I stopped into a local cooking school to pick up some flavored oil. It’s owned by a woman who ran a catering biz for years, and decided that she wanted to teach. It’s a pretty neat little place. During the transaction, I asked her a question about pie crust.
I’m happy with my pie crust, but I don’t really understand why it works. And, not surprisingly, in addition to being a curious knitter, I am also a curious cook. So I asked the owner, “I make my pie crust by doing [x], but I don’t really understand why that makes such a difference. Do you know?”
Before I had even finished my question, she was shaking her head. “That’s not the way you do it," she said. "Here’s what you have to do…” and proceeded to tell me about her method.
“But wait,” I said, “I’ve tried that, and it didn’t work.” I mentioned an example of why her method didn’t work for me.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” she said, “because that’s the key. That’s how you make good pie crust.”
Now I should mention, my point here is not how to make a good pie crust. It’s about how to share information with others in a way that leaves them feeling good, in addition to feeling better-informed. (As you might guess, this is my goal in teaching knitting methods.) Although I have no doubt that the owner of the cooking school only wanted to help me to make better pie crust, and wanted me to feel good about that, I left feeling not good. This puzzled me. She probably knows a lot more about pie crusts than I do, and here she was giving me the benefit of her experience, for free. Why did I not come away from the exchange feeling good about it?
Well, I have a theory. I suspect that any given student, no matter how well or how poorly she understands a given subject matter to begin with, will have a better learning experience if the teacher starts by listening, rather than talking. That is the kind of teacher I aspire to be. Certainly when it comes to knitting, there are so many different ways of doing the same basic thing, who am I to say there's one way to do Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bindoff? Oakdryad on Ravelry figured out you can do JSSBO with a crochet hook. What a great insight, I wish I'd thought of that!
I think it would have made all the difference if the owner of the cooking school had showed even a little interest (even if she had to fake it!) in what I was doing now. Her immediate response was “Stop right there, there’s one way to do it, and here’s what it is.” I know she meant well. But the meta-message was: “I’m not interested in hearing what you do, because if you’re not doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong.”
I never would have guessed that in striking up a conversation about how to make pie crust, I would come away with such a rich collection of musings on the kind of teacher I want to be. And her tips on pie crust were quite useful, too!