I have a six year old piano student who started in early February, and advanced rather quickly through the first section of the piano books. And then it was time to put both hands together.
The advancement and success came to a clear, and sudden halt.
The boy’s coordination with two hands paralyzed him, physically, but not mentally. His attitude remained strong, but his patience was waning. I spoke with his mother, and she said his classroom teacher had shared some concerns with her. I even contacted piano-teaching friends, and shared their suggestions with him, but got no where.
This week, the student’s parents shared with me that they’d taken him to several specialists and discovered there is, indeed, some issues with his motor skills, and some minor concerns with developing cognitive issues. The one specialist recommended piano lessons! God bless that specialist!
The parents and I were both a bit relieved.
The father asked how I continued to be so patient. I briefly explained my agonizing struggles with mathematics beginning in 4th grade. Anything beyond the four basics paralyzed me – especially with my confidence. And, it still does. Thankfully, all my sons arrived with a healthy understanding of advanced mathematics. In 4th grade, Diana Lane pulled out all the stops with tons of examples to help me grasp complex fractions. In 8th grade, Don Garner spent countless days with me after school trying to explain different ways to comprehend heavy duty fractions and per centages (that damned decimal point still gripes me). My freshman year of high school fared no better. My Algebra teacher, Rhonda Luurtsema, whose patience could have made Job’s legendary patience seem lame, would sit back in her chair, look out the window, bite her lip, and then suddenly come up with an idea. “Ok. Let’s look at it this way.”
My junior year of high school I had to retake Algebra. I was mortified to be a junior in a remedial math class with freshmen and sophomores. What made this even more humiliating was the fact my cousin, Stan Daugherty, the fairly new, popular basketball coach, was my teacher. Stan seemed delighted to have family in his classroom, and this softened the blow – some – and brightened the blows to my ego.
There were three chalk boards in this math room, situated behind the old band room and off the hall leading to the tennis courts. It seemed out of the way, and relegated to the dark corners for a reason – the students struggling with math in the dark dungeon. But, Stan’s spirit and energy brought light and laughter to the room. Soon, my attitude was changed, as was my success.
The three chalk boards were labeled: A, B and C. A, the central chalk board was Stan’s first attempt. If students did not understand A, he moved to B. Generally, the class was with him by the end of B. C was scarcely used.
At year’s end, I think I ended with a B.
I learned a lot from Mrs. Lane, Mr. Garner, Mrs. Luurtsema, and Coach Daugherty that has served me well as a teacher these past 28 years. Sadly, it was not math. However, they taught me how to teach – and I strive to uphold their classroom (and personal) values, as well as their their teaching techniques.
They instilled in me the equations/tools for teaching!
They modeled great patience: demonstrating how to not appear flustered or frustrated when a student is not grasping a concept. I cannot recall one instance, from any of these four teachers, where I was made to feel as though I was wasting their time, or that they were agitated that I was not comprehending what is so simple. They always maintained that, “It’s OK, we’ll get it,” attitude and atmosphere.
They believed in me: it is so easy to want to throw in the towel after a long period of seeming defeat. I’ve always felt defeated by mathematics, but my teachers continued to encourage me (and this was LONG before the No Child Left Behind Act). It is so natural to want to help the students who do understand, basking in the shared energy with like-minds; they could have easily given up on me and entertained the Ann Morgans and Even Theoharris’ in the class. But they always made me feel I was just as gifted, just as important as those who were truly gifted.
These teachers taught me math. I could not get it, but they did teach me mathematics. I still cannot get it, but what I did get has served me far greater than they intended.
God bless those wonderful teachers who taught me math – and how to be a teacher!