There are two activities that give me joy more than any others: Teaching and Quilting. The first time I put a stitch in a quilt I was hooked, just as I was hooked on teaching the first time I looked across the room to see comprehension dawn on the faces of my students. As an instructor of communication at Doña Ana Community college, those “aha” moments keep me coming back, just as the coming together of a quilt pattern keeps me coming back as well. While they do not look anything alike on the surface, there are many similarities between the two.
Teaching, like Quilting, takes a lot of preparation
Just as quilting requires choosing fabrics and patterns, cutting and preparing, teaching requires a lot of preparation. First, teaching requires more than just teaching from the textbook. I like to keep current on research and integrate that into my lectures. Also, I try to use the right teaching tools for the cadre of students that I have each semester. Because I teach general education courses, unless I keep class innovative, students will easily become bored and lack motivation. This motivates me to re-do class notes each semester, integrating feedback from students as well as try new teaching practices. Also, because I must teach to a standardized syllabus, I must follow some specific guidelines. Just as you follow a pattern to make a quilt block, but the quilt is different based on the patterns and arrangement of the blocks, so does the varied ways of presenting material vary the classes I teach. To that end, I am always on the look-out for teaching practices that will both motivate and engage my students in an interesting way.
Everyone knows something about Communication, so I try to build on what students already know, rather than assume that students know nothing about the subject. Just as you have to work with the patterns of the fabric, rather than against them, it is better to integrate old knowledge to new. In this way, students learn more and are able to integrate it to their everyday lives. Students actually learn more when teaching one another, so I try to have about 20 percent of class time devoted to discussion or other means of peer teaching. Regular feedback is also important for students, as it shows them areas where there is room for improvement, as well as helps me as a teacher know where there is room for improvement in my teaching methods.
Teaching, like Quilting, is a negotiation of diversity
Just as a quilt will use many varied fabrics to make a beautiful, coherent whole, each of my classes are very diverse with large age, ethnic, and learning needs ranges. As a teacher, it is my job to facilitate the coming together to make a dynamic whole through group work which becomes more beautiful than each individual alone–just as a quilt is more beautiful than the individual fabrics. Any given semester, there are technical studies, returning, and traditional students in my classroom. Because of this, it is always a challenge to integrate the needs of all my students. My classes usually incorporate about 30 percent of Group Assignments/Exercises. This also creates more opportunities for kinesthetic learners to get hands-on experience with information, since the student population I work with has a higher proportion of this type of learner. Group work has the added benefit of motivating students to come to and participate in class, because group interaction increases the opportunities for enjoyment in class. In a Quilt, basic shapes are built upon with the texture and color of your fabrics to create something beautiful. With the human textures so varied, it is easy to help them gel with one another by helping them get to know one another and to learn from one another. An added benefit is that students tend to motivate one another when they become friends. In a general education course, motivation is as much a goal as imparting knowledge because students are typically not motivated to excel at a course that they are required to take.
Teaching, like Quilting, requires precision
Just like you must measure, cut and carefully plan how the pieces of a quilt will come together, so teaching requires precision. Although students do not always like the use of lecture because of personal learning styles and a lack of motivation, it is still important for them to have some lecture in each class. I purposely still use lecture about 50 percent of the time because many students will continue their education at NMSU and need to be acclimatized to lecture as well as innovative teaching practices. This is also why I use several ways to evaluate learning processes, such as demonstrating skills, exams, writing assignments and discussion in class. Understanding whether students have learned what they are supposed to helps me to evaluate the process of learning and allows students to have a measure of how they are performing in the course. The paper is one of the most important because it helps students integrate learning and practice through self-awareness. Their paper focuses on applying communication to their everyday lives, which is the main reason that this course is required.
Teaching, like Quilting, always leaves room for improvement
Just like quilters, any teacher that says they are perfect at what they do are also liars. There is always room for improvement in both disciplines, and I am constantly on the lookout for ways to improve both. Regarding teaching, I am continually looking for ways to increase my teaching strategy reperatoire, as well as learn more about my field. To that end, I have set aside money in my budget each semester to buy material on teaching and my field. I also attend several seminars a semester on teaching strategies. While I am not now a member of the National Communication Association, it is my hope to become a member within the next two years so that I can begin attending conferences to make my knowledge more current. I seek to make each semester a fresh experience for both myself and my students by integrating new strategies and methods to the course requirements.
Teaching, like Quilting, is fun
Lastly, as I become a better instructor, I live for those moments when I see students finally get a concept that is foreign to them. These “aha” moments make all the preparation, precision, and search for excellence worthwhile. When you are finished with a quilt, you can wrap yourself in the work of your hands and smile. Hopefully, my students don’t just learn something, but they have fun doing it, for without those two ingredients, my classes are just another hoop to jump through in the race for a degree. Knowing that students are receiving the best instruction I can give them, as well as having the opportunity to receive a well-rounded applicable education gives me the motivation to continue with my chosen profession and feel privileged to be a small part of the world of academia.
• Ruth Crispell, English & Communication, Doña Ana Community College