By: Chelsea Snyder
Upper School Math Teacher
Sheer frustration. Do you know that feeling?
Back hunched, eyes squinting and straining to see what my inept fingers fumbled to do. Teeth clenched. I closed my eyes briefly for a short break. Without sight, I became aware that the muscles in my legs were contracting. Inwardly, I waffled between belittling myself and giving myself a pep talk.
This is how I felt last year during Special Studies week while trying to learn how to knit. That is, before I found inspiratio
n and confidence from an unexpected source.
That week, I was part of the group that tackled various life skills, from learning how to check the oil in a car to making a basic dessert. We also took an American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED class and a self-defense class at Spartanburg Martial Arts. One of our life skills was giving a homemade gift, so we learned how to knit.
Two SDS teachers who are enthusiastic knitters agreed to help us on our quest. As these teachers instructed our group, I admired their patience. It is no small feat to teach 14 people a completely new skill! At moments, it felt that every person had made a unique mistake and needed specific assistance to his/her own project. I felt obligated to help our struggling students with their projects but also very unqualified to do so. My frustration was rising, but I – an adult in the room – tried to mask it.
And then there was Sarah, one of the girls in our group. She came over and patiently walked me through each part of a basic knitting knot. Sarah did several knots for me, showing me how her hands moved and clearly explaining what to do. Then she gave the project back to me. It was my turn again. Slowly but surely, I completed stitch after stitch.
I imagine that, in the few minutes it took for Sarah to explain the steps to me, we made a beautiful picture. We were the image of student teaching teacher – the exact opposite of what one would expect to find in a school. The teacher who was helpless and impatiently requesting assistance learned from the student who was knowledgeable and graciously sharing her skill.
In reality, teachers learn from students every day at Spartanburg Day School. The process, however, is not always so tangible as learning how to knit. Often, we learn resilience from tutoring students one-on-one. We learn courage while watching students compete in athletic events, or stepping up to give a speech. We learn to see the world with optimism and a healthy dose of reality when discussing students’ future plans. If we, as teachers, expect our students to learn from us, then why shouldn’t we learn from them? Why should we shy away from situations where we know we will be challenged and grow – intellectually, personally, musically, athletically or otherwise?
As for my knitting, it didn’t take long for me to get the hang of it and find myself enjoying the project. Knitting was something that required my focus, but I recognized that with a lot of practice, it would become mindless. Recently, I completed my first project and started my second. I currently look forward to knitting as I can in the evenings, and eventually to learning more about the possible projects that I can complete – with a much lower stress level than when I started.
Here’s to another year of learning from and with students.