In the past, I’ve gotten praise for my teaching. I work hard at trying to present things clearly. I spend a lot of time drawing diagrams and re-writing captions and trying to present things as clearly as possible in handouts and my newsletter, and also in classes.
I recognize that I’m not perfect in this endeavor; sometimes my attempts to explain things fall flat and I have to figure out another way to present a skill. I’ve had some failures…which have made me feel pretty bad. Not everyone grasps a technique in a quick class that I’ve sometimes spent days (literally) working on and figuring out. And sometimes I haven’t realized when I’ve done something that isn’t generalizable to other circumstances, and present it to students as if it is.
And, sometimes I’ve been “nice” and let too many people into a class, and then I don’t catch students’ mistakes early enough because I don’t have time to visit each person after each step. When students realize that they’ve made a big mistake early in the class… and have to undo a lot of work to make it right… they get frustrated. So do I. I’ve made a commitment to keep class sizes limited.
But I try, I really do. I try very hard to be a good teacher. Nothing makes me happier than when I see someone use a technique that I taught them and then branch out and figure out their own way to make it a beautiful braided project.
This past weekend I worked with Carolyn Newcomer and Pat Beltz on the Gathering of the Guilds in Harrisburg. They’ve renamed it Fiber Fest or something but I still call it the Gathering of the Guilds. Mary Emrich also helped us out (thank you). We taught two classes, utilizing a rather time-consuming-to-make little mug rug kit, and most although not all people finished the project in the class. I briefly got to see some of the other guilds that were there (basket-makers, wheat-weavers, knitters, crocheters, quilters, rug hookers, embroiderers, etc).
There was one woman who showed up just as the morning class was starting. She was very disappointed that the class was full and asked if she could be squeezed in. Because we already had squeezed in one other person, and had 11 students, I said no, but that there were plenty of spots open in the afternoon class; maybe she could take it then. She said she couldn’t take it in the afternoon because she had already signed up for an afternoon class. She left very angrily, muttering loudly that she had skipped a funeral in order to come and learn rug braiding.
She then proceeded to go up and down the hallway, telling everyone she encountered about what a b—- I was. The students in the afternoon class (which also filled) all had heard her angry descriptions of our interaction, which was presented a bit differently from how I just presented it. Even the next day, Carolyn continued to hear about how awful I had been from people this woman had talked to.
I wrote to the woman who runs the Gathering of the Guilds, and she essentially told me not to worry about it: you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and she knows that Carolyn and I have a good history with teaching there; she hinted that maybe this woman wasn’t the easiest for her to deal with either.
My Dad — I stayed with my folks this past weekend — quoted our old minister from growing up, Pastor Spiegelholder. I’m not a particularly religious person these days, but he was a big figure in my life when I was a kid and he was one of those terribly kind but firm men who could make you feel okay, even when he told you that you were screwing up or just plain wrong. I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice, even when he was clarifying arguments and settling them. In my childhood mind, he and Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Rogers were all mixed together in my mind as just about the same person: tall, slender, reasonable, moral, kind, and intelligent.
Anyway, Dad said that several times he had heard Pastor S. say that if you weren’t being criticized, you probably hadn’t been doing much of anything lately.
That quote made me feel a little better, it really did. We all are going to be criticized, no matter how hard we try. We all are going to tick people off from time to time, even if it’s unintentional. And we all are going to have some angry person tell everyone they know about how awful we are.
In the meantime, Carolyn and Pat and Mary and I taught 22 people how to braid this past weekend and I think a few students enjoyed it enough that they might pursue it further. I’ll just have to focus on that.