True Confession: I’m a Mid-Life Teachers’ Certification Dropout

By Denise Beusen, NAN Website and Facebook Editor

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in fall 2020.

Back in 2003, one of my St. Louis friends – fellow NAN member Felicite Pollnow – showed me what she was doing in NAN’s Teachers’ Certification program. It looked like a great learning opportunity, and having been a college prof, it appealed to my inner need to acquire, organize, and disseminate knowledge. So, I took the plunge and signed up.

From the start, I enjoyed reading books on the subject of teaching. I was enthralled by the intricacies of improving my needlework technique. Texts on color and design were in a captivating language completely new to me. But most of all I loved the certification workshops. There were always so many things to learn – and novel opportunities for exercises that brought what I’d read to life.

However, there was one aspect of the process that wrestled me to a dead stop: designing. To me, a blank sheet of paper was an opportunity to write, to create a dialogue – not visual images or patterns. I struggled with this single aspect of certification, sitting for hours at my desk trying to gain traction in generating an idea, an inspiration, an image.

The “failure to launch” my design muse eventually bred significant procrastination. I avoided my desk, knowing that I’d feel guilty if I didn’t work on my required beginner’s class design.

I finally finished the first year (then it was called Teacher Prep; now it’s Year 1) – and with it my beginner’s class – after working on it for three years. I joked with Caela Conn Tyler (then Director of Teachers’ Certification) that I’d received my certificate “with tenure”.

As I started year 2, I was able – after many hours of noodling – to sketch out a design for an intermediate level workshop but finally had a heart-to-heart discussion with myself (if such a thing is possible). I realized that I hated traveling for work in my “day job”, so I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it as a traveling teacher.

I had been working part time for 5 years as an independent marketing consultant and was bored with it. An opportunity to work at the National Institutes of Health came my way, so I decided to return to full time work AND move across country for the job. Conveniently, the time demands of this decision provided an exit strategy from a program that was the source of an internal battle.

Was I sad about leaving the program? NO! Was it a waste of time? ABSOLUTELY NOT. In fact, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself:

  • My counselor was Gail Sirna, and she quickly became a treasured friend.
  • I grew to appreciate the logistics of workshops from the teachers’ perspective and became better at organizing and managing them for my Guild.
  • The experience made me more sympathetic to both teachers and students. I can recognize a teacher who hasn’t been through certification; instead of getting frustrated with his/her shortcomings, I focus my mental energy on how I can adapt the educational experience to make it useful to me. I have a better perspective on students’ needs, so when I lecture or teach for my guilds I can anticipate and address them before the students have even realized them.

In a notable bit of irony, the certification experience has had the biggest impact on my sense of color and design. Now when I look at a piece, I can generally explain why the design doesn’t appeal to my eye and my mind moves quickly to thinking about how I’d adjust it.

In 2019 I took a class from an instructor new to me, and I really didn’t like the project. To me it looked like color wheel roadkill – you know how an animal is a streak in the road with no apparent organization of parts that would allow one to classify it? That’s how I felt looking at the project. In the 12 months following, I redesigned that piece so the color placement gave me a sense of unity and movement. I’d never have been able to do that without my NAN training.

I don’t know that I’m any faster at tweaking a design – and I’m certainly not faster at originating a design – but I get a lot of pleasure from the process; this is something I would never have thought about before my time in Teachers’ Certification. Since then, NAN has started offering a “Non-Original Design” certification, which could be a good option for those who like me struggle with designing.

The bottom line is this: if you’re a stitcher who has never considered a needlework certification program, you might want to take a second look. Even if you don’t take home a certificate, you’ll come away with intangibles that enrich your stitching life. It’s worth the time and effort!