On Teaching


Being married to Dan for going on 18 years now, I’ve learned a little about wood, milling and timber framing just by virtue of proximity. But now that I’ve joined the company I’m wanting to deepen my knowledge. Dan gifted me a beautiful book for Christmas, Wood and Wood Joints, by Klaus Zwerger. I’ve only read part-way through the introduction so far and encountered the idea that woodworking benefits from having knowledgeable teachers, and that wood itself is a teacher.

Teaching is an area where I seek deeper knowledge also, now that I’ve undertaken the education of our son as we homeschool him for preschool. I want to know what makes a great teacher.

Luckily, I know who is a great teacher—Jim Arnett. For the past 30 years, Jim has taught woodworking classes to adults. As scout master of the Boy Scout troop that saw all eight Ogonek boys to Eagle Scout, he’s also a dear friend and mentor to Dan. I had the opportunity over the holidays to talk to him about wood and teaching woodworkers.

I asked him what he loves about wood. His response was to take from a nearby shelf a lovely walnut urn with a mirror-like sheen, smoothly proportioned and perfect, created for his late wife. He turned it over in his hands to show me how you can tell by the grain that it comes from the very center of the walnut tree; “You look at that, and you gotta love wood, “ he said.

Another example from his shelf was a turned cherry plate autographed by a fellow woodworker, with dark ripples across it, “Bark inclusion, where a branch grew out of the tree.” As he continued to take pieces down and tell the story behind each, each with a connection to a loved or admired person, I realized that the love of woodworking for Jim is as much about the people involved as the material itself, that woodworking is synonymous with community, and friendship, and love.

We chatted about Jim’s approach to teaching, which starts with the ideas of each student. Where he steps in is to teach them the specific tools and methods needed to realize their idea. And so they go, idea-by-idea, tool-by-tool. There is much similarity there in what I’ve learned so far about homeschooling, which is less about teaching specific content, and more about enabling the student to generate and pursue ideas, with the learning happening along the way. And so we’ll go, idea-by-idea, tool-by-tool, into a new year of possibilities.