The Dressmaker and the Educator

Susan Collins Education, Life in the Classroom

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The young woman felt like royalty!

A fitting for a dress that was made especially for her.

On the first visit to the dressmaker’s shop, they had spent about an hour just talking.

  • What was the occasion
  • the date
  • what colors did she like
  • any allergies or sensitivities
  • Did she bring photos from magazines of dresses she likes

Then the dressmaker took her measurements. She didn’t know so many different places could be measured!

  •  Arms straight
  • Arms bent
  • Fingertip to shoulder
  • Fingertip to back of the neck
  • Elbow to shoulder
  • Wrist to Elbow
  • Around the wrist
  • Fingertip to wrist
  • Fingertip to elbow

That was just one arm!

When she went back to the shop for a fitting, she was so excited she could barely contain herself!

She thought the dress would be complete, ready to wear!

To her surprise, the dress was in pieces! The dressmaker put sleeves on her arms, a skirt around her waist, a bodice around her torso, then hand sewed her into the dress!

The fabric was exquisite, but she looked like she was wearing rags made of fine silk!

The dressmaker kept assuring her that this was going to be beautiful and she would love it. She wasn’t so sure, but she was hopeful. She willed herself to trust the dressmaker. To believe in the ability to take the pieces and put them together in a way that would be beautiful and perfect.

She returned one week later for the second fitting.

The garnet looked more like a dress than a collection of rags, but it still was not ready. The beauty was beginning to emerge. She left with her hopes and enthusiasm restored.

When she went for the final fitting, the dress was complete.

It was amazing. She felt like the most beautiful young woman on the planet. The dressmaker had created this garment just for her, and it was amazing!

During the Teacher Leadership Institute this past summer, Ghouldy Mohammad spoke about the similarities between creating a dress and creating lessons for our students.

This struck me with a particular amount of sharpness. The scenario described here was one that I participated in. I was the young woman. We were living in Taipei, Taiwan, in the mid-1980s and the only way to get a formal in a western-style was to have it hand-made.

As I listened to Dr. Mohammad describe making a dress, all of the memories came flooding back to me. I began making connections between the practical and artistic elements of dressmaking and those of teaching. Then she made the bridge to addressing how we tailor our lessons to the needs of our students.

I created this chart for a side by side comparison:

I find myself challenged to move toward providing tailored lessons for my students. This won’t happen in every lesson or class at first. It takes time to build the skill of tailoring lessons. I’m up for the challenge, one small step at a time.

How are you facilitating learning that makes your students feel like royalty?

What strategies do you have for tailoring your lessons while staying within the multiple mandates that impact teaching?


dressmaker attributes:

photo credit:


Susan Collins began her teaching career in 1991 in rural Mississippi. She served in 4 different communities in central and north Mississippi as a music educator, mostly elementary general music with one year as a middle school band director. She stepped out of working full-time in the classroom for 9 years when her children were very young but never left teaching. She set up an early childhood music studio and taught music from birth to age 5 (with an adult caregiver). Susan moved to Kingman in northwest rural Arizona in 2016 where she teaches k-5 general music. Susan achieved National Board Certification in the fall of 2016, just after moving to Arizona. She has served as a 2017-18 Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow and a Candidate Support Provider for National Board Candidates. She is passionate about advocating for the needs of rural schools and ensuring that every student receives an excellent education. When she is not teaching, advocating, or writing about education issues, she is outdoors hiking, reading, and going to musical performances. She can often be found off the grid pondering her next writing piece!

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