July 7, 2009

Knitting Teacher

By: in Teaching and Learning, Teaching Professor Blog

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My friend Karen is here for the week—good friends are such a gift. When she came last year I taught her how to knit. My goodness, talk about a duck taking to water. With almost no instruction, she had it and was off. In one year she’s learned techniques it took me years, dare I say decades, to figure out. She’s as good a knitter as I am and already knows way more about yarns that I do. Brand names and fiber content roll off her tongue, and we talk about matching yarns and patterns. At the moment, we’re both into shawls, which I learned are held together with shawl picks or pins. And I thought you just kept your arms shut. When I exclaim in wonder at how much she knows and everything she can do, like any respectful student she defers, “I can’t be better than you. I’ve only been knitting for a year!”

Every teacher aspires for her students to learn and perform well. And in theory every teacher endorses the idea that some students will excel, might come to know as much as the teacher, maybe, after years of dedicated work, even know more than the teacher. But when a student leapfrogs right over the teacher, acquiring the skills and knowledge with such speed and ease, it does test one’s commitment to that theory.

Before she arrived, I noted that she should bring a project she might still need help with. Her reply: “Those wrapped stitches that you drop … they really scare me.”

“Oh, I can help you with those,” I say. And so she proceeds to learn while I’m working on the computer. “Just do them,” I tell her. “Don’t look at them. They look messy and wrong on the first row.”

“I feel like I want to pull them tight, but I probably shouldn’t, right?” she asks.

“Yes, just let them be,” I tell her.

A few stitches later she says, “Oh, I see how that works,” and out comes a clear, cogent description, rending the one I’d carefully planned entirely unnecessary.

A certain awkwardness comes with this transition, both for the teacher and the student. It requires poise and confidence to move with dignity from the role to teacher to that of student. What makes it possible is a deep abiding love of the content and a passionate commitment to learning. Karen and I now have the chance to learn from and with each other—it’s another reason to celebrate our splendid friendship.

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