I sat listening to a movie as I knitted last night. I couldn’t watch it because the focus of my myopic vision was on the white woolen loops. As I embraced my mistakes, occasionally spreading out my handiwork, trying to find that the overall effect was actually okay. I giggled again, thinking that I expected it to look more than okay, like a Monet from a distance, which made me laugh more to think that my attempts would end up in such beauty.
I continued to embrace my mistakes though. I’d learned a lot from all the unraveling and re-doing, and I was learning a lot from continuing through the too tight and too loose stitches. Even the crazy double stitches I’d created helped me understand how I’d done it and how I could kind of re-do it as I went.
It made me think of teaching and cooking. I’m not a recipe-following cook. I’m a wing-it-with what I have cook. Even when I do follow a recipe, I never ever follow it completely. I just can’t. It’s almost like I have to flirt with mistakes to feel like I’m accomplishing something.
That’s how I teach too. I long ago embraced (well, maybe not that long ago) my mistake-driven style. How I admire people who can see the big picture of what they wish to teach and then carefully map out the road to get there, down to the details. Did I say I admire that? Why, yes I do. It took me a long time, relatively (I’ve also learned I can be a slow learner), to embrace my style of seeing the big picture then plunging in with a sketchy road map. This doesn’t mean I don’t plan. I do. It’s just that, like cooking, I have to leave room for the ebb and flow of what may or may not happen. And because I have to leave that room, I have to plan for that room. I know other teachers who are unlucky enough to have to work with me and my crazy style, can manage to plan for both and do it beautifully.
I have embraced this about myself. I really have. My teaching cohorts have come to terms with it.
When I’m cooking, I know that food can be rescued from failure up until it’s served. If something is too far gone and unable to be rescued, I can find something to go along with whatever is coming out okay. The worst thing that can happen for me is for the entire meal to be okay, not great, okay. The best thing that can happen is that it’s better than okay (but unlikely to be replicated). It’s like an adventure, and it makes cooking much more fun, and I learn a lot, through failure, or even through the just okay meals. I embrace it, however it comes out.
So, last night, as I plowed through my less than symmetrical scarf making, I thought about that, and it made me feel better about plowing ahead. And I thought about how I apply the same spirit to teaching.
I’m learning when I make mistakes. Like cooking (and I’m hoping with knitting!), a lesson can be rescued at any time. It can even be mostly scrapped if necessary. As long as I can look at the whole picture of what I want it to look like, as long as I can pull out some stitches or cram some in, I’m good with it.
I like to be free to experiment with cooking and to be able to accommodate for anything. It’s probably because I’m one of those people who learn best from making my own mistakes (and again, I’m a slow learner), I always plan for the unplanned. You don’t know when you’re going to dump half your pie in the oven because your cat ran by and you were afraid they’d get burned. You don’t know when the greens you bought yesterday will go limp within a day, and you don’t know if your neighbor is going to need you to drop everything so you can help them with a broken pipe. So, you have to adjust, and you have to embrace the adjustments, not just do them.
In teaching, you have about 30 variables waiting to make your lesson go in another direction (faster, slower, complete 180 or rocket upwards and onwards). So, I like to embrace the adjustments and hope they help move things into a better place, a better pattern or recipe. It’s about acknowledging and expecting to let things happen as they should.
I have this thing that happens to me a lot that I call “accidental excellence”. It’s when things go quite wrong, and sometimes because of something I did that I perhaps should have thought better about, and this magical thing happens that is way better because of it. It happened Thursday morning, when I dropped half my Pecan pie in the oven. Actually, it was close to a quarter of the pie. That was an accident, and to blame my cat would be a bit...overstating the incident. It was also not an accident that I did not adjust the time of baking. To be honest, that was just my not thinking and was hardly an accident. What was the result? Accidental excellence. The pie became like candy. It was praline pie. It was devoured by all and pronounced my “best ever.”
That accidental excellence happens all the time in the classroom. I embrace the full learning curve of my own teaching and of my student’s learning. I make a game of mistakes, actually. When I question students, I ask first, always, for wrong answers. I ask, “Who thinks they’re partially proficient?” “Who thinks they’re really wrong?” I warn them that they “better be wrong because if they’re right, then they’re wrong because they thought they were wrong, and if they’re right then they’re really wrong.” I then get super excited when a student is actually wrong. Then, when I’m ready for the “right” answer, I warn them how brave they must be to think they’re right because if they’re wrong when they think they’re right, well, that’s nearly as bad as being right when you think you’re wrong.” They giggle at the absurdity, but it works. It really works to build the culture of it being more than okay with being wrong.
So, I cannot wait to get to school on Monday and share with my students how awful I am at knitting. I think I’ll even show them my work. I’ll share my lack of proficiency with glee.
I started this blog because of the huge learning curve I’m in, with all the technology and innovation happening in my school, in my classes. My learning isn’t about the technology itself. Well, it is, but that’s not what’s making my head spin daily. That’s not the impetus for this blog. My head is spinning with the possibilities. I do have a few recipes I follow in the kitchen, my favorite is a simple roasted chicken. I guess, I have a few recipes I follow in the classroom too. I love using reader’s and writer’s workshop, and that simple recipe is as good today (better even) as it was when I first started teaching.
Now, about that scarf. I’m going to keep going on it, and I’m thinking I’ll keep it for myself and wear it with pride and glee. Or, I could give it to my mother. I haven’t given her a hand-made gift since that ashtray back in 1972.