By Diane Herrmann, NAN-Certified Teacher and Assistant Director of Teachers’ Certification

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in winter 2019.

Last issue we focused on the way that a teacher’s behavior and attitude can make or break the students’ experience in a needlework class. It’s also true that student behavior in classes can be frustrating and disheartening, and can contribute to a miserable experience for everyone in the class. This article will focus on how to be the kind of student that contributes to the class and helps it rise to a level of excellence that benefits everyone. Let’s start with a reminder of the mission statement that NAN embraces:

NAN’s goal is to uphold the highest standards in the needlearts by providing excellence in education to all those interested in furthering their embroidery skills as teachers, judges, artists, designers, authors, or technically proficient embroiderers.

In the 1980s I attended an event called “Spirit of Cross Stitch”, and although I had been a teacher of mathematics for many years, it had been a long time since I had to sit in a classroom with an unfamiliar adult trying to teach me difficult things. Struggling with learning Hardanger (until then, like many of you, I was exclusively a counted cross stitch person), I had to be brave enough to try new things, to ask questions, to take notes and listen carefully in order to be successful in the class.

Being a student like that opened my eyes to something wonderful: how great is it to be able to learn something new, in a generous community where students were helping each other and teachers were giving immediate and helpful feedback? I was hooked. I remembered how much I loved learning, and was thrilled to be learning new stitches and techniques! I was so excited!

Is that how you feel when you attend a class in needlearts these days? I think about that whenever I’m starting to teach a class. I know that I am excited, as a teacher, to be in front of a group of students, anticipating an adventure in learning that will take these students somewhere new and stimulating. But the students will have as much to do with the overall experience as I do, and I never know whether things will “click” and the class will have real and magical excellence for all of us. What would I want from my students so we can all have a better experience? If we teachers could evaluate our students, what questions would we want on the form? Here are a few that would make a difference in my own classroom.

Are you really ready to take the class in front of you? Does your skill set meet the expectations of the teacher who has set a level of proficiency for the class?

  • I think having students in class who don’t have prerequisite skills is one of the biggest pet peeves of needlework teachers. Teachers set proficiency levels for their classes very thoughtfully. You may think you’re advanced because you’ve been stitching for many years. But there are specific skills that help teachers label a class as “beginner” or “intermediate” or “advanced.” Teachers are usually patient and helpful when a student arrives in class underprepared, and will typically help someone who doesn’t know a stitch or technique that was assumed when s/he advertised the class. Suppose a student comes to an advanced canvas class and doesn’t know how to do Basketweave properly. S/he will require the teacher’s time for instruction that might be used by all the other students who are appropriately skilled for the level of the class. If you are concerned about the level of a class, sending an email to the teacher ahead of the class to ask about your proficiency in the technique is a great thing to do. Teachers who are ready for that will maybe have a handout for you or will work with you at “down” times in class and not have to address your issues in front of the whole class.
  • Are you on time to class? This does not usually mean showing up at the exact moment a class is scheduled to begin. It is helpful if all the students have their supplies ready, their distractions minimized, and personal business concluded before the teacher starts instruction. Teachers don’t give out tardy slips, but we would appreciate undivided and timely attention every time our class starts a session. This goes for returning after breaks and after lunch as well as the beginning of the day.

Have I prepared well for this class, even though I’ve been to many, many classes before?

  • Are you a conscientious a student? Did you read and reply to the teacher letter about the class before seminar? Did you read the course description carefully, noting the level of the class? Some students don’t believe the class description, overestimate their abilities, want to be in class with a friend, or find the project too amazing to pass up. This can lead to unpleasant consequences when a class is beyond your ability.
  • Did you bring along all the supplies you are expected to have to class? Did you acknowledge that if the class requires prework, you should do it before the first day of class? Teachers typically come prepared with extra supplies for their classes, but it’s always a surprise to discover someone didn’t bring the required sized hoop or stretcher bars. Naively, I used to list “usual stitching supplies” as something students should bring to my classes. Then one day someone came without scissors. “Don’t you have a pair I could use?” she asked me. Moments like that are stunning. Of course I had an extra pair. Her answer spoke volumes about how she would be coping with this intermediate class when she didn’t think a pair of scissors was something she should bring to class.

Am I still excited to be in the classroom with this teacher, or is there somewhere else I’d rather be?

  • There are always distractions. The obvious strategy of turning off or muting cell phones is a good idea, of course. Are you checking Facebook when the teacher is explaining how to handle an unruly thread? If so, you’ll need to have additional individual instruction later.
  • Are you and your neighbor and friends chatting about something unrelated when the teacher is showing a new stitch? You might be preventing your fellow stitchers from hearing valuable information. Everyone has paid to take this course from this teacher, and everyone is entitled to excellent instructions. You can do your part to be sure this happens, even if it means asking your close friend to be quiet until break time.
  • Did you have a lousy night’s sleep, or stay up too late talking and stitching with friends? Coming to class with an attitude that says to everyone in your vicinity, “I would rather be anywhere but here right now” can affect the entire class. Such students often find it impossible to accept help from the teacher and frequently voice displeasure during class time. Teachers do their best to be enthusiastic and helpful; don’t expect them to help with your bad mood. Maybe you should skip a session and take a nap, or go and get some caffeine to help you be more alert.
  • Have you had a previous class with this teacher and want her advice on that project? Please save these kinds of discussions for after class.

Am I treating my teacher with respect, even if I have a different or alternative way to do something she’s teaching?

  • How tempting it is to pipe up with better ideas for executing a stitch, or handling a thread, or approaching a difficult area on the piece. Remember, the teacher is in charge; if you have alternative ideas, it is best to talk to the teacher directly and see how she feels what you want to say. Usually, this kind of information is worth sharing, but controlling what kind of information students share and when that will fit within the lesson plan should be the teacher’s job. I have had students try to “teach” a seatmate some technique and make a mess of it that I had to undo. Students interrupting instruction can impede the progress of everyone in the class. Please note that this is not to say that questions are inappropriate; these are better received and responded to if you are thoughtful about how and when you ask them.
  • Do you ask about photographing the teacher’s work before snapping a picture? Do you ask permission before handling the teacher’s model for the class piece? Do you respect copyright and not copy your notes and instructions for the piece to share with others?

Did you notice that most of these questions I have about behavior apply to teachers and to students? The mutual respect that excellent teachers and students share for their parts in the learning process is such a valuable aspect of the best needlearts classes. When teachers and students are doing their best to learn together, classes are more fun, more lively, more interesting, and make us want to have more! Teachers who have great classes can’t wait to share new designs with their students, and students who have had great classes can’t wait to take another from this teacher or from someone new. Next time you’re entering a needlework classroom, do what you can as teacher or student to make it the BEST EVER!!