity truly lives. They’re no longer able to copy from the sample photo anymore. Their safety net is gone and they’re forced to give up control and finally do something different. I excitedly waited for these moments because therein lies the sweet spot– to keep going they have no choice but to abandon their expectations and, to make the best of a bad situation, they give themselves permission to dust off and wield their own creative license. In the end, every student liked what they’d done far more than whatever it was that they were originally copying from.  Ahh…we humans are certainly a strange and beautiful cast of characters.

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