“Can You Untie Knots?”

28 10 2010

Watching kids tie their shoes makes me smile. Combing down the cowlick is hard, putting the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush can be challenging, but tightening shoes by wrapping strings together? There’s nothing easy about that. Who came up with the idea of shoelaces anyhow?

Everyone has a different method to tie their shoes. When I was a kicker in university, I experimented with tying my shoes with the knot on the side or the knot in the back on my heel. That way, the football wouldn’t shank to the side when I punted it. Kids have certain songs they sing when they tie their shoes these days. I didn’t have a song to learn when I was young. I must have had an inferior teacher.

And, the advice that is given! “Shape a bunny ear, then wrap it with a ribbon.” “Make a squirrel with the loop and let it run around the hole.” My brother told me, “Go fast”. My grandpa told me, “take your time”. The advice was conflicting, but the message was clear: You will need to do this for the rest of your life, so you better learn how.

It’s like a rite of passage. It’s right up there with learning how to ride a bike without the training wheels. And the process can be terribly frustrating if the squirrel gets distracted and ends up going through the wrong hole. Knots are a painful introduction to reality. When things can go wrong, sometimes they undoubtedly will.

I was watching a young student struggle with this process in the hallway and as I walked by, a request to a strange face emerged: “Teacher – Can you untie knots?”

I didn’t know the student’s name and he didn’t know mine. But he knew that all adults have encountered the problem he was faced with and out came his plea.

As I’ve thought of this encounter, three things come to mind:

It’s never a wrong thing to ask for help. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we absorb the message that it’s wrong to ask for help (or directions). I’m not sure where that message came from, but it’s a lousy one. If you don’t know – ask. I’ve learned that it is actually a character strength to ask for help. Who cares what others think.

Life is full of tangles. No need to expand on this one. Agreed?

The best people to help with the issues you’re faced with are those who have gone through similar struggles before. Untying “knots” are what teachers do all week long. How many hats have you worn since the beginning of the year? Counsellor, taxi driver, lesson planner, medic, academic consultant, barf cleaner-upper . . . and the list goes on. We have experience because we have weathered the storm of many experiences. All teachers have the wonderful priviledge of helping others on their learning journey and at the end of the day, this role is pretty satisfying, isn’t it? I’d welcome your comments.

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