Trying a New Stitch

Since I’m currently serving as the president of one of our local music teachers associations, one of my responsibilities is to write a letter for our quarterly newsletter. Just for fun I thought I’d post the article I wrote for the most recent newsletter…

Several years ago one of my students presented me with a beautiful scarf for Christmas. It had been hand-crocheted by her mother and I implored her to teach me how to make one myself. She patiently walked me through the steps and within a few minutes I had the basic stitch down. Over the next several months I found myself crocheting row after row of yarn into scarves and often tearing out huge sections to start over because the rows became uneven or the stitches were inconsistent. Finally I felt like I had mastered the scarf design and promoted myself into making baby blankets. Now the projects required more yarn and more time, but it was worth it to see the look of delight on my friends’ faces when I presented them with my hand-crocheted blankets as a gift for their precious newborns.

I’ve made many such blankets now and would be eager to proclaim that I am a master crochet artist were it not for one thing. You see, I only know how to do one stitch – the same stitch my student’s mother taught me more than three years ago. Oh sure, there was the couple months I made a foray into hats, but it was short-lived and I quickly returned to my lone stitch. It’s familiar. And comfortable. And safe. I know that when I use it, my blankets will turn out well. In fact, it hardly requires any effort at all anymore. I know there are tons of other stitches I could learn, but I was perfectly content to keep whipping off my own familiar blankets. Until last Wednesday.

My student Isabella sat in a chair in my studio handily crocheting a colorful scarf during her brother’s piano lesson. When it was time for her lesson, I asked if I could see what she was working on. She showed me her work of art and I was in awe. The stitches were beautiful! Much more intricate than my plain little stitch. I begged her to show me how she did it. She quickly pulled some more yarn from the skein and adeptly handled her crochet hook as she demonstrated the stitch for me. At that moment I was struck by the realization that with a bit of time and effort I could become skilled in implementing this stitch into my own crochet projects. Sure, I’d probably have to rip some rows out before it was mastered, but undoubtedly the end result would be well worth the risk involved in launching into the unfamiliar.

I am struck by the parallel between this enlightening experience and teaching. If we are not deliberately taking steps to learn new things and try new approaches in our teaching we can quickly fall into the rut of doing what is familiar and what requires the least effort. We keep using the same method books because we know them forward and backward and we like the results they produce. We keep teaching the same repertoire because we know exactly where all the trouble spots are and because the pieces sound flashy and impressive. We keep structuring our lessons the same way we always have because it feels comfortable and predictable. That’s why we all need an “Isabella” in our lives.

We need other teachers and experiences that open our eyes to the possibility of new approaches, that reveal the beauty of seeing students reach higher levels of musical understanding and ability than we thought possible, that teach us how to incorporate fresh ideas into our teaching. It may come in the form of a brilliant idea gleaned from the plethora of practice resources on howtopractise.com or in a helpful suggestion given by a workshop presenter or in a thought-provoking statement read in an article or in a handy teaching tip shared by a colleague in casual conversation. Perhaps it will mean carving time out to attend the next WMMTA informal coffee and chat at Wendy’s studio or taking the first step toward pursuing national certification or spending some time on-line looking for a fun activity to help a struggling student. The resources today are countless! But the question is, Are you willing to take the risk? To try something you’ve never tried before? To break out of the comfortable and familiar to explore possibilities that could lead you and your students to new musical heights?

I, for one, am excited about the possibilities. I won’t ever give up my familiar basic crochet stitch, but now I’m determined that my next blanket will consist of the beautiful new stitch that Isabella has inspired me to try!

~Natalie Wickham, NCTM

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